It’s true, my life as a writer was derailed in the fall of 1974 by my third grade teacher. I was caught plagiarizing and the truth is, I was guilty. Not only that, it was one of those moments that I can recall like it was yesterday and I know it has had a profound impact “writing” life.
In my defense, the expectations were way too high for an eight year old. A new three – four sentence story every day, really? And, it had to have a picture to go with the story that filled the top half of the paper.
You remember story paper, one half has lines for neat printing and the other half is a giant blank space for the picture. “Make sure you fill in all of the paper with your picture” said teachers everywhere.
If the diagnosis for ADHD existed back in the mid-seventies, I’m sure I would have been a candidate. That being said, my teacher’s took care of my symptoms the old-fashioned way and found many reasons to send me out of the classrooms.
In third grade, my teacher discovered that I liked to write stories. (I was not so happy about the drawings, but apparently not bad at the story part.) Each day I was given a blank piece of paper and told to write a story and THEN, the best part, I was allowed to go down to the kindergarten rooms and read my stories.
This little charade went quite well until that fateful day when I met writer’s block. I couldn’t think of a story and I was desperate to get out of the room and visit the other classrooms. So, I did what any anxious, hyper, third grader would do, I plagiarized a story and I got busted.
How can I remember something that happened nearly 40 years ago, because I got caught in the most mortifying way possible, in front of everybody.
I had watched an Easter special on television the night before and basically I retold the story as my own the following day. I read that story to a room of kindergarteners and as soon as I finished a little red-haired boy in the second seat of the second row jumped up and yelled, I watched that story on television last night.
It got louder and louder with kids yelling out that they had seen that show too. They were pointing and laughing. I can see the teacher coming from the back of the room and asking if I had written the story. I kept my head down and begged the black and white tile floor to suck me into the basement. I can still feel the redness burning through my cheeks.
“Did you plagiarize this story?” bellowed the teacher. (I’m 8 years old lady, do I know what plagiarize means?) “You can’t take someone else’s story and pretend it is yours.” (Well aware of this fact right now.) “You need to go back to your room.” Without a word I bolted out the door and ran down the hallway to hide in a bathroom stall.
Eventually, I returned to my classroom and told my teacher that I didn’t feel like reading today. She seemed preoccupied and didn’t ask me anymore questions, thank goodness for small favors.
Busted for plagiarism at age eight, a lesson learned and never forgotten. I never wrote another story and English classes made me feel anxious right through college. I have since recovered and learned to write again the first time I had to deliver a eulogy (click here to read more about my writing).