Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Flowers and Tears for the Teacher

This little flower was a bit of a surprise. The girls and I were taking a quick pass through the butterfly garden at the zoo when she jumped out and shouted, “Hey! Look at me!” I took two quick shots and kept moving. I was very happy to see what I came up with when I downloaded the day’s shots!

I also got a very sweet surprise from one of my students last night. I’ve been teaching college English for 20 years. I’ll admit, there has been many a day when heading to class at night after working all day has drained every bit of my energy, but I must be doing something right since I’ve kept it up for so long. Last night, our final class for this term, I got a reminder why. The final journal assignment I give my students is to give me an honest assessment of the class. I’ve done this for years, and this feedback is very important to me because the generic evaluation the students can complete online is just that: very generic. This format gives them the opportunity to really tell me what they think. I work on a point grading system, so because of that they already know what their grades are based on how many points they’ve earned, so they are free to speak their minds without fear of it impacting their grades. I received an entry last night that literally brought me to tears. While I’ve had some of my SGA officers and Student Ambassadors bring me to tears with some of the very sweet things they’ve said, I can’t ever remember an English student doing that. I thought I’d share it with you.

Dear Professor Warren,

Your 1101 class has been my greatest college experience. It has been rewarding, fulfilling and challenging. I have grown as a student and as a person from this experience. This class has not only taught me to be a better writer, but it has also taught me to believe in myself and trust in my instincts. I am now starting to believe that I can earn my A.S. degree.

When I first started this class, I did not know computer skills, I did not know when to indent paragraphs, I lacked confidence, and I was scared half to death of this course. I was worried that this class was too advanced for me. I had a brief conversation with you about my concern, and you just smiled and told me you could not read any of my journals because you could not open them because I submitted them in the wrong format. The one that you did read, you said it was not so bad. From that conversation, I decided not to drop the class. This class was challenging, and I am proud of myself for not quitting. I have learned so much from this class, and it has enriched my life.

One of the strengths of this class is reading the book “Steps to Writing Well,” along with writing essays that we learned from the book and from our class discussions. Your feedback on all the essays and the journals I wrote helped me to work on what I needed to improve on, like punctuation, comma splices, and sentence fragments. Writing journals was another strength of this course. Writing the journals got my brain in the writing mode and helped me to get over the fear of writing. Writing journals was a great way to get started.

The only thing that I disliked about this class was the timed essays, but you already know this. I still panic and get writer’s block, but I am working hard to get over this fear. I am determined to become a better writer under pressure. There were not any weaknesses in this course, or anything I would do differently.

Before I close, I want to share with you a special moment that happened in this class that I will remember for a lifetime. I was given the chance to write a timed essay on a special moment. I blew it because I panicked, and I got writer’s block. I wrote my essay on Sundays at Grandmama Baker’s House. What I should have written about was the greatest experience I had in my 1101 class.

The experience happened the third week of class. I remember everything that happened in class that day. I emailed you after I had written my first essay because I thought I had a learning disability. You referred me to Robin Woolbright [the campus disabled student services specialist] for assistance. When I came to class the next day, you were handing out the essays, and you told me that I worry too much. I said to you, “But you haven’t read my essay yet,” and you said, “Yes, I have. I read it about 30 minutes ago.” I looked at the 100 that I made on the essay you placed on my desk, and I could not believe it. I am still in shock. After you passed all the essays out, you leaned against your desk and told the class you wanted to share an essay written by one of our classmates and read “My Devotion to Doug” essay. When you started reading my essay to the class, I got very emotional. I will carry this significant memory with me for the rest of my life. Being in this class, and having you as my instructor, has been a term that I will cherish forever. Thank you for making this an extraordinary adventure.

The student who wrote this is what we call a “returning student.” I would guess she is in her early 40s and has now set a goal of finally earning a college degree. When she gave me this entry, she told me she wanted to talk to me about it before she left, so she waited while I got the rest of the group situated, and then I grabbed the entry and walked outside with her. I hadn’t read it yet, so she asked me to read it first while she waited. Of course, by the end of it, my eyes had welled up with tears, and when I looked up at her after reading it, she had tears streaming down her face, too, so I just gave her a big hug and said, “Thank you. I will keep this forever.” That journal entry touched me deeply. It reminded me why I’ve worked two jobs all these years so that I could teach at night, and it reminded me that I am very blessed to be able to do that. Through teaching, both in the classroom and in Student Life, I am blessed with the opportunity to change lives and empower others to believe in themselves. Can it get any better than that?

8 comments:

cath c said...

wonderful! i cried, too, because it's when the students let you know you made a difference to them that makes teaching so rewarding. i miss it. but i am starting to tutor again, so that's a start.

teaching is about so much more than passing information. and it's the rest that i love so much.

congratulations for being such a good teacher, kelly!

Cori Lynn Berg said...

That post literally made the hair on my arms raise.. so moving...

Gwynnie B Designs said...

Kelly, this is so beautiful. I just know you are a wonderful teacher because you are such a warm and giving person and artist. Your students are very fortunate!

This essay brought back many memories because I was also a frightened returning college student who went on to become a community college English teacher. Both wonderful experiences that changed my life!

Kirsten said...

What a beautiful post.... It means so much to know that something you have done has changed someone else's life for the better.... brought ME to tears..... You obviously bring something very special to teaching.....

aimee said...

holy cow - you have us all in tears! it shows how the right teacher can create monumental change for the better in a person. i taught two years of undergraduate business courses when i was a grad student but never made this kind of impact on someone. i did notice, though, that returning students can be some of the best and most focused. they're older and have more experience behind them to relate to the material, and they've often had to overcome a LOT to get themselves back in school. generally they are there because they want to be there, not because they have to be. and in the case of your student, even though she felt vulnerable and insecure about her performance and potential, she was eager to learn. and lucky for her, she found a teacher who was eager to bring out the best in her.

Leah Virsik said...

I loved reading this Kelly! It so made me cry too. It's such a nice reminder of how as humans, we enjoy being chosen. How awesome to make a difference. Thanks for sharing. Nice photo too!

Have you seen the poem, "What Teachers Make" by Taylor Mali?
Your story made me reminded me of this. http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2010/03/what-teachers-make.html

Kelly Warren said...

thanks so much everyone. it's been a challenging, juggling, crazy week, so this journal and your responses to it really makes me smile! i believe we can all make a difference when we put our hearts into whatever it is we are doing.

leah! thanks so much for sharing that link! i have not seen that before, but i will definitely be sharing it now!

e.beck.artist said...

wah .... i had no intention of crying this afternoon ... very special ... you are clearly very dear ....