Thursday, September 23, 2010

Clueless Ray

For some reason I was telling one of my favorite teacher stories the other day. It’s one of those stories that still makes me laugh and keeps me scratching my head, so I thought I’d share the love and make you laugh too. Or maybe scratch your head. One of the two.

It’s one of my top three favorite teacher stories (two of my top three came out of the same class, can you believe it?!). Maybe someday I’ll tell you the other two. One is equally, maybe even more, funny, and the other just kind of made me sad.

Anyway, this is the story I told to a friend the other day, so this is the one you’re getting.

First papers are always hard for college students. They never really know what the teacher is looking for, plus they bring all of their baggage from high school along with them, causing them to either be full of joy about putting words down on paper or full of angst about the whole process.

On the first day of class I can tell who is who—the joyous or the anxiety-ridden—because the joyous ones will sit in front of the classroom, beaming with pride, lining up their sharpened pencils, just waiting . . . waiting . . . for me to give the first assignment.

The anxiety-filled ones are in the back. Slouched in their seat, wishing they could be anywhere . . . anywhere . . . but in my classroom at that moment. Their faces, beneath their hooded sweatshirt with the hood pulled up and over their forehead, reveal their complete dread of the first assignment.

Which is usually a narrative.

I like narratives. Can you tell? I’m writing one right now. I write them on most days, even Fabulous Friday Food days, because I just can’t seem to help myself. There are stories everywhere.

Narratives just aren’t that hard to write, and, as I always tell my classes, this is writing, not rocket science. I try to put them at ease, I really do.

When I get my first stack of papers, I’m kind of like those joyous few in the front of my classroom—I can’t wait to read them. Because I know that I’m going to learn a lot about my students in the lines of those papers. I’m going to learn some of their likes and dislikes, some of their fears and worries, some of their proudest accomplishments, and a little bit about their families.

See? Narratives are great!

And I’m also going to get to see who knows a little something about writing and who doesn’t have a clue. I know, you wouldn’t believe it if I told you, but some college students really don’t have a clue how to write.

Neither do I on some days, but let’s just not go there, shall we?

So, getting back to the student I was going to tell you about . . . let’s call him Ray. Ray was one of those hood-over-the-forehead-back-row-sitters who didn’t have a clue about writing. Not one. Clue.

Poor Clueless Ray.

I’ll let you in on a secret. He got a D on his first paper.

And that’s really, really hard to do in my class because I want to encourage my students. I want them to work hard and improve, but I also don’t want to drag them down into the Pit of Despair on the very first paper, so I usually won’t give out Ds on the first paper.

Lots of Cs and Bs, oh yes, but not Ds. And not that many As if you really must know.

But I’m also not heartless, and I always offer to sit down with my students to tell them how they could improve their paper with a rewrite. Rewriting is good. Just ask any editor.

Or any reader of blogs. I think bloggers think rewriting is overrated or takes too much time or something. And it does. But it’s worth it.

I should try it sometime.

So Clueless Ray got a D on his paper, but bless his heart he took me up on my offer to help him, so we did. We sat together after class one day, at two desks pushed together, and we walked through that really awful paper together.

Line by line.

Word by word.

Overused comma by overused comma.

FOR. THIRTY. MINUTES. On a three page paper. That’s 10 minutes a page, people!

In teacher time, thirty minutes is just about an eternity. It took every ounce of patience and strength I had to keep going as Ray just sat there and stared through the little round hole he had made with his hood.

“Mm hm,” he’d mutter every now and then. Or, “Huh.”

Finally, at the end of our time together, I pushed the paper back over his way and said, “I really think you can do this, Ray. You can make this a much better paper if you just follow some of the ideas I’ve given you.”

Clueless Ray just stared at the paper, which was marked up even more at this point.

“Ray? Do you have any more questions for me?” I asked.

“Yeah, just one,” he muttered. “What if I just don’t agree with you?”

Dumbstruck, I think I managed to say, “Excuse me?”

“What if I just don’t agree with you?”

So now it’s your turn. Finish the story. What did I say next?



  1. Write your own!
    I guess I showed my patience level. Sorry....

    I was beginning to wonder if you have been proofreading mine, (ha) too many commas.

    Enjoyed one of your stories, hope you will share the others.


  2. "...rewriting is overrated or takes too much time or something. And it does. But it’s worth it...I should try it sometime."

    You TOTALLY made me cackle on that one! I mean LITERALLY laugh out loud!

    Finish the story? What did you say? I really just can't imagine.

  3. "Too bad."

    I would have been one of those in the back row - you can probably tell just by my comments that I leave!

  4. Well, then I guess you'll just have to be satisfied with a D.

  5. If you don't agree with me, then I would like for you to write me a new paper explaining why. I will grade it as the rewrite, so write well, my friend.

    My youngest is doing some major writing in a lit class (college junior) and I'm getting a workout with her. Oh how I wish I knew what you know!

  6. I'll be checking back for the rest of the story!