In preparation for tomorrow’s writing seminars, I’m rereading old final papers to select a few to share with my current students who are writing their fifth and final ones of the semester. In short, the final paper is a self-assessment of the progress they’ve made throughout the semester.
One former student wrote:
“This course has had a profound impact on the way I think about writing and life. I have become a stronger conversational writer with more confidence in my abilities, and I have been encouraged to continue writing outside of an academic setting. Now I really enjoy informal writing: I am planning on writing an op-ed in the Mooring Mast (the school newspaper) and am even applying to work at the Writing Center at Professor Ron’s suggestion. Without his support, I would not have had the confidence to make that decision.”
Thanks to their elementary, middle, and high school teachers; and parents I presume; about a third of my first year students have really high ceilings as writers. And over the years, I’ve gotten better and better at helping them realize their writing potential. I do it by telling them they’re amazing. While they’ve earned good grades throughout their lives, they’ve received very little or no meaningful and specific praise. The good grades don’t add up to much over time and many of them lack confidence.
I make a boatload of electronic comments on every paper. Some are suggested revisions, but many others are smiley faces, comments like “really excellent paragraph” and “nice insight”. At first their insights are sentence-long, now they come in waves of paragraphs. I always end with a long comment where I highlight their clearest strengths and next steps and often conclude by telling them how much I enjoy reading them. Upon returning papers, I follow up in class with praise for their last writing effort and positive examples of their improving work.
Those are some of my ways of telling them not that they’re “A” students, but that they’re amazing young adults. Pete Carroll, of the 3-8 Seahawks LOL, refers to it as “relentless optimism”.
Like my students, we lack confidence that there’s anything amazing about us. We could change that if we started telling family and friends what we most appreciate about them.
The Good Wife is grieving the loss of her mom and dad. Last night, in an attempt to cheer her up a wee bit, I told her she had been an amazing daughter to them for the last five years. She replied, “I have?”
I couldn’t believe that she was too close to it and too hard on herself not to see how amazing she had been. Flying to see them in Central California repeatedly, moving them to Washington State, and then putting her life on hold for the last year as their needs grew exponentially. Lovingly and completely selflessly caring for them to the end almost by herself.
It wasn’t her fault that she wasn’t sure she had done enough. Because no one had told her she was amazing.