"If you can't hack it in an honors course, perhaps you shouldn't be in it."

Submitted into Contest #136 in response to: Write about somebody who knows they’re probably going to fail at something, but does it anyway.... view prompt

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Inspirational

In college, I had a teacher who, on the first day of class, said, "most of you will fail this class. Just because you get an A does not mean that I will write you a recommendation."


As a person who believed myself capable of academic excellence, I didn't start by putting much stock in this, though it did seem as though he was standing in a serious posture. My early papers, where I was not trying very hard, returned scores in the 80's and I was surprised. I began to put more attention into the class and still received scores in the low 90's. At one point, I missed several classes and showed up on the day of a pop quiz. On the slip of quiz paper, I wrote what I believed to be a reasonable excuse for where I'd been. When returning the paper, he'd written back, "if you cannot hack it in an honors course, perhaps you shouldn't be in it". I'd never felt more offended as a student. Putting in what I thought was a significant amount of focus still only resulted in a 147/150 on the midterm and I was both enraged and determined.


Six years after taking that single class with that professor, I wrote him this letter.


****


Hi there, Jack,


It has been a few years, but I'm hoping that I made a large enough impression on you for you to remember me.


I graduated 5 years ago with my bachelor's degree in General Studies with a concentration in Arts and Humanities and minors in English and Mathematics. At the time of my studies, I didn't really have a clear idea of what I wanted to do with my life. I knew that I was talented in many areas and could basically go in any direction I wanted (hence the minors in completely different areas), but there wasn't anything in particular that was pulling me in one direction or the other, so rather than forcibly drag myself and deal with the remorse of not allowing myself to be led down the path best suited for me, I decided instead to obtain a generalized education and wait to see what Master's program I would be interested in later. 


For several years (including my college career), I worked as a tutor in both Math and English until three years ago, after becoming engaged. I decided to take up work as a nanny to gain experience with children before having my own. The family that I worked for had three daughters, one having severely debilitating psychological problems. There were injurious rages that would continue for several hours at a time. Rather than be frightened by this, I was determined to figure out what was going so terribly wrong. She had never been taken to a psychologist, and abhorrent as it was to me, and the parents didn't want to bring her in, believing that it was just regular two-year-old behavior, when it was quite apparent that it was not. I began searching for whatever information I could find to be able to figure out what was going wrong and how to not only ease these behaviors once they began, put possibly start to work with her on understanding her own feelings and being able to control them. Over the past two years, I have turned this child's entire life around. It was an extremely slow and painstaking battle that I waged day in and day out, and the affect that my research had on her life has become a palpable reality that I feel has pulled me into a direction in life. I feel like I finally have a purpose and I am ready to continue on in my studies now. 


I have decided to attempt to enroll in the area of Clinical Psychology and I hope to one day work in the area of pediatric psychology. While considering who to ask for my letters of recommendation, I decided to ask the mother of the child that I helped (or in her mother's words, "saved"), the professor I wrote my senior thesis for, and when considering the third, I decided, after much consideration, to ask you.


While I only had you for one class, my interaction with you stays with me as one of the single, most profound experiences of my college career and I know that you were not only a witness, but I believe you remember the talent that was brought out in me by my interactions with you. Your class actually changed my entire life and the outlook that I had on the effort I put into the things that I do. If you don't remember, I would like to recount for you, briefly, my perspective.


Before your class, I was still somewhat of a child when it came to school. I had gone to college knowing that my scores on standardized tests could have easily placed me in schools that would have been more challenging, but I was determined not to leave where I was after having a childhood with eighteen moves already under my belt before becoming a sophomore in high school. The most important thing for me at the time was to finally find stability. Sadly, I regret having not had the wherewithal at the time to understand that it was not in my own self-interest to do this. The classes were never challenging. I was repeatedly praised for work I thought was mediocre at best. It seemed like barely even putting forth a few moments of my time to crank out any nonsense that came to me would be met with astonishment from the teachers and just putting forth any type of effort at all impressed the staff. It was apparent in almost every class that none of the other students had read the texts. It got to the point that I stopped reading them because, apparently, you didn't have to. My papers from books that I had just listened to the discussions for were met with just as many A's as the ones of which I spent hours highlighting texts. It was actually a really terrible experience for me. I regretted my decision constantly, but still being emotionally sensitive to the thought of uprooting my life again, I decided I would just endure.  


You were the first teacher, ever, in the slew of colleges courses required for my degree, that proved you wanted more than that. You demanded that I read. You created a classroom atmosphere that demonstrated that you expected no less than excellence and for the first time in my college career, I felt like I had a formidable opponent who had created a mountain in front of me and I determined that I would not only prove that I could conquer it, I would prove to you that I could soar high above it and that I could prove to you that there were still students in this university that were capable of that. If anything, I began to wonder if you took pleasure in having as much integrity as you do, because you seemed almost heartless in giving people the grades they deserved. I never saw this interpretation I had of you as being a negative thing; it only further propelled me to succeed. With every book you would give, I started highlighting again. When given an assignment, I spent hours in the library, or days preparing. I wanted every detail to be as perfect as possible, because you never failed to find some mistake. Every mistake you found made me smile, because regardless of how much effort I was putting, anything less than a hundred meant I wasn't putting enough. You knew how to find the flaws.


