Readin’ and Writin’

Rick Williams owns Rick’s Sign Company, a commercial sign shop in Longview, Texas. He has been in the sign industry since 1973 and has been a contributing editor to Sign Business since 1986. Contact Rick via e-mail at ricksignco@aol.com.

Like many a young boy, I liked school some of the time, and I didn’t like it the rest of the time. There were just too many things to do to spend so much time sitting in a classroom. And when I wasn’t sitting in class, my teachers sent us home with homework, so what was the fun in that?

My vaunted opinion, way back when I was 9 or 10, was if a teacher couldn’t teach us all we needed to learn in the seven or so hours we had at school, they weren’t very much of a teacher. Just how much was there to learn anyway?

If Mrs. Surrey, the one who endured my fourth-grade year, had been clairvoyant she would have sat me down and said, “Ricky, I will tell you what’s going to happen to you. You are going to be self employed all your working life, and then young man, you will know all about homework!”

And from sign layouts to payroll reports, from tax renditions to tax returns, homework I would have. She might as well have tried to get me used to it, as such would be the nature of my life.

Well, it is September, and time for school to start again, and my attitude about school, as you might expect, has changed quite a bit over the years. And my appreciation for what our teachers did for us has greatly increased. Shucks, just having to put up with someone as annoying as I must have been should have won them some type of award by itself!

I was reminded of my school years a few days ago, when I personally installed a custom address sign for a retired teacher, one who taught her first few years at the school where I finished my last few, and we visited there by the entrance to her little ranch while I worked.

Mrs. Brenda Jeter told me she used to hate this time of year, because everywhere she looked, from TV news, to store adds and sales, or the obvious activity on the football practice fields, she was reminded that she would soon be teaching again, and her wonderful summer break would be over. Funny, those were the same thoughts I had at the end of each summer, but I thought teachers loved going back to school. Who knew?

But school, which was for me a major inconvenience, and for her, a career -- and a major inconvenience -- when it is done right it is a life-changing gift that keeps on giving. And I guess, if I were being honest, that’s what mine really was. Even though I am a man without letters, with no MBA or Ph.D. after my name, I did get a really good education. It only went on two years past high school, but it was still good, and I am thankful.

What did I learn? For one, I learned how to spell. For a sign guy, being able to spell is not an ability to be taken for granted. Yes, I realize “spell check” can cover a multitude of sins, but the sinner is usually found out pretty quickly just the same.

And, I learned how to write.

But I did not learn it the way some of my teachers tried hard to teach me. I did not learn it by studying vocabulary, or diagramming sentences, or memorizing anything. Writing is learned … by reading.

I fully believe that all teachers have to do to make their students first-class readers and first-class writers, is to have them read a whole lot, and from time to time write about what they’ve read. It’s not complicated.

It is also not done very much. A nephew of mine, who just graduated high school, has more than once texted me or emailed me asking if he was “post to work this Saturday.” If it had been just once or twice, I might have thought little of it, but that is really how he writes. And, he has read so little history that he thinks the Battle of the Alamo was fought between the Texans and the British! Oh, my goodness; tell me it isn’t so!

I know I skipped over my math skills in this discussion. Oh, I have some, though probably not enough to be bragging about. But readin’ and writin’ I am truly thankful for, and the education I received -- which bestowed on me and my fellow mush heads these all-important abilities -- I will always appreciate and consider a blessing.

To those going off to school this year, I wish them the best and their teachers, too. And I hope that both parties accomplish their task, because it is an important one, and the skill and the mission of teaching reading and writing is much more important than making signs.

But one cannot exist without the other, as writing is really what sign guys do. We just do it bigger than anyone else. Have a great month.