Personal Narrative: Harsh Criticism of my Writing

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There are certain moments in my writing process, even more than twenty years later, that I can still imagine hearing that sharply critical voice striking a deep and lasting blow as the journalism assignment replete with bloody red ink landed on my desk. “This is all wrong,” were the words my high school journalism teacher stabbed me with as she passed down the aisle pausing only long enough for me to catch a whiff of her nicotine breath. At the very same moment my stomach muscle knotted, my face burned as if with fever, and those four words echoed out of control over and over again in my ears. Notoriously late for class due to her love of smoking cigarettes in the teacher’s lounge (in those days smoking was allowed in school buildings), Ms. B’s entrance into the class on this particular day was no exception. With a flurry of authority, arrogance, and impatience, she appeared before me-the subservient and humble student. Her disdain for my writing was obvious in her written comments on the returned assignment. But it was the spoken word about my writing that intimidated and humiliated me, even to this very day when I allow myself to think back on the incident.

Hearing that my work was “all wrong” in the presence of other students was the worst embarrassment I could imagine as a shy and overly sensitive teenager. I wanted to crawl under my desk and hide. I managed to fight back tears until my retreat to the lavatory at the end of the period. Any confidence I had in my writing died that day. From that moment on my dreams of being a writer were severely compromised. Ms. B had taken advantage of her position of power over my writing. Whether this was intentional on her part or just a case of insensitivity or carelessness has no bear...

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...well, it is difficult for me to do so. Perhaps it is his never-failing encouragement and my appreciation of his teaching methods that won’t allow me to take the role of an English teacher when reading his work.

It has been my experience that young student writers can be very vulnerable to harsh criticism from a teacher or person in authority. And in my own case, that criticism didn’t disappear at the end of the semester but in fact, stayed with me for many years. I still have to push that ghost of criticism out of my head when I sometimes have difficulty with my writing. For the most part, the wounds from the red pen have healed and the scaring has been greatly reduced. Since the process of writing is difficult enough without discouraging words from teachers, it is imperative that harsh criticism be chased out of the writing classroom for the good of all students.
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