Last time we did this I ended with a proposition. It was intended more for myself but now I’d like to extend it to everyone else. Would anyone be willing to write at least one or more of their posts as a literacy narrative about their community college (or university) days? Something specific about your own experiences entering into and experiencing academia? It could be related to reading and writing, or it could be related to your own field of study.
Here is the initial prompt I’d like to use for this but feel free to make up your own: “What is one of your most prominent memories of reading and writing when you were in college? Why do you think this memory stands out to you?”
For me, it was the first time I had ever met with a teacher one-on-one to talk about my work. Prior to that I’d only carried on written conversations with instructors; I would submit my word processed essays and they would respond with scribble red notes in the margins. Sometimes those notes would be legible.
Professor Bruce’s office had all the accessories of an academic – scattered stacks of books, piles of folders with papers spilling out of them. A small potted plant lived on the window sill, and the usual Shakespeare poster hanging on the wall listed all the idioms the Bard had given the English language, “in a pickle… too much of a good thing… seen better days… good riddance.”
I had been fretting over the essay for days, scanning line by line for errors, writing and rewriting whole paragraphs, but when I handed over the pages, I lied, “This probably has a lot of mistakes. I wrote it late last night.” It wasn’t a humble brag; it was an cover just in case the whole thing was a steaming pile of refuse. I think he caught onto my panic because he just smiled and said, “Don’t worry, I remember those days writing papers at 2AM. Let’s have a look. I’m sure it’s great.”
I don’t recall anything else about the meeting, just that comment. It instantly put me at ease. We were no longer the brilliant professor and the mediocre student, we were compatriots with a shared experience of anxiety in our early academia, and we now were sitting down to collaborate on an essay. He made it okay to have a messy piece of writing; he didn’t seem to mind, and it didn’t seem to have any effect whatsoever on whether or not he thought I could write an essay was worth reading. I belonged.
For me now as a teacher, I often wonder how I can change the way I talk to student in and out of the classroom. When and where can I say things that might disabuse them of any self-illusioned incompetence?