Monday, July 13, 2009



“Seems I'm the Type That Was Heard on High...or, In Your Case, Read While High”

A few weeks ago, after two terms in my English classes (both writing and literature), a student sent me this email:

"Thanks for your engel pacience"

First reaction? Clearly, my work here is done.

Second reaction? Less clearly, something like “BWAHH?” coupled with an impulse to mock.

Third reaction? Clearly, I should never try to convince myself that my teaching makes a difference. If I’m being realistic and honest about how little impact I genuinely have on students—as evidenced by a five-word email containing no fewer than three errors, written by a student who had just finished 21 weeks under my tutelage--then my motivation for walking into the classroom needs to be restrained to this feeling: if I am in front of a large group of people, I’m going to need new shoes. A lot of new shoes. For a very long time. Even if I'm teaching the class online. Yes, that's the ticket. If I can't create better writers, then I should at least fail in my efforts while wearing awesome shoes.

However.

Since the error-riddled email was sent by a community college student, there had to be a story behind the misspellings. What’s more (we're having a Jocelyn’s Rare Maturity Moment Here, so put your hands in the air, raise the roof, and yell “woot-woot”): taking into account that story makes all the difference.

Here’s the rundown on the author of the email:

--she’s almost 44 and is nearing the completion of her first higher-education degree, the A.A., something it took her 25 years to decide she wanted to earn

--she has seven kids, ranging in age from 8-24

--she’s been married five times, with each marriage resulting in additions to her brood. She now explains it thusly, “Once I counted out how many years of my life I had been pregnant, breast-feeding, and changing diapers. All that to learn at the Environmental Science class last semester that our planet Earth is heavily overpopulated! I have got an ‘A’, but it’s too late anyway, my youngest is 8 and I can’t put him back where he came from.”

--each of her husbands hailed from a different country, with the group of them spanning four continents

--she describes herself as “spacey,” as she often forgets to get off the train at the right station, to take food off the burner, to pick up a kid from daycare (or, um, to proofread)

--due to her spacey-ness, she decided not to get her driver’s license until she was 32, for fear that she’d forget she was driving while in the middle of doing it

--she is originally Polish, spent her early childhood in Chile, is a Swedish citizen, lived almost 1/3 of her life in Germany, and has been in the U.S. (Nevada, specifically) for two and half years.

--she is fluent in four languages

--over twenty years ago, in Sweden, she became involved in the Hare Krishna movement and still regards that time with great fondness

--she hopes to get a wolf-hybrid puppy

--she and her fiancé (there’s an optimist!) have signed up for a MUFON (Mutual UFO Network) course to become UFO investigators. She would like to “relieve the mystery” of some UFO phenomena. When advised by her *cough cough* English teacher that writing a college-level research paper on the topic of UFO’s would not be *hack hack* the best choice, this student responded quickly and admirably and ultimately turned out a solid paper on *better-but-still-sigh-inducing-simply-because-it’s-way-overdone* global warming

--she loves plain vanilla ice cream with tons of Hershey’s pure cocoa powder and cinnamon spice on it

--her very presence in an online class ramped up the energy of the other students; grammatically-clean or not, her messages in the Discussions area always supported, answered, and calmed her classmates


So.

The teacher learns her lessons:

By and large, I won’t transform my students into precision-writers.

Often, poorly-written sentences grow directly out of life circumstances.

Generally, I’d rather read a poorly-written sentence from a vastly-interesting human being than a perfectly-constructed one from a nob.

Being an unbending stickler who operates out of condescension would make me a nob.


As I contemplate next semester, then, I--optimistic in the fashion of my quintuply-married student's current fiancé--internally shake out and fluff up a load of commas and apostrophes, in the hopes that some student might need them.

In the absence of that, though, I’ll just shore up my “pacience” and prepare to lend an ear to every last “engel” who couldn’t run spellcheck because she was too busy relieving the mysteries of the universe.

