Third-Grade Writing Lessons from 1980

My third-grade teacher was infuriating.

Memories of 1980 include learning to read using advanced phonics (man-u-fac-ture), struggling with multiplication tables (I still do), and writing sentences using our vocabulary words. Ms. Robinson (no, nothing like that) wouldn’t let us start sentences with the words “I” or “The.” Furthermore, if my memory is churning correctly, our sentences had to be at least nine words long.

Put your third-grade brain in and let that settle a minute. Those limitations were hard for a third-grader struggling to memorize his 12’s (the 11’s weren’t so bad). I hated her for making our vocabulary so hard. I could crank those sentences out in no time if not for her stupid rules.

  • I like watermelon.
  • The rock was enormous.
  • David Bowie was androgenous.

But noooooo. She had to go and make us think.

  • Watermelon was one of my favorite things to come out of my grandmother’s garden.
  • While our family was on vacation we found an enormous rock by the lake.
  • David Bowie was among the most androgenous progressive rock musicians of the 1970s.

With her simple restrictions, Ms. Robinson graduated a class of third-graders who were better writers than when they first met on a warm day at the end of summer in 1980. My senses still recoil when I began a sentence with one of those two words. “The” or “I” immediately triggers a rewrite that is always better than the first draft.

Thank you Ms. Robinson for making me think. Thank you for making me a better writer.

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