Our Reading Lives

An Open Letter to the Teacher Who Encouraged Me to Write

Patricia Thang

Senior Contributor

Patricia Thang is an educator located in Los Angeles. Though a native Angeleno through and through, her heart also belongs to Tokyo, where much of her family is from. Besides books, she is an enthusiastic devourer of many things, including podcasts, television, and J-pop. She realizes there’s not enough time in the world to consume all of that content, but she’s trying anyway. Other endeavors to which she has dedicated herself include cuddling her dogs until they’re annoyed and taste-testing every vegan ice cream she can find. Twitter: @aintnopthang

To the teacher who made me want to be a writer:

Not a single day goes by that I don’t think of you and the lessons you taught me the summer before my senior year of high school. Though I never even had you as an English teacher during the school year, I’m so grateful for the short amount of time I did get with you when you mentored me on my college application essay. Without it, I know that I would not be the writer or person that I am today.

I always felt like I was a pretty good writer. And by that I mean I always did well on writing assignments in school. But until you read my writing, I didn’t realize how much power words can carry, how much of a person can be contained within the sentences they lay out, even if they’re not aware of it themselves. I prepared what I thought were meaningless blurbs about my mundane, everyday life as a form of brainstorming. However, when you read them, you picked one out almost instantly and turned to me, saying “I sense a lot of pain here.” Out of utter shock and the sudden realization that you were right, I burst into tears right then and there. I’d never confronted my own pain, let alone been confronted by someone else about it. And I certainly had never imagined that my words could reveal and communicate the deepest parts of me to a careful reader.

From that moment, writing became so much more than just this mechanical process of conveying arguments and ideas. It became like therapy. I’d never managed to be so introspective and vulnerable until then because I didn’t think any good would come of it. Thank you for teaching me otherwise, for letting me cry in front of you on a daily basis in order to work through everything I’d been holding in for years, for showing me how to convert all the baggage into something tangible and useful. Today, I continue to strive to be as open as possible with myself and in my writing. It has not only helped me improve as a writer, but it has also helped me in learning to understand and love myself, which used to seem almost impossible.

Thank you for believing in my writing and making me promise to continue doing it. To be honest, I didn’t really have any intention of writing much after high school, despite how cathartic it had proven to be. I was moving across the country and leaving everyone I knew behind to study biology (in which only scientific writing is involved), so I was relying on getting a fresh start and never needing to look back or write for myself. I could not have been more wrong.

Finding myself back in a place of pain and doubt, the promise I had made to you but never kept suddenly came back to me. It bothered me that I hadn’t kept that promise, so I endeavored to begin writing once more. Again I made myself vulnerable, and again I took everything I was carrying with me and attempted to turn it into something tangible. And this time around, I realize that this is something I need to be doing continuously, certainly for myself, but maybe for others as well.

Before you even taught me anything about writing, you had words of advice that made a huge impression on me and that I continue to repeat to myself now whenever I feel down about how my life is going. I was a teenager who had never really failed at anything before, and that made me somewhat entitled as a young person. At the time, I wouldn’t have imagined a teacher telling a group of students about to embark on a new stage in life not to put all their hopes on one path, but you did. It honestly felt like a slap in the face at first, but you also told us that even if we didn’t end up where we thought we wanted to be, we would still end up where we were supposed to be. And having now experienced a lot of failure since then, this idea has become a major light in the darkness for me. And now that I’ve begun writing again and been lucky enough to find a platform to share my words with others, everything you taught me has come together and I finally feel that I truly am exactly where I am supposed to be.

I know that there are many writers out there who have been inspired and encouraged by amazing people just like you. So thank you for being a part of this special group of teachers and mentors. And thank you, on behalf of all of us young writers, to everyone out there who has helped us cultivate our individual voices.