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.