The Writing Teacher

It’s hard to be a good writer without being a great reader.

The man who taught me that was a family friend and high school teacher who lived down the block from me while I was growing up. He and his wife were over for dinner one evening when I brought up the subject of how writing was taught in our high school.

I’m afraid I was rather rude about it — being all of 16, and knowing everything. The man was not an English teacher (he taught shop), but I’m sure some of the English teachers were friends of his. My criticisms could have easily seemed harsh to him. Nevertheless, he surprised me: Writing, he gently agreed, was not taught “optimally” in our high school.

He went on to explain. It was the fashion in education to teach writing by diagramming sentences. The theory was that diagramming taught students the principles of grammar and good sentence structure — lessons they could transform into good writing.

But in his opinion, the best way to learn how to write well was to read good writing in order to actually see how it was done.

For me, it was one of those moments when someone says something that makes everything else fall into place. Suddenly, I knew what to do if I was to become a better writer.

Tragically, that was one of the last lessons he ever offered anyone. A few days later, he without warning died of a heart attack while still a relatively young man.

Rest in peace, Ben Haddock.

12 thoughts on “The Writing Teacher”

  1. Thank you for writing this article Paul. I basically struggled with English/grammar at school, and I needed special tutoring to pass the exams (I just passed) Me and my younger brother both suffer from a bit of Dyslexia, which has become worserer since my strokes, so reading novels is now a task, but I’m managing to read poetry these days…. When I was in my 20s & 30s, I was an avid reader, and enjoyed good mystery/drama stories, but after my 1st stroke, at 49, English, reading, writing, and speaking, was a difficult task for me….. however with persistence and stupidity I retrained myself, and here I am writing my little poems…. and to me, It doesn’t matter if my words are good or bad, I’m personally pleased to be able write anything at all…. And to sit here at my computer and reply to your post, during these abnormal circumstances of Lockdown (here again for another 6 weeks), is a welcome past time that I enjoy, even though it can be a difficult task somedays….
    Hoping you keeping well and staying safe … Cheers…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. These were very wise words of his. It’s a shame that he died so young, but he lived long enough to share those beautiful words with you. Apparently it was a lesson that has stuck with you well, Paul.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I always used to tell my students that to write well, they need to read well! This is actually such a simple and basic lesson that most teachers fail to impart! You are lucky to have met him, Paul.


    1. Thank you, Carol. That’s very kind of you.

      I was just recalling this morning how Ben helped my two brothers and I one summer build our first piece of furniture. He not only instructed us in how to join the pieces, but also in how to finish it. Rather fittingly, our first carpentry project was a bookshelf.

      Liked by 1 person

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