Monday, May 19, 2014

The value of practice: What the teacher learned from the student

Note: I also shared this on my editing website, with a few changes, HERE. I wanted to share my experience with this extraordinary student with you, dear readers. But feel free to also check out my other website if you’d like.

Years ago when I was a graduate student, I taught mostly freshmen in writing classes at a state university in Ohio.
One semester I started a class of 112 writing, the top level. It was the last hurdle for the students. Unless their majors required other writing classes, that was the last one they had to take.
On that first day of class, after I had dismissed the students, a young woman stayed after to talk with me. Vickie told me she had taken 112 before but was choosing to take it again because she didn’t feel like she had learned enough or become strong enough of a writer.
Would I be willing to spend extra time with her between classes helping her with her writing?
So we began. Usually I assigned one essay a week, with classes built around both form and content. Every week, Vickie visited my office and brought me her draft essay, which I read and then discussed with her.
We talked about what her main idea really was and whether or not she was hiding it among the other ideas. We talked about different ways to organize her work. We talked about sentence structure and word choice.
I never told Vickie how to write the essay. But I gave her feedback and new ideas to consider.
She wasn’t getting special treatment from me. My door was open to all my students. But Vickie consistently took advantage of the help.
One day we were discussing some things going on in her life. She was a graphic arts major and was on the university swim team. I was never particularly artistic and definitely never athletic.
“I’ve always wanted to be an artist,” I said.
“I’ve always wanted to