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R E M A R K A B L E T E ACH E R 27 March 2014 | Professionally Speaking PHOTO: DAVID YELLEN; PEN: ISTOCK MARKING MALCOLM World-renowned writer Malcolm Gladwell thanks the man who helped him learn from his mistakes and master the written word. B Y R I C H A R D O U Z O U N I A N B estselling author Malcolm Gladwell has had his writing edited by the strictest of publications but the toughest critiques came much earlier, when he was a student at Elmira District SS. Gladwell was in his final year when he met his match (and mentor), Bill Exley. The English composition and literature teacher only had a short time with the bright adolescent — but he nevertheless imparted techniques that prepared the high school fast-tracker for the world-class arena he now competes in. Gladwell secured a true presence in the literary world in 1996, when he was hired as a staff writer for The New Yorker. He later became a household name with the success of his books, The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers and his latest offering, David and Goliath. To have a student achieve such a high level of success gives Exley a justifiable glow of satisfaction, but the truth is the 34-year teaching veteran is proud of all his students — and with good reason. Exley has taught dozens of prominent graduates from the small-town school, including New York Times media editor Bruce Headlam and Harvard professor Terry Martin. But what causes such pedagogical lightning in a bottle? Gladwell credits Exley for much of it, but also acknowledges having grown up in the southwestern town of Elmira as a major contributor. Gladwell recalls the amount of time he had for reflection and independent activity. The 1970s community afforded freedom to daydream, to explore, or just to read the books that interested him — all of which allowed him to generate ideas, examine them at leisure and decide whether to investigate them further. Exley recalls a similar magic about Elmira. "It wasn't just a town," says the 74-year-old retired teacher. "It was a community, in which everyone shared the same interests — the same goal of bettering ourselves and the world we lived in. Our involvement didn't end when the school day was over. We'd go to town meetings, I coached the debating team and on Sundays, for example, Malcolm and his parents attended the same church that I did with my wife and children."

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