When it came time for my final paper, I prepared for it the way I imagine one would prepare for the apocalypse. I had papers and books surrounding me at all times. I slept in a pile of papers for days with different colored highlighters all around me. I used every resource I had. I used everything in class that you had taught me, and I worked as hard as I could to write the most excellent piece of research I believe I have ever written to this day and when I turned it in, I felt my heart sink. I was so worried that there would be some detail I had overlooked or some flaw that I was just unable to see. I also determined that when it came time for the final, I would prove that not only had I listened and read every word of every single piece of literature you had put forth, but I could also basically, at this point, quote them verbatim. When it came down to it, I walked into the final, knowing that I would not leave until the clock ran out, or every last question was answered with every last word I had to say. 


As I began this odyssey, I noticed that as you gave each final paper back, you would state a few words to each student. As you started to talk, I would stop writing and listen to see what you may be saying. There were times where my heart sank, as I knew that the person you were talking to at the time was one of the ones who failed to meet your standard of excellence and you were informing them of that. There were times when while handing back a paper everyone knew was worth 25% of their grade, you stated clearly, "At no point in this paper did you even mention the word satire and I had no choice but to give you a zero." It was one of the strongest statements about you and about the students of the university that stick with me to this day. I listened to each person either receive their pat on the back, or their castigation and then would immediately return to my diligent writing. Long after every student was gone, I was still sitting there. Occasionally, I would get up for more paper, sit down again and write harder and faster, because I felt a little sorry that you were stuck in this room without the ability to leave. I had a mission to write everything I knew down, and I wasn't going to stop until I did. Eventually though, I finished. I hit a point where I suddenly felt as though I had just completed a marathon. I was in front and had forcibly thrown my body through the tape with a look of both exhaustion and exaltation; it was finally over, and I had won. I looked at the stacks of paper in front of me, felt as though there was nothing left to say, stapled it together and walked over, terrified to hear the verdict. What did you have to say?


I was somewhat scared when you held my final paper at an angle that did not allow me to see what amount of red pen had been possibly strewn across the front page, but then you started to speak and you said, "Well, it has been a trip." My mind burst momentarily, and I felt my ears stop working. Not one moment after could I remember the exact words you used, but I remember the meaning was that you didn't know what to expect from me, but that my final paper was one of the best pieces of research that had ever been given to you in your teaching career and that you had no choice but to give me a 100. I saw my paper and wanted to cry from happiness and actually did cry when I left the room. The moment sticks with me as the most amazing moment in my academic life. It has propelled me further than any other single moment of learning ever has in my life, and I am forever indebted to you for giving that to me. 


It is hard for me to believe that you couldn't have understood what you and your class did for me, even without being told, and I hope you can understand why, with all of the teachers I had, and even though I only had you for that one class, a recommendation from you would mean the world to me.


I know for a fact that during the very first day of class, you stated that you don't give recommendations easily. I remember it as clear as day and those words terrify me, because I am worried that I won't be worthy of it in your eyes. I don't know what it was like to view me as a student from your perspective or what your expectations are for a recommendation. You stated, on that first day, that a student once asked you for one, because he got an A in your class, but that just getting an A in your class did not mean that you were going to willingly comply and hand out a recommendation and that in your opinion, you weren't capable of giving this student what he wanted simply because he did well in your class. 


I understand that I am under the same scrutiny, and I will understand if I don't meet your expectations for what you have set in your mind as the type of student that deserves one. I just hope that I was able to prove to you that I am.


Thank you so much for your time and everything you have done for my life.

Rebecca


****


He said yes.

March 04, 2022 18:54

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7 comments

Brian G
12:45 Mar 17, 2022

You do a good job of illustrating the profound impact this professor had on your intellectual and academic growth. The letter to the professor is at its strongest when you use specific examples and references. In Steven King’s, “On Writing”, he recommends after completing a piece of writing to go back and edit out 10% of what you’ve written. Not sure you need 10%, but you could tighten the essay up a bit. This essay had the effect of making me reflect on some of the teachers and professors who have had positive impacts on my growth - like th...

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Kevin Broccoli
21:17 Mar 14, 2022

I like the direction you took the prompt in. Great job.

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Mike Stillman
18:49 Mar 12, 2022

Fascinating take on what some of us have experienced yet didn’t think this deeply into. Well done.

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Rebecca Vitsmun
19:41 Mar 12, 2022

Thank you! <3

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❀Leo Fall❀
13:41 Mar 12, 2022

That is one really good story. I like how you turned to academics, I haven't seen much of those. I notice this is your first submission. I can't wait to see how your others go!

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Rebecca Vitsmun
16:33 Mar 12, 2022

Thank you! I just found out about Reedsy this week. I'm looking forward to participating more in the future. Have any pointers or tips?

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❀Leo Fall❀
17:54 Mar 12, 2022

Of course! I've only been on Reedsy since the start of March, so I can't really tell you much. I'd say write as much as you can per contest. Use the prompts to your advantage.

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