Sunday, February 13, 2011

Honoring Our Teachers: Mrs. Minot

Many thanks to Tricia Springstubb, who lives and writes in Cleveland, Ohio, for sharing this memory of her fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Minot, who inspired her to think of herself as a writer for the first time.

I guess I'm about as close to "self-taught" a writer as possible. I've never taken a writing class, and my first publications came when I was living in the middle of Nowhere U.S.A., with only my husband for a sounding board and critic. Recently, I spoke to a class of kids about how I became a writer, and found myself evoking that old science fair favorite, the stalk of celery in the glass of blue food coloring. I learned to write by osmosis, I told them--I read and read and read, and all those words, sentences and paragraphs became part of me till one day I was ready to tell my own stories.

One teacher did have a lasting impact on me. Mrs. Minot taught fourth grade at St. Hugh of Lincoln School. She was one of the few lay teachers among the nuns, and I was fascinated by her high heels and cloud of frizzy hair. Those were the days of big classes, forty kids or more, and by 2:30 even Mrs. Minot was done in. She let us play Seven-Up, or let Rosemary O'Brien stand in front of the room and belt out "Goody Goody," a real crowd-pleaser. Sometimes we were allowed to just sit there and draw or read. That was the year I began my first novel, "Ballet for Julia." You could say it was loosely based on a book I'd loved, called "Ballet for Sarah." In fact, only the names of the characters were changed. Rabid reader that I was, I wanted to feel what it was like to have a story emerge from under my own hand. I remember I wrote in pencil, on loose-leaf, and used a red pencil for the names of the chapters. One afternoon as I worked, Mrs. Minot bent over my desk. Her breath smelled of coffee, and for the first time I realized she had dandruff, which made me sad.

But when she handed back my paper, she was beaming.

"This is wonderful!" she said. "Do you want to be a writer when you grow up?"

"Oh yes," I said, though the idea had never occurred to me until that minute.

Heart racing, I turned back to my work. My teacher's smile, her coffee-breath, the way my hand tingled with new power--Mrs. Minot was like the ultimate fairy godmother, granting a wish I'd yet to make. Me, a writer? I felt the tap of the wand.

Springstubb has worked as a teacher and a children's librarian and now writes full time. Her middle grade novel, What Happened On Fox Street, came out in Fall, 2010, and its sequel, Mo Wren, Lost and Found, is scheduled for release in August, 2011.

In addition to her work for children, she's published adult fiction in journals like The Iowa Review, and she's a regular book critic for The Cleveland Plain Dealer. She has three grown daughters and lives in Cleveland with her husband, Paul.

For more information about Springstubb and her work, visit her website:

1 comment:

Kathyo said...

I had Mrs. Minot for 4th grade as well! I'll never forget her. The most inspiring teacher I ever had...and she had 81 kids in her class!