Monday, July 13, 2009

Oh How We Need Each Other

A story:

Back in the fall of 1993, I with 40 of my classmates participated in BYU's London Study Abroad program (one of the best decisions I ever made as an undergrad). We had a less-favorite professor, She-who-will-not-be-named, who didn't particularly like us. As a group. I don't know if it was a tough semester for her (we all have them, right? But do you have to have one in LONDON, one of the greatest cities on earth?). After a particularly difficult midterm, she returned to class, having graded our journals, and said, "If I didn't know you all better, I'd think you all cheated, because you all got the same wrong answers." We were a bit confused. Yes, we had studied together. Yes, we had poured through our notes from her lectures on contemporary British and Irish literature (begone with you, James Joyce! you mock our pain!). Yes, we had tried to write about what she had actually taught us.And afterwords we all promptly jumped in piles of leaves in Kensington Garden. Take that, you mean professor, you!No--I didn't want to post a picture of my ornery professor, mostly because they're all packed away at my mom's house...

But mind you, we did it together. Passed. Not cheated.

As I've tried to make sense of not having passed my most recent minor field exam (I like to look at it that way rather than FAILING), I've talked to several people, both in doctoral programs and in other situations in life. And oh, I cannot tell you how grateful I am for the friends who just give me a hug or scratch my back or express their love and support in a myriad of ways.

But I'm mostly grateful for my friends who have failed. For Lola, who confessed that she actually walked out of her comprehensive exam because she couldn't handle it. She went and took it later, but she actually failed the first time! For Mark, who also had to do some major revisions. For Dick who took 2 years to get his minor field statement up to par for his readers.

So I'm not the first to fail. And I know I won't be the last. In fact, I am grateful for the community of failures.

And: a bonus: a couple of lessons I've learned. I've had this almost overwhelming desire, after walking out of my professor's office this morning, to be a professor. I want to sit in that chair and to work with that student--but I want to pull out the very best in her. I want to focus on her strengths and help her then see how to work through her weaknesses. I want to be a teacher. And I make this pact, now, here, with you, dear readers, that I will never fail a student without first commending. I will always provide positive feedback.

In fact, I think I may start with my professor. I want to tell her how brilliant she is and how much I gain from her critical analysis. I want to thank her for asking questions that will help me better formulate my dissertation. And I want to tell her how much I need positive feedback and hope.


Laurel said...


Artsy Aut said...

I think that is a great post! We dont talk about failures enough, we should. We all have them. I think you will be a fantastic teacher! What a great decision!

Deb's World said...

Jen, You may also want to ask her--the professor that is supposed to be helping you--what her experience was when she was working on her doctorate. It might give you some insights why she is doing this. I think it's also a great idea to tell her what you need. She is probably oblivious.

JJ said...

WHAT? Oh I am so sorry! But I must say, I think you would be an A-M-A-Z-I-N-G professor!

Laurie, the girls and Scott said...

I failed at reading James Joyce. I tried to like it but HATED it, as well as a certain British-Irish literature class (and all the things that went with it) I took once upon a time. I did love my friends though. They kept me sane. Thank you.

Did I ever tell you I went on a date with a person who asked me if I liked one particular JJ book that I remember throwing out the window of my bedroom. I told him in great detail exactly what I disliked about it. He said, "Oh really? That's the book that made me change my major from mechanical engineering to English." We didn't go out again.

amy smart said...

Thank heaven for those piles of leaves. :)