How My 4th Grade Teacher Helped Me Without Knowing It

Last post, I talked a little bit about how my life was impacted by a local symphony conductor.

I thought I’d do the same today, with my 4th grade teacher.

First a little background…

I spent all my life up until 4th grade in the same town—named Sandwich. Yeah, really. It’s hilarious. No, it is. Anyway, a lot of the same kids everywhere, and same friends for me, but I’d switched schools across town to go to 4th grade. But that’s not all.

Back in the day, my aunt went to school with my fourth grade teacher. I mean, they were super good friends. And Mom knew all my teachers—she made a point of it. Oh, and my first grade teacher’s daughter was in my fourth grade class.

Where I come from, we call that situation “impossible to get away with ANYthing.”

All right, and if that wasn’t interesting enough, there were two things that my 4th grade teacher (Mrs. Kepka) did that almost nobody else did, in any school I went to, ever.

And these things had a huge impact on me and my future.

First, she made us grade one another’s papers. And when she did, she made us write down the correct answer on the paper of whoever-it-was we were grading at the time. She needed us to know the right answer, because she said “if you don’t, you’ll learn it wrong.” And she was totally upfront with us about that NOT being what she wanted for us. That’s also why she spoke grammatically correct English almost all the time.

And the second thing? She read to us. Not that we didn’t read in school, but she said if she got off-track, she wanted us to catch her. How could you get off-track reading a book? Well, there were certain times (we read a lot of Beverly Cleary novels back then in school), she’d say the wrong word on purpose, and someone would call out the right one. I’d never experienced that before—someone telling you something that they were going to do? And then expecting you to catch them? And it wasn’t an every-fifth-word thing—Mrs. Kepka did this at random.

And if she was reading solo for the whole class just for fun, we were invited to check things out, to see if she was doing things correctly—I mean go-up-to-her-desk-at-the-side-of-the-room-and-read-over-her-shoulder.

I learned a lot from it. And I wasn’t the only one reading over her shoulder on occasion. To top things off, she was a RIOT in class, too. But maybe everything’s drop-dead funny when you’re eight or nine.

Which got me thinking about my future, that became my present.

It wasn’t until years later, I was doing comparison proofreads for Project Gutenberg (matching up electronic scans of pages with their computerized spit-outs). And a few years after all that, I’m telling you about it—because I realized it all started way back in Mrs. Kepka’s class, trying to catch her saying the wrong word.

I didn’t realize how unique Mrs. Kepka’s method of grading was, until I moved to another school in a different town, and was STOPPED by a guy when I tried to put the right answer down on a paper I was grading. “Don’t worry about it,” he said.

But, but…I’d been TRAINED to worry about it—to make sure people GOT it, that they knew the right answer.

It’s been years since all that, though. And I titled this post the way I did because Mrs. Kepka never knew what I’d become—who I’d become, and that I’d grow up to write fiction, emails, and what-have-ya. Or that I’d be reading and editing peoples’ emails or books–using the same eyes and ears she’d trained me to use–to help make the writing stronger.

In 4th grade, she invited us to call her Sandy and come back after graduation—but never to call her “Teach” or she promised to scream—literally.

I never did go back, because I’ve moved three times since 4th grade, and lost touch with lots of people (a subject for another post). I don’t know if she’s retired from teaching, either. Maybe. Would I be welcome if I showed up, and introduced myself? I’m sure I would.

Mrs. Kepka, if you’re out there, thanks a lot for the prints you’ve left on my life.

And before we close out for today, I’d like to say thanks to you for sticking with me and reading this post, commenting, following, and most of all—adding your mix to the writing journey as a whole.

If you’d like to drop a line below about a teacher who’s impacted you and how, feel free.

Until next time,



About Ty Mall

Thanks for stopping by. I've almost always been interested in writing, among other things. Along with discovering pop culture, I've uncovered a lot about the craft over the past 10 years. And whether you're a fiction writer or email copywriter, I'm here to pass on what I've found out. And have a ton of fun in the process.
This entry was posted in Books and Reading, Creativity, Inspiration, Motivation, Editing and Revision, Fiction and Copy Decodes, My Journey and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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