Note to a Junior High Student

A Note to a Junior High Student

Dear Student,

Today, I sat next to your teacher on the plane. We sat down and exchanged names and destinations. We were both returning home from the same writers conference. “Are you a writer?” I asked. “I’m an English teacher,” she said, “but I go for the love of reading.”

We settled into our flight. I dived into a bowl of pretzels; she pulled out her laptop. I confess I peeked at her screen.

She was grading your paper.

Her fingers shimmered over the keyboard: selecting text and typing notes in the margin: “use size 12 font here”, “capitalize your title”, “can you think of a way to tie these sentences together for more emphasis?” and, “this paragraph would be better if you introduced your big idea here.”

And then this: “:-)” . . . A smiley face of encouragement and enjoyment.

I think perhaps she spent more time molding your first paragraph than even you did: shaping it, clarifying it, edging it towards expression and excellence.

And I wondered, student, if you know how much your teacher loves you? Did you know that she writes all those notes not to point out your faults but to point out your future: she is shaping YOU, clarifying YOU, edging YOU towards expression and excellence.

Did you know she spent so much time on this? She was tired this morning. She could have slept or read a book, she could have read your paper and just issued you a grade. But instead, she made notes because she is investing in you. She fussed with your grammar and punctuation and sentence structure because she believes you have a voice and it is important and she wants it to be heard.

“This is a strong paragraph,” she typed. “Make this active rather than passive,” and “add a space at the beginning of this sentence.”

I remember getting papers back in high school. I remember greedily searching for my grade. The grade was all that mattered: the teachers’ notes a supplementary thought. If the grade was a B, I was already upset. The notes, I thought, were just details to put me down.

Student, I watched your teacher grade your paper, and I want you to know she is not writing to put you down. She is writing to help you up. She loves you. She believes you matter.

Tomorrow you will get your paper back and it will be filled with the red ink of correction. Perhaps you will feel discouraged. Angry. Disappointed. Bummed.

But I write this in the hope that maybe, just for a moment, in those notes you will see something else: the time and dedication of a teacher who believes in you, wants you to succeed, wants you to fly.

She’s not on your back, she’s at your side.

Please, read her notes, and know that you are loved.

26 thoughts on “Note to a Junior High Student

  1. Yes! Towards the end of my academic career I started to get disappointed with A’s because that often meant that there was only one hand written letter on those mediocre pages. I began to prefer lesser grades with coaching.

  2. LOVE, LOVE this! My boys had some great English teachers who coached their writing and what a difference it made! Shout out to ALL the wonderful English teachers out there! YOU MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

  3. I don’t think I even understood that my teacher’s comments were meant to help me when I was in high school – I saw them more as “reasons you didn’t get an A+”…I wonder how much stronger my academic writing would be today if I had known to take advantage of those critiques!

  4. I confess, reading this post makes me sad. I have a sixth grade daughter that struggles with writing. Instead of getting *any* coaching from her teacher, she uses a computer program called “Write To Learn” and it only issues her a number grade, from one out of four, to four out of four, with no explanation or coaching. She’s not improving. It drives me crazy. The teacher is rarely even in her class. She gives the assignment and walks out of class. I pray my daughter will get this sort of coaching. Writing is a critical skill. (I help her, but she takes teaching better from someone else besides me).

    • Ah Julie, I’m sorry. Trading technology for teachers is a bad swap. I researched the teacher in question after meeting her, and it turns out she is up for an international award for integrating technology into her classroom! Somehow, the introduction of computers into the classroom should be done well. I’m sorry to hear this has not been your daughters experience. I hope with you that she gets the investment in her that she needs.

  5. “not to point out your faults but to point out your future” – I see that as a good way to look at some of those Bible passages people might otherwise think are just pointing out how we don’t measure up.

    My Shakespeare teacher never just graded, and also never put short notes in margins. He always wrote a paragraph or two in response to our papers, and somewhere in those paragraphs we’d find our letter grade. It was like he was treating us as colleagues whose work he valued.

    • Great idea, Tim! I had a teacher who did that as well. I also had teachers who would ONLY comment and give the paper back for review and editing; the second time around, you would get a grade.

      Those teachers made me into a writer because they believed in me.

      I love this post, Bronwyn. Good recognition of those who really are investing in us.

  6. I am a junior high English teacher, and I once calculated how many hours it takes to grade the 100+ essays I receive…let’s just say it was a depressing moment. THANK YOU for this; it made me cry because it speaks exactly what is in my heart when I read those precious thoughts from my students.

    I am sharing this with my whole English department. They need to read it, too.

  7. Bronwyn I almost started crying as I read this. It is immensely encouraging. I’m am applying to the teaching credential program at Davis for next year in hopes that one day my students will be able to understand this. I only pray that I can work at that job with as much care as the lady you sat next to on the plane.

  8. Bronwyn I almost started crying as I read this. It is immensely encouraging. I’m applying to the teaching credential program at Davis for next year in hopes that one day my students will be able to understand this. I only pray that I can work at that job with as much care as the lady you sat next to on the plane.

  9. I wish I could get the 6th-grader I tutor to understand this. No matter how many times I try to tell him what he wrote was very good, he still gets very sad and disappointed if I find any mistakes in it. All I can do is make sure he doesn’t get so upset about his writing not being perfect all the time that he gets discouraged; I can’t let that happen!

    • Rick, thanks for reading and commenting. I hope that your student does one day realize the treasure he has in a teacher who cares so much for him. He is blessed to have you.

  10. Dear Bron I simply LOVED how you managed to nail the thoughts and time it takes to mark and try to push them that one step further.
    Been teaching Higher Ed for a good few years now and it stays the same – the toil over each essay ofer each thought process and over each student.

  11. Brilliant post that expresses and exposes the love and concern and dedication of teachers who care that their students learn to write well, to hone their skills in order to communicate with the world. Kudos! As an English teacher for 42 years, I have spent half my life meticulously reading and commenting about and grading essays. It was always with a sense of joy that I contemplated a new set of papers. That sounds crazy because of the time it consumed, but I looked forward to reading my students’ ideas and to note their progress in writing.

    • This made me smile so much. Thank you so much for leaving a comment – my mother in law was an English teacher with a similar heart, and I know that years after her retirement she STILLS gets emails from past students thanking her for investing in them. Like her, I have no doubt you have made the world a better place 🙂

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