For Bill

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Today I was in the teacher’s lounge at my school and a teacher mentioned that his cousin died…I replied with an “I’m sorry, that’s terrible,” and then this teacher said…”You might have known him if you were an English major, his name was Bill Broz.”

Damn.

Bill Broz was known all over Iowa, and the nation, for his expertise in nonfiction writing, James Hearst, Iowa writers and teaching English. I first met Bill in my Personal Essay class that I took my sophomore year at UNI in 2001. He was a hippie at heart, always taught in jeans, and was the least pretentious professor I ever had. We were kindred spirits from the beginning.

I was a recent teaching major and he was leading a class where we were taught to open up about our feelings, put them on paper and be brave as we read them to the world. To say that this man has impacted my life, would be the understatement of the century.

All day today, I found my way around my classroom brushing students’ shoulders, giving them a squeeze and telling them I am proud, knowing that maybe this moment might make their lives spark a new path. Teachers rarely know when that moment may be…and I am confident that Bill had no idea that he was remaking a writer in those first 16 weeks we spent together on Thursday evenings.

I always wrote poetry and I thought myself a decent writer in high school, but I had had teachers who disagreed with my lively personality and convinced me that I was a mild idiot, despite my nerd status and extremely high test scores. The thing that was different from Bill from the beginning was that he was the first teacher who appreciated my personality. He called me a “spark plug” on the first night of class and he always shouted out to me when I walked by his office in Baker Hall.

He always read my papers and gave me thoughts, and he always asked me about my life. Each year, I found a reason to take another class of Bill’s….Iowa Writers…and then the Teaching of English…

It wasn’t until after I finished my BA that I really needed an ear, though. I was in my first year of teaching and I was facing a couple of book challenges, issues with censorship, and other major hurdles. Bill took my phone call one day, talked me through and then convinced me to come back to UNI for graduate school and a fresh start.

The rest is history.

All teachers like to believe they change lives. We aren’t doing this job for the red pens and the pay.

I hope, in the end, that Bill knew his impact on the world. I know his impact on my life and my career is immeasurable. He might have just looked at himself as a writing teacher….but he awakened a writer and pushed a teacher and inspired me to do the same.

Thank you, Bill.

This story is for you.

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