Thursday, April 30, 2009

And Now, a Love Letter

Last night at 6:45, after portfolios had been collected and evaluations had been done, I stood in front of my Wednesday night class--a group I called the Not Colleens because there was one girl who looked exactly like a girl I used to waitress with (Colleen) but was in fact not Colleen--and I unrolled my finest last-day pep-talk. It was all take these lessons with you! Use them in other classes! Use them in life! Let me be the voice in your head hissing, "Why are you putting that comma there?!"

And then I told them it was a great pleasure to have had their company for fifteen weeks. Sometimes--especially on the darkest nights of winter--the last thing you want to do is go teach a night class for three straight hours (which totally cuts into some of the best TV of the week), and you clunk into class feeling like it is the world's biggest chore. This class, though, with its fabulous mix of nontraditional students, high school seniors, and single dads, was about as good as they get, and they never felt like a chore.

I even baked them cookies. That's how good they were. Back when I first started teaching, I used to bake cookies for every class I had--and my last creative writing class at MSU even got a pizza party--but it just got to be too much. When I was teaching in Buffalo, I baked cookies for my engineering boys and decided that was it. I was done. I was finished. No more cookies.

But I rolled the cookies out for this bunch because they deserved it. I hadn't given a single A out in my other composition class all semester long--in fact, on their final papers, only two people were above a C--but my night class was a completely different story. It was A! A! A! A! It was pile after pile of essays that were consistently well thought-out, impeccably crafted, and painstakingly revised. It was clear that these were papers that were started more than twenty-four hours before they were due. Way more than twenty-four hours before they were due.

These students would come up to me and drop a paragraph on my desk and say things like: "I tried a little something new here. What do you think? Do you think the tone works? Do you think it's a good image to grab the audience's attention? Do you think the punctuation helps emphasize my point?"

Those questions are enough to make me fall over dead. The entire semester long, I was about three seconds away from grabbing these students and clutching them to my bosom and saying, "You are trying! You are thinking! You are WONDERFUL!"

I made sure they knew how much I appreciated them. After every batch of essays got graded, I'd walk into the room and announce that my giant teacher crush on them was as strong as ever because I'd spent the weekend marking high grades all over the place. One time, I even went so far as to draw a fat A wearing a bejeweled crown on one girl's essay because it was simply one of the best I'd ever read.

A teacher doesn't get lucky like that often. I mean, they were charming and funny and smart and thoughtful and helpful. They were everything you hope you get in a group of college students but often don't. I'm not foolish enough to think I'll have another group like that for a while. Which is sad. Which is very sad. Sometimes I come home after a day on campus and wonder if I'm even doing any good, if I've ever done any good, if I am teaching anyone anything at all. But I never once--not even for a second--felt that way or wondered those things as I left that class. I only ever felt wonderful, which is exactly what I was feeling last night after I finished my pep-talk and said my goodbyes and they all stood up and clapped for me. That right there? That's the best feeling in the world.

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