Sent to my students before the last day of class
What happens next?
I think this is where I am supposed to insert some cliché about following your dreams and the world being your oyster (or if you are a fan of Friends, your lobster). But I am not going to do that. One, because that is definitely not my style, and more importantly, because I am not going to risk upsetting Zinsser’s ghost.
Instead, I am going to tell you a few things I know, comment on many things I have forgotten and, in the end, explain a few choices I made.
I don’t remember a single professor of mine from my undergrad studies. I began as a journalism major at West Virginia University, switched to an education major because I didn’t like following the rules in journalism classes and then switched again to an English degree which I finished up at SUNY-Buffalo.
I remember a few details about a couple of my classes.
My first ever undergrad class was a Logic class. I was the only freshman in the class and I remember doing well.
But that was quickly balanced out by the F I received in a Shakespeare class that I simply stopped going to.
I remember one paper I wrote. The comments on the essay examining Iran Contra received a B+ with this comment: “This is the best paper I have seen in many years. But I disagree with everything you say.”
I remember one class that I dropped after only a few sessions. It was a Feminist Literature class and I was the only male in the class. I was quickly informed that I would represent Everyman and that all things that the literature accused men of, I would be blamed for.
And there was one professor who gave me a book. The Red and The Black. I never read it.
I don’t know the name of a single professor I had while pursuing my B.A. I can’t even remember their faces, or perhaps I attended a Charlie Brown school and none of the teachers had faces and never said a coherent sentence.
But some of those memories give me reason to teach the way I do.
When students miss class, I try to reach out. Perhaps if someone had done that for me, I would have returned to class and done well.
I frequently comment that your paper is judged by the quality of the writing, not whether I agree with it.
I try to be inclusionary when I talk about your dream woman, man or platypus.
As to whether I am as cool as a Charlie Brown teacher, I have no idea. However, one day I would like to learn to dance as well as Snoopy does.
I do remember a lot from the semester when I was an R.A.
I remember the group of freshmen who carried a half-keg up four flights of stairs right in front of a group of R.A.s. The students did not enjoy dumping that beer.
I remember giving advice to some of the guys on my floor who liked to party, encouraging them to enjoy themselves but to take a few precautions so I could claim that I knew nothing about it.
I remember being woken up around 4 am during Finals Week as one of the guys on my floor told me his room had been broken into.
And I remember being called to interrupt and hopefully stop a guy from committing suicide. The ambulance eventually arrived, and they took him in for psychiatric testing.
If I pressed myself, I could probably come up with a few more academic things that I remembered, but in reality, they have just blended into my past.
And that is why I have no words of wisdom for you. I have no reason to believe that anything I said or did this semester will be remembered past the near future. And I am totally fine with that. I have done my job and you have done yours.
You are going to do what you are going to do.
And so, I am not going to insult you by thinking that any advice I give is worth remembering. Instead, I will explain the choice I made at the beginning of the semester, or rather the series of choices.
For those of you who were in class on Day One, you may recall that on the PowerPoint I presented that included crucial information regarding the class including my favorite Disney Princess, there was a +1 in a large red circle. Not a single student asked about that and so I decided not to say anything.
I do have a personal policy, which I believe is worth sharing, related to +1. Each day I try to do something or learn something that makes me better at being me. Every day I try to +1. However,
I decided to challenge myself to “show” that, instead of “telling” it.
But there is also something I did not write on the PowerPoint, and this, which I share with you now, is perhaps as close as I will come to giving you advice.
I wanted you to walk into the classroom and see the following on the board: “I hope that this is the worst class that you ever have.”
I was going to ask you to dissect the sentence and try to figure out what I meant. I chickened out.
But now, I am happy to say it.
I hope that my class is the worst class that you ever have.
I hope that every teacher, professor and mentor is better than me.
I hope that you learn more in every class than you ever did in mine.
Now as you parse those three sentences, for you certainly know that I would not leave you with a simple farewell, I realized I do have one more thing to add to this.
I have a request.
Many of you have told me that you plan on being a teacher, or an astrophysicist, a nurse, or a police officer. Those are all noble professions, but I ask that you make one small change to your goals.
In front of the name of your profession, please add the word great.
Make it your goal to be a great teacher, or a great astrophysicist, a great nurse, or a great police officer.
The world needs more of those.
And if you do not accomplish that goal, I promise you, I will not be disappointed.
But I will be disappointed if you don’t try.
-written by K.A. MacDonald, December 8 – 12, 2018