The professor asked the class to drop off our papers on our way out of the room. My heart sank. I knew it was a long shot, but I had hoped he would forget, and I’d get a reprieve, at least for the weekend. I pulled my paper out of my bag and waited my turn. When I got to the front, I placed it in the middle of the stack, as if that would turn it into something half-way presentable.
I wanted to cry out in frustration. I could tell you everything that was wrong with the paper, all the things that I missed, all the writing errors and content ones too. I was a Communications major, this is what I was supposed to love, and here I was, turning in stuff that even I was less than happy with submitting. The assignment came at the worst possible time. I had several other assignments due the same week, a major mid-semester exam, and had to work too, leaving little time to write the paper I had envisioned.
The professor must have seen the look on my face. He yelled out my last name, told me to wait up and said, “It can’t be that bad.”
I shook my head in disagreement, “Oh yes, it can.”
“Well, let me read it first, and I’ll let you know.”
The dreaded red-pen
Sure enough, when we came back to class Monday morning, the professor had read our papers, provided his feedback and graded them. The prof had gone to town on my paper, hand-written comments in red pen lined both sides of the paper. I skipped the comments and immediately went to the back page, where he usually left his grade in big bold letters, but I couldn’t find a grade. Instead, the professor had left a simple message, “Come and see me after class.”
I don’t think I heard any of his lecture.I was convinced that he had given me an F, worst case, he wanted to kick me out of class, thinking I didn’t deserve to be there. I counted down the minutes. I thought about what I was going to tell my family about flunking out of college and how disappointed they would be in me. In particular, I feared telling my father. He never had a chance to go to college, but he had a brain for math and engineering and would’ve done well.
Finally, we reached the end of class. When everyone was gone, I got up and approached him. “I suppose you want to know how you did?” he said.
Before he could say anything else, I apologized for the paper and begged him to give me another chance. He broke out into a laugh, saying, “You think you’re in trouble?”
Not so fast
Of course, he had another message entirely for me. He asked me to stay because he was giving me an A and wanted to encourage me to keep plugging away. “You’re a talented writer, you have a unique viewpoint, your copy needs some work, you’re making some silly copy mistakes, but I suspect that’s simply a time management issue. You just need to believe in yourself.”
He gave me some specific things to watch in my writing. Finally, he encouraged me to help out other students in the writing center and to seek out my own writing voice.
I think of the professor and his talk on days like last Wednesday (October 5), celebrating World Teacher’s Day. The purpose of the day, sponsored by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, is to recognize and enhance the status of teachers around the globe.
Saying thank you
The prof didn’t have to go out of his way. He could have graded my paper and moved on, but he saw something in me that I couldn’t see in myself. He pushed me to do better, to work harder, and to reach for something greater. More than anything, though, he cared.
Teachers like him make a difference. My wife is that kind of teacher. I have friends and family that are that kind of teacher. We all know teachers like that. How often do we thank them for the difference that they’ve made in our lives or the lives of our children?
Let’s change that.