Thursday, May 15, 2014

From the Heart

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein."  -- famous sportswriter Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith

When I was 25, I started graduate school at Florida State University (Go Noles!) in Panama City, FL. The university had recently opened a branch campus and was attempting to build enrollment, so they offered a graduate program in English Education. They made it easy to get in -- no GRE and a 3.0 GPA from your former university. Even with the simple requirements, I must admit that I did not want to go back to school. I had been out of college only three years and was pregnant with my first child. School was not on my mind. 

After much encouragement, however, I signed up. Because this was a new program, the classes were really small and most of the classes were made up of the same people. We all knew each other because we were all English teachers at various schools in the county.

I was still a relatively new teacher and many of my fellow classmates were more established (I don't want to say older). I was more than a little intimidated by them because they had so much experience and knowledge. They intelligently discussed points in class and had a firm grasp on what was going on in education at the time. Me? I was more concerned with how I was going to pay for childcare and buy diapers. 

In one of my education classes, Dr. H. assigned an essay to the class. I can't remember the topic or what I wrote, but I can certainly remember his remarks. In our small, intimate class of 12 of my colleagues, he held up my paper as an example of what not to do. He did not try to make the writer anonymous to spare feelings. He even asked for discussion after he finished tearing apart my paper. 

After class, I couldn't get out of that classroom fast enough. I cried all the way home and cursed Dr. H. for everything he was worth. At the end of the semester, I couldn't tell you a thing I learned from Dr. H about philosophies in education or whatever the class was about. All I learned from him was how not to treat students and their writing. 

In a few weeks, I will complete my 34th year teaching English. During that time, I can't begin to count the essays -- research, narrative, personal, descriptive, etc. -- that I have read. With each one, I always make at least one positive comment because writing is such a personal and risky venture. Although a student's writing might not be up to par, it's still his writing, a definite part of himself. Therefore, a kind word is necessary to build confidence. Also, along with my kind words, I mark every misspelled word and comma misuse, but I also suggest ways to improve, or I ask questions that will make the writer think about what he's written. 

Every school year, I tell my students about my experience with Dr. H. and assure them that I will never embarrass or wound them with my comments. Sometimes I get really frustrated with my students for making the same mistakes over and over, for not taking advantage of editing opportunities, or for just being plain lazy. Sometimes I want to make nasty comments on their papers. Sometimes I want to bring out the stamps I have that read "I haven't got time to read this CRAP" or "Complete and utter BS," but I don't. I remember Dr. H and the very important lesson he taught me. 

I edit from the heart and hope that I have inspired people to keep writing long after they leave my classroom.