Never underestimate the power of your words for good or ill.
I had a teacher back in high school who told me I couldn’t write well. Those few words not only smashed what little self-esteem I had at the time, they led me to get out of her class and avoid all English classes in college. Whenever I took a new class in college, I looked through the syllabus and knew that whatever term paper or essay we had to write, I would fail. I tried to calculate how much the paper was worth and if I could still pass the class even if I got an F on the paper; if the paper was worth too much, I dropped the class and found another.
Fast forward 10 years. I had avoided taking the university’s Freshman English by taking a Philosophy class that satisfied the same requirement. But now, I had to take the Advanced English requirement and the only option available to me was a writing course. I couldn’t get out of it and still graduate. So, I signed up for an Independent Study class knowing that if I could just pass, at least I would graduate. Also, through Independent Study, at least I wouldn’t come face-to-face with the Professor whom I knew would be disappointed in me.
The first few papers, I got B minuses. Not bad. At least I could pass and move on with those grades. Then, I got an e-mail from the professor. She told me she knew I could do better. She gave me specific points on each paper I had written where I could improve so I could get higher grades on the remaining papers. She gave me her personal e-mail (instead of having to always go through Independent Study) and office phone number so I could get in contact with her to ask questions. She told me she believed in me.
The power of those words remained with me. Someone thought I could actually write an academic paper well. Really? Me? Okay. . . I was skeptical because of the beliefs I had carried for so many years. But, I tried. I followed each of her points of advice and wrote her many e-mails asking advice and questions.
The next few papers I got A minuses. Me! A minuses on papers! I couldn’t believe it!
Then I took the final. By this point, I had actually come to believe my professor. If I worked hard enough and really thought about the process of writing, I could do well. On a test with several mini-essays and two full-page essays with no time to edit, I got 100%.
I have been thinking back on my college career a lot lately since I am going to have the chance to “walk” in graduation in just over a month. I will be forever grateful to that professor. Although I wrote her a heartfelt thank you note, she will probably never really know the impact she has had on my life. That simple e-mail to me changed an outlook I had on myself for 10 years.
Thank you, Professor, for believing in me. Thank you, Professor, for TELLING me you believed in me and being there to support me. You have truly changed my life.
The power of words is real and huge. Telling someone they can’t do something can change their life. Telling someone they CAN do something can change their life. What do we want to be telling our children, our family, and our friends? My hope is that we are using words that will uplift and encourage. This is something I’m going to try to do better. . . will you try with me?