Nearly 13 years ago, I was very pregnant. And as my 9th grade English class watched a scene from the film To Kill A Mockingbird, I got all weepy. It was a scene in which Atticus, the perfect father, sits on his front porch swing, instructing his daughter, Scout, about something or other, and it occurred to me in that moment – in a very real way – that soon I would be a parent, instructing my own child about life, its soft places and its hard edges.
I started to sob.
How would I ever do it?
Atticus had all the answers.
He had the right words.
Even after the movie ended and somebody had turned the lights on, I kept sniffling while conspicuously chomping on potato chips.
Teachers aren’t supposed to have favorites, but I had a soft spot for one of my freshmen boys and, as my shoulders heaved and I wept hysterically, he pondered aloud:
“I wonder what she needs more: tissues or a salt lick?”
I choked on my snot.
Class ended, and I went to the bathroom to pee pull myself together.
As a parent, I’ve always channeled Atticus. A defender of justice, he fought for it even if he knew he would be beaten in the end.
Atticus argued for big principles like equality and duty, but he never lost sight of the fact that, in the end, it’s human beings and their choices that make equality stand or fall.
And he tried to instill the values in which he believed in his children.
These days, I watch my son and his friends walk to school, and I swear they come home taller each afternoon.
Lord, give me strength because his questions are becoming harder.
And I am no Atticus Finch.
As I look outside my window this morning, I’d like everything to stay. The trees are undulating softly, and the light reflecting off the leaves is making me squint. Right now, everything is green with possibility. The sun fills me with hope and reminds me of the goodness to come.
Is there a particular scene from a movie that stays with you? That you associate with a time in your life? That has helped you to parent?
At the end of the semester, I always ask students to give me feedback about my course, my syllabus, and the skills of the freakishly attractive woman they have been made to stare at for nearly 400 hours.
I ask them to type their answers so there is no chance of being identified by their handwriting.
That way I feel like they really do have a chance to give me honest feedback.
No marshmallowy-delicious coating necessary.
Basically, it is their opportunity to let me have it.
This semester, I started out with 27 students sitting at 27 desks.
In the end, I wound up with 13 warriors.
Not everyone earned A’s or B’s.
Some people failed.
But everyone who stayed until the end, showed a kind of tenaciousness that I feel certain will help them succeed in the future.
These people were not quitters.
• • •
Here is a sampling of the answers to the questions I asked.
Question 1: What were some of Professor Jacobson’s strengths?
Professor Jacobson is exciting, energetic and up-beat.
So they liked my singing after all!
She’s fun, nice to talk to, understanding, funny and helpful.
Her personality makes class much more bearable.
Clearly there are many unbearable aspects to my class.
She provides constructive criticism during essay writing and praise when appropriate.
She always lets students know what’s going on and makes sure everyone is clear on everything.
I’m not positive, but I think this might have been a little snarky. One of the things I was worst at was sticking to my proposed syllabus. And I constantly revised it.
Question 2: What were some of Professor Jacobson’s weaknesses?
She didn’t have any.
Oh come on? Really?
I didn’t notice any.
Whaaat? This person must have been spell-bound by my dancing.
She doesn’t know how to work the projector. At all.
There we go. Sad, but true. Technology is my enemy.
She kept changing the syllabus around.
I didn’t like her emphasis on citation.
Sorry. I’m trying to make it so you don’t get busted for stealing in the future.
I thought the class was thought out well and the assignments were interesting.
Few and far-between. Maybe a little favoritism. Clearly, X was her favorite student above anyone else, thought she did seem to like us all.
X was actually not my favorite student.
Question 3. Do you feel the expectations were appropriate for a Composition-101 class?
Woot! Got 9 of these. But maybe it’s easier to just write “absolutely” than have to elaborate. Hmmm.
I thought she had high expectations for her students to become better writers and that’s what she got.
At times, it felt like a lot because other teachers hand out a lot of work as well.
I was expecting a more relaxed work load, but I won’t complain because writing this much made us stronger and weeded out the slackers.
Question 4: Did Professor Jacobson create an atmosphere of respect and cooperation? If so, where was this demonstrated? If no, how can she improve?
The classroom setting was super comfortable.
She promoted a lot of cooperation during peer review where we read each others’ papers. This was scary at first, but I eventually realized that we were all helping each other and realized no one would ever be cruel.
She was a friend to all of us, but strict enough to command respect.
She was respectful to us and expected us to be the same to her – and each other. Sometimes I have problems reading aloud, but I didn’t in this class because I knew no one would make a snide remark.
Professor Jacobson’s attitude is what made this section of English-101 a successful class. She displayed respect when she asked people to share their writing without pressuring anyone who didn’t want to.
There was a lot of mutual respect.
I’m kind of big on respect.
Question 5: Do you feel your writing skills improved over the semester?
Before this class I had never heard of MLA citation. I had never generated my own thesis statement. Now I know how to do both.
This. Is. A. Sin.
My analysis defiantly (sic) became stronger. And my sentence structure has improved and become more varied.
We were writing all the time, and the constant practice helped me improve.
I actually know where to put my commas now.
I learned to weed out unnecessary words.
When I looked back at my first paper, there was so much purple all over the place. Now I am making fewer mistakes, and I am enjoying writing more.
I asked a few other questions, too. But you get the gist.
One comment has to be read in isolation. It was not written in paragraphs. It is what it is. It keeps me humble and reminds me that no matter how hard I try, I can’t reach everyone.
1. I have no idea what your strengths are as a teacher.
2. I have no idea what your weaknesses are as a teacher.
3. I guess your expectations were appropriate.
4. No comment.
5. My writing remains the same.
Have you ever been evaluated? What have people said about you? Or what do you think folks might say is your greatest strength and your biggest weakness?
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