Writer Inspired-Story Honoring Mrs. Gentry
By: Sophie Shelton
Student, Norris Middle School, Anderson County
I had always liked to write, but it was my fifth grade English teacher, Mrs. Gentry who really made me feel like I could get somewhere with it.
“Wow,” she said one day, sounding surprised and pleased, after I read aloud a poem I’d written – a first-of-the-year class assignment. “Wow, Sophie. Great job!” I felt slightly dizzy at that moment, leftover nervous energy from having to read something in front of the class. “Um…thanks,” I managed, startled by her praise. She smiled warmly at me before turning to someone else.
So began a tumultuous journey of ups and downs, friendships, and discovering who we, the fifth grade class of Norris Elementary School, truly were as individuals. And throughout that journey, Mrs. Gentry was there encouraging and inspiring me every step of the way.
One assignment Mrs. Gentry gave was to write a journal entry every day in class on a steno notepad. “It doesn’t have to be anything too personal,” she explained, “just what’s going on. I want to feel like I really know everyone.” At the end of the week, she took up all the journals and responded to them over the weekend, writing questions and comments in the margins that were sometimes as long as our journal entries. She was a teacher who truly cared.
None of my other teachers had paid as much attention to the students and their interests as Mrs. Gentry had. Being an English teacher, she was justifiably more enthusiastic about students’ writing than just about anything else, and much of that year was writing, especially for me.
I found myself in my writing, and Mrs. Gentry seemed to understand that like almost no one else did. She took my writing seriously, working with me outside class and talking about how I could improve it. She truly believed in me. Once, she told me I was one of the most interesting people she knew and that she was convinced I was meant to “channel all those wonderful ideas and thoughts onto paper for everyone else.” By the end of the year she was not just a teacher to me; she was a mentor and even a friend. An inspiration.
Right after the fifth grade graduation, she told me, “When you write a book and it gets published, send a copy to me.”
“Not just that,” I corrected her with a grin. “I’ll dedicate it to you.”
That’s still exactly what I plan to do. I still want to be a writer, very much so, and largely due to Mrs. Gentry’s belief in me and what I, as both a writer and a person, was capable of. Mrs. Gentry inspired me to work hard and do my best, but most of all, to write. She’s retired now, but I hope she’s proud of what she did. She not only taught students, she touched their lives—especially mine.