24 comments:

Liam said...

My Mother is a college professor for English literature and I still write like crap.

phd in yogurtry said...

Wow, I loved this post. My first thought was, this student appreciates you and it's so nice when people show their gratitude. Then when you explained, it felt like OF COURSE. Give the woman a medal for showing up.

I also had a thought (stand back!) I remember reading / learning way WAY back in my grad school days that children who learn more than one language at the same time as toddlers show signs of decreased aptitude in grammatical areas. In other words, they learn two languages, which is great, but they learn neither quite so well as the child who is raised in only one language. I'm not sure if that still applies or if new research has proven that false. But something to consider.

flutter said...

thank you for your angle impatiens.

kmkat said...

Engel pacience cannot be overrated. I think you just got a free pass to heaven :-)

secret agent woman said...

Interesting student. If you hadn't had the little terra cotta angel in the post I wouldn't have been sure what the engel meant.

Shania said...

OK, I've had my hands in the air and I've been yelling 'woot woot' for ten minutes now. Did you not think to tell us to stop? Good thing I have lots of pacience.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Your insight is incredible. I think you called that spot on.

Becky Cazares said...

You do get the MOST INTERESTING people in your classes! Community college is richer in that way compared to university, not only because the variety of students is greater, but the pacience of perfessers is exponentially immenser. And I agree with kmkat.

Jazz said...

Whoa.

You so need new shoes.

Heather said...

Don't you think you've compromised this student's privacy with this post? Such a detailed description of her...eee.

Pearl said...

Very interesting post!

I have to say that I would've had the same initial reactions -- and final reaction -- as you did. On the one hand, whaaaaa?! And on the other, what interesting experience and insight she brings to the class!

Pearl

chelle said...

wow.
How does one get through ... oh never mind. Just wow.

You have a lot of ... pacience.

jess said...

I've always thought of you as very angular.

Jeni said...

Just one more reason here why I love to read your posts -always, but ALWAYS, very interesting. I really appreciate the way you show your appreciation of the individuality of your students. Even the ones you written about before that show such varying degrees of incentive, prior learning experiences and such -it all still comes through in a really great way.

geewits said...

I thought you were giving me a good ol' dressing down and calling me a nob until I saw that you published this before I wrote my last post. And to be fair, I did exempt anyone that speaks English as a second (or third) language.

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Great post. Fascinates me to discover someone's story, especially after I've labeled them something else in my mind. (I dislike that part of myself.) This student of yours makes my life seems more than boring.

An angle you are!

yinyang said...

Wait, what's the third error? Is it the phrasing? Because "angel patience" does seem a bit awkward.

Or, it could be the lack of punctuation at the end of the sentence.

Hmm.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I simply adore "shake out and fluff up a load of commas and apostrophes, in the hopes that some student might need them." Yew arr my heerow, and knot onlie beecuz uv yore engel pacience.

How many more head o'kid is your student planning to have with her newest prospective husband, the optimist?

Never mind the spelling, honey, go with the shoes. Definitely the shoes.

Maddy said...

Just fabulous!
Cheers

lime said...

i would have to say she undoubtedly qualifies as "interesting." (and i mean that as a compliment.) you are most assuredly NOT a nob. i am now compelled to get me a carton of breyer's vanilla ice cream and sprinkle it with cocoa and cinnamon because dayum that sounded good!

Michelle said...

Married 5 times? I can't even get a date! Some girls have all the luck.

actonbell said...

1.Oh, what a wonderful way of rationalizing a thrilling, Emelda Marcusesque shoe collection!
2. Woot, woot!
3. WOW, another fiancee! Optimism, indeed.

I can’t put him back where he came from. heh. No looking back, either:)
You DO meet that most interesting people.

actonbell said...

Marcosesque. Not a word, anyway.

Patois said...

Wow. What a blessing she had to get you as a teacher. And you getting her as a student.