My First Non-Family Mentor

I read a story about mentors back in January, which was National Mentoring Month. It gave me pause to think about the mentors in my life. I’ve had many, even if I didn’t realize that’s what they were at the time. I’m going to occasionally write about them.

Other than my dad, the first person I now recognize as a mentor in my life was Mr. Dorson, my English teacher in ninth grade at Newtown High School. Lawrence Dorson was not a blazing personality. Nor was he a particularly engaging teacher. Some would call him dull.

What Mr. Dorson provided me with was insight into the structure of writing. And even back in ninth grade, I knew that writing was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Mr. DorsonEach test Mr. Dorson gave was a one-question essay based on a book we were assigned, and he required the essay to be written using the inductive style. Inductive style requires a general statement, followed by facts; you only merge the general statement with your facts to reach a conclusion about the subject at essay’s end.

Use of the inductive style was worth 25 points on every one of Mr. Dorson’s tests, so it was possible (and this did happen) that a student could score a 75, which meant they perfectly answered the essay question but didn’t use inductive style. You could also get a 25 by following inductive style but not answering the question correctly.

Mr. Dorson, a notoriously tough grader (my older sister, Andrea, had him for 12th grade World Lit years earlier), gave me a 100 on his first test—the book was Cry, the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton. That early result in high school gave me the confidence to know I could write, confidence I have carried with me ever since.

Beyond confidence, Mr. Dorson made me aware, as good teachers do, of the importance of structure. Even though journalism, my chosen field for many years, does not use inductive style, I learned that structure is the key to success in any type of writing—understand it and you can write cogently.

When I decided to share about Mr. Dorson, a quick Google search of his name and my alma mater took me to Newtown High School’s Facebook page. There, I learned that Mr. Dorson died in December 2013 at age 88.

I regret that I never had the chance to thank Mr. Dorson for what he did for me. I believe that from our interactions—and my sense of his disappointment when I told him I was taking Shakespeare rather than his 12th grade World Lit class—he knew.

Mentors understand. Thank you, Mr. Dorson.



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