I finished grading last Wednesday, so I missed thankful Tuesday by a day with it. I’m still experiencing the thankfulness of that though! It feels a little strange actually to write this thankful Tuesday because it feels like I’m giving myself a giant pat on the back; those who know me well know that I don’t praise myself often though, so I think I can make this post without sounding like an arrogant jerk (and since I’m not putting any student names with these snippets, I think I can do it without violating any FERPA laws either).
When I get to the end of the semester, I ask my students to write me a letter telling me what they learned. I don’t give an exam, so I think this is a good reflective exercise that allows students to drill down to one or two skills that they will take with them. It helps me evaluate as well whether the most important objectives of the class are sticking with students. I was so encouraged by some of the letters at the end of this semester, especially since I felt like I had to fight for almost every inch of the semester when I returned heartbroken from spring break. For me, teaching is…well, it’s me. I try to bring myself to the classroom every day along with the content I’m supposed to be teaching. So, I let my mistakes and own wrestling with writing be exposed, make an effort to connect with students, and try not to let even the poorest performing of students fail without a fight. It’s pretty rewarding but exhausting even in the best of circumstances.
That’s why after a semester of turmoil, I was thankful to read the following in some student letters.
“This semester I learned a whole lot more than I expected to. Through high school I didn’t do that much writing and I’ve never really cared about it too much. I knew that I would need to know how to write well but it wasn’t until this semester that I realized the importance of writing. Not only did you teach us how to write well, you also helped us to realize the significance of proper writing“
“Having written a paper to explain this concept to others, helped me to understand more clearly for myself.“
“I learned a lot this semester in English Composition, including how to stay professional in a paper while still writing with passion.”
“I learned that I could hear me in my writing. At first it was difficult. I could say the words from my mouth but when I read the paper it was boring. I am still learning to hear my voice.” (I still remember the day that this student was in my office telling me about this turning point. She was wrestling with an assignment, and she said one night she just finally figured it out. She said, “I could hear me!” To do her tone full justice, I would have to put twenty exclamation marks behind her statement. Those are the days that I live for.)
“I loved working on my papers with you in your office, since you were able to specifically show me how I could make my paper better.”
“I was able to be challenged in ways that I didn’t think I could be in the subject of English. Who knew that there is so much into putting a simple paper together?”
I enjoyed seeing the students above stretch their understanding of the world and realize that they could be part of the important conversations taking place all around them. I liked that they didn’t expect to learn much but came away realizing that they had learned much.I even appreciated the backhanded compliments like this one:
“Throughout the year your class helped me develop into a more mature writer both locally and globally. The painful exercises you made us do actually proved to have some worth.”
After all, any teacher worth her salt is going to bring on a few growth pains. This last letter was the one I carry with me though. I edited it down a little bit out of respect for the student, but I almost cried as I read it. She might be in awe about a semi-colon, but I’m in awe that God landed me in a place where I can make a difference.
“I am still in awe of the fact that a semicolon goes before however and a comma after. Little lessons like this, make all the difference in the world while writing a paper and now, I love using “however.” … I know you’re probably thinking, ‘I had an impact on her life because I taught her basic things?’ No, well yes, but that is not why you had an impact. You also helped me find my voice in my writing. Finding my voice in my writing might not seem like a big deal to you, but because I found it through writing, I also found it in other places as well.”
As I reflect on the semester, I have to return glory to God. It’s certainly not a semester I could have muscled through on my own while still having anything left over to give. In retrospect, the semester was definitely a demonstration of the promise of 2 Corinthians 12:9: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'” I’m thankful that God didn’t just come through for me but that he also realized how I had others depending on me, and he was able to take care of them as well.