Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What I Learned at She Speaks, Part 2

I cannot even count the number of papers I’ve graded over the years. Hundreds, for sure, if not thousands.

And every time I picked up a paper to be graded I thought to myself, “Just give this student something, even if it’s one thing, that will help her become a better writer.” I truly thought of the comments I wrote on students’ papers as teaching tools and an important part of my job.

Unfortunately, not all my students thought of my comments that way. I remember one guy in my class who got a pretty bad grade on one of his papers—I think it was a D. (Hey, I’m no pushover as a teacher, let me tell you.) So this student asked me if he could stay after class to talk about his grade and his paper. I spent 30 minutes after class with this student, walking him through his paper line by line, word by word, comma by comma, explaining what he had done wrong and what he could do to make his paper better.

When I had finished what I thought was a pretty thorough analysis of his paper, he looked at me and simply said, “So what if I just don’t agree with you?”

What?! Are you kidding me? I have just spent 30 minutes with you and you just don’t agree with me? I’ll be honest, I wanted to throttle the kid.

Talk about not being teachable.

But for every student like that I had ten who really wanted to learn how to improve. Those were the students who took advantage of my rewrite policy—they could rewrite any paper they wanted and I would take the higher grade of the two. Pretty lenient, I’d say. Sometimes students would get higher grades, sometimes not. It was those who really made the effort to make their writing better who improved and did well in my class.

Believe me, I know how difficult it is to get a paper back and to read, “Expand here” or “Frag” (ugh) or “Try this . . . .” I have seen students’ faces fall as they read my comments; students who had entered my classroom hopeful that day sometimes left defeated.

Did I like being the bearer of bad news? No. Would it have been easier to just give everyone an A and call it a day? Sure. But would that have made me a good teacher? Absolutely not.

Now, my students always had a chance to get even with me at the end of the semester when they filled out the dreaded evaluation form. I remember the first couple of semesters, getting those evaluations back and feeling crushed. Like I hadn’t done one thing right. I questioned my own intelligence, and I often wondered who I thought I was to actually think I could teach college students.

But after a while I came to realize that people have baggage. We all do. We bring to the table all of the junk from our morning or from our childhood or from our church. When receiving comments, we often forget to take them in the spirit the comments were intended; rather, we bring all our insecurities and our dislikes and our past failings and pile them into the reading of one simple sentence.

And when I realized that, reading evaluations became much easier. Sure, someone in the class might have wanted me to have devotions before every single class (probably because it took up five or ten minutes of teaching time!), but someone else might have preferred that I not try to impart anything spiritual to the act of writing. I suddenly realized that I am never going to please everyone. I only need to please the One who matters.

All of us who attended She Speaks this past weekend, myself included, brought baggage with us . . . and I don’t mean the kind with wheels. We all brought insecurities, deep hurts, past failings. And we also came with great expectations. Expectations of gaining new blog readers or of getting a speaking gig or maybe even of getting published.

What I learned this weekend was that sometimes our expectations and our baggage can collide in a big way, leaving us hurt, dejected, downcast.

Before I left for the weekend I knew this could be a problem for me so I prayed for a teachable spirit. Thankfully, God answered that prayer so that when my second publisher meeting didn’t go so well (AT ALL), it didn’t bother me. I just asked the editor some questions, learned a little something about their publishing house, and went on my merry way. Believe me, that would not have happened a few months ago. If I had not prayed about this, I know that my own tendency would have been to feel crushed, defeated, disheartened.

So what did I learn this weekend? I learned that, for me, my expectations need to be set low so that I don’t get disappointed (that’s baggage in case you didn’t recognize it). I also learned that I need to be careful with the people around me who might have bigger expectations than I do.

Mostly, I learned to pray for a teachable spirit. It made all the difference for me this weekend.


  1. ROFL.. what if I just don't agree with you? That's a good one.

  2. I think this is a beautiful blog post. And it says something about you---you are maturing in your walk with Christ. In the end, what else really matters?

  3. This is such a great post. And can I ask if you could have been my teacher in college? A redo policy?? That's wonderful!
    And I know what you mean about a teachable spirit. That's one I'm working on, too!
    Thanks for the great recap!

  4. Loved reading about this, Shelly! I'm glad it went so well and it's exciting to see all you are doing! Glad your family is back together after so much travel.

  5. This was such an encouraging and challenging post. Thanks for all that you share with us.

  6. Great reflections, Shelly. I remember getting lots of "awks" on my letters that I'd take into you for proofing! :)

  7. Aw, come on, Angie! I wasn't that bad, was I??? :)

    Thanks for the comments, friends. Love them!

  8. I was just wondering to myself how the conference went for you! Thanks for the summaries...keep 'em coming!