On the first day of eighth grade, Mr. Montgomery stood in the front of the class, his eyes closed shut as he stroked his furrowed brow between his thumb and index finger, and raised—or rather shook—his hand into the air.
“Write me a story,” he declared.
Mr. Montgomery was frustrated with the curriculum. All around the rest of the school English teachers were going over what seemed to be the same lesson on how to write a thesis that we all learned each and every day subsequent to that one.
But, in this corner of the school it appeared no one noticed when that tradition was broken, when the Polar Express, in the form an outstretched hand, picked up a classroom of students and carried them to where they had never gone before.
In the course of a week we wrote many stories. We realized that in every story—whether it was about talking birds, black and stormy nights, or mistimed heists — there were ideas or characters central to the lives of their respective authors. That week writing became what for many it had never been about: themselves.
Sure, learning how to write an essay is essential. The misconception is that creative writing does not teach the same skills: concision and clarity, rules of grammar, forceful exposition. I have gone through the grade school educational system and have tutored middle school children in writing. These experiences have taught me that having students engage in creative writing can forge a unique connection between the student and their writing. Creative writing can allow students to uncover a passion for writing that will forever motivate them.
I’ll always be grateful that Mr. Montgomery ignored the curriculum and dared us to exercise our creative capacities, changing what had been a tedious task into a welcomed new form of self-expression. What I learned in that seemingly unremarkable classroom is that writing is something you can do for yourself, not for a due date, a teacher, or a grade—a lesson that keeps giving.