North Texas Daily

An open letter to a former English professor

An open letter to a former English professor

March 03
01:00 2016

Sidney Johnson | Staff Writer


Professor Michael Stone,

This letter is to inform you exactly how you have impacted me as a writer. I see now how you enabled me to step outside of myself to see how wrong I was, and for that I thank you.

I started writing at 15-years-old, staying up after bed-time using the light from my window. I wrote about what I saw in my neighborhood and the pitfalls those around me fell into. I felt indifferent to “them,” but never judgmental, as we roamed the same jungle. Writing provided an outlet for that indifference. The dichotomy of wanting to do better, but never truly understanding how to, is the sad reality for many around me.

I graduated from Bryan Adams High School in 2006. Anyone from East Dallas (at the time) knows exactly how it was: fights, freestyles, codeine, tall-tees and the mall pictures with the neon-heart background. But with age I found solace in community college, where I felt akin to a different, more intellectually engaging crowd of people. Education was quickly becoming my “way out,” and the deeper I went, the more I yearned to learn.

After a few semesters at El Centro Community College in downtown Dallas, I was fortunate enough to take your English course; I soon learned it wasn’t for the easily offended. Our first reading was “The Great Gatsby.” I know it’s almost sinful to not have read it beforehand, but I hadn’t, and yet still attempted to write a critique for one of your first assignments – it didn’t end well.

“This is terrible, you obviously have not read this book,” you said. “Do you understand what a Straw-man is? A Red Herring? What is this?”

I was exposed and upset. At myself, of course, but much more at you, even though I knew you were right.

After about a week I got the gall to go into your cluttered office to defend my ego. You were smug and unrelenting in your assessment. You didn’t budge and this infuriated me even more.

“Who does he think he is? He’s just some professor at a community college that couldn’t cut it at a university.”

This was me at my most bare. I withdrew from your course just three weeks into the semester. I had never felt that much rejection until that day. That conversation in your office almost pushed me to give up writing altogether.

This letter is to inform you of just how wrong I was, as well as to help anyone who may be going through a similar situation. That day forced me to realize great writing is a process that can’t be done properly after a night of drinking. You taught me the necessity of critique and not taking things personally.

To students, simply force yourself to get better, or give up altogether – it really is that simple. 

And to Professor Stone: just know that I plan on repeating your course this summer, and we have a lot of catching up to do.

Sidney Johnson

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