3 Things Your English Professor Never Told You
To whom it may concern,
With nearly 13 years of teaching experience and more classroom instruction hours than I can count, I have a few things I’d like to get off my chest.
1. The red pen is actually pretty friendly and maybe even loveable.
If a professor really takes the time to use a red, blue, black, or pink pen to grade your paper, they care about your development as a student and scholar. They want you to learn from your mistake(s) and become better. It’s not an attack on you or what you wrote; it’s a fight to help you grow as a writer. There really is some love behind it all. Well for me anyway . . .
2. An “A” paper has a formula. So, if you are a numbers person, you really are an English person too.
Too often, I hear students say, I want an “A” on my paper. But honestly, very few students, who I have encountered, want to do what it takes to earn that “A.” I find that some of my students are challenged most with just following directions. Every semester, whether I’m teaching English Composition, Humanities, or World Literature, I give my students a writing guidelines packet filled with lots of tips, samples, and dos and don’ts. I like to call it the bible for the course. Yet, every semester, I have one or more students who will ask me questions clearly outlined in their guidelines.
“Do I have to bold my title?” “How many sources do I need for my research paper?” “Am I supposed to have a sentence outline?” Typically, I direct students back to their writing guidelines and all is well, but I can’t help but wonder how many students don’t use the resources given by their instructors and later wonder why they did not earn an “A.” To the student who is desperately seeking an “A,” I say, every professor has a method to their madness, it's up to you to learn the method and run with it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and actually listen to the feedback from your instructor.
3. Neither good writing, nor great writing happens overnight.
I recently watched the movie Love Beats Rhymes (2017) starring Jill Scott and Azealia Banks—a great movie by the way. This movie reminded me that writing is really about putting in the work to study the craft and literally swim in books and research all to later hold your breath to see if you accomplished what William Wordsworth calls the “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” and emotion on the part of the reader. When writing anything, consider these probing questions: Does what you wrote cause people to think or react—whether through action, education, or by means of literal tears? Did your writing cause people to think more broadly about a topic because you have added value to an already overly studied idea? F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” It's true. As with any craft or skill, to perfect it, you must eat, sleep and drink it, if its worth anything to you.
So, to all the students who are overwhelmed by the very thought of an English course, welcome the red pen, figure out the instructor’s formula, and put in the work necessary to achieve the success you desire.
From the desk of a pretty passionate professor.