Tony’s Triumph: From “Non-Writer” to Published Writer

Posted on July 28, 2015


Tony and Rob, 2012

Tony and Rob, 2012

A couple of years ago, I ran into a parent of a former student, Tony (Class of 2004). Rob, his dad, put his arm around me and said, “You know, Tony is in Hollywood now, working in the film industry, making more money than us, and it’s all because of you.”

Of course it isn’t all because of me, but I did play a role in Tony’s success. When Tony arrived in my classroom his junior year, his parents, his counselors, and his Special Education teacher knew that if Tony was going to pass American Literature, he’d need a lot of help. And from me, he got it. I did some research and discovered that Tony, who said he was a non-reader and a non-writer, was a state-champion bowler who read a bowling magazine, and that he designed record-breaking sound systems to compete in car-stereo volume contests, which required him to read technical texts. I used what I learned about the genres and structures he was familiar with in the reading he chose to do to help him find ways to be successful with reading and writing assignments. And he did succeed. It was a struggle, but I always say of life’s less pleasant experiences, “Liking it is optional.”

At his spring IEP meeting, the education team met to discuss Tony’s options for English in his senior year. At this point, most students who struggle with English Language Arts prefer to opt out, if they’ve met credit requirements, or take a less rigorous elective. Tony, concerned that his weak writing skills could hinder his post-secondary educational options, made an amazing decision. He told the team that he wanted to do an independent study in writing with me, so that he could work on his area of weakness. He knew that it would be difficult, and that he wouldn’t enjoy it, but he knew that he needed to get stronger as a writer. At the end of his senior year, we knew that he had come a very long way. We also knew that he’d need to keep working on it. And he did.

Tony showed up in my classroom last spring, just before he moved to California for his new job. He wanted to be able to thank me in person. He had exciting news. He had just published an article, “Fuel the Flame,” a LightWave tutorial in the latest issue of HDRI 3D magazine (issue 23) a professional journal for 3D artists and animators. The publisher was so impressed with his work that she contacted him to ask him to submit more articles. He hugged me; he thanked me; I thanked him for sharing; he glowed with pride.

Before he left, I realized that Tony, via his writing, could help me mentor student writers. I asked him if I could use his article  in my classes as a mentor text for technical writing, since the ELA curriculum (KC4) called for students to examine some technical texts, and he agreed. In fact, he was thrilled, as was I! Neither of us could have imagined that this day would come when we began our learning journey together.

When I can show students, especially those who consider themselves non-readers or non-writers, as Tony did, the published work of students who see themselves the same way, I have an opportunity to open a door of possibility–that they might begin to wonder, “If it happened to Tony, could it happen to me?” It could. I know it could.