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Home / Articles / Columnists / On the Bright Side /  A Tribute to One of my Her0000000000s
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Thursday, April 7,2016

A Tribute to One of my Her0000000000s

By Jonna Shutowick. M.S. Ed.  

My big, intimidating, mean high school English teacher asked the class who was taking the SAT on Saturday. Vaguely aware that there even was such a test, I didn’t raise my hand. After class he bellowed from his desk, “Van Wagenen, see me!” My heart stopped. I’d had a rather scary run in with him a few weeks back (more on that in a moment). I cautiously approached his desk. He asked, “Are you going to college?” “Yes,” I replied. “Where are you applying?” Ummmm, hadn’t really thought about that yet. Honestly, I didn’t even realize you had to apply. I just thought when the time came I’d pick a college and go. He scrawled a note onto a slip of paper and said, “Bring this to the guidance office.” “Okay,” I said. On the way I read it: “This young lady is clueless. Register her for the SAT and get her started on the college application process. Frank” He was actually Mr. Frank, but he was big on using last names only. Here’s the back story.


A few weeks earlier the same, “Van Wagenen, see me!” was bellowed from the back of the room. He handed back my 20-page report on Robert Frost with “ZER0000000000” at the top in huge red letters. The ten zeros represented the fact that this was the single most important paper that one writes in their high school career. The dreaded Author’s Report worth 10 times any other grade. And I was getting a zero! I stared in disbelief. He said, “Did you read this garbage before you turned it in?” Truthfully I hadn’t. My procrastinating, inexperienced, burn-the-candle-at-both-ends teenage self had completely underestimated what it would take to get the report done, and I found myself pulling the infamous all-nighter to get it finished. Apparently, I was so delirious that I began typing lyrics from songs on the radio into the paper. Lines such as, “The Road Not Taken was Frost’s it’s the real thing… Coca Cola… This Saturday only…” were peppered throughout. I was aghast. “Explanation?,” said he. I came clean. I told him that I did all of the research for months and rather enjoyed it, but had no idea how long it would take to actually put it together and footnote it and, you know, write it.

Mr. Frank did something that went against everything people believed about him - he gave me a second chance. He said the coherent parts showed promise and he wanted to see the finished product. He gave me the weekend. Talk about rising to an occasion! I was so grateful for that opportunity and so scared to fail the class that I made sure to get it done perfectly. This was not easy back in 1983 on a typewriter with no backspace to erase, no automatically formatted “insert footnote” button, and carbon paper in between two sheets of paper to achieve the required two final copies. But I did it and proofread the heck out of it before turning it in on Monday. I got an A (AAAAAAAAA). A few weeks later he sent me to the guidance counselor to get me started on the college application process.

Mr. Frank took the road less traveled when he reached out to me and set me on the path to my future. He could have stayed behind his intimidating persona and given me the F; made me go to summer school knowing I’d eventually pass, and just carried on waiting away the years until retirement. But he didn’t. He spoke to my person - he saw in me a budding young writer with potential and didn’t want to let it pass. He chose the road less traveled than many by caring and doing something about it. And that made all the difference. I continue to pay it forward with my own students.

Two roads diverged in a wood and I - I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.

(Robert Frost, 1916)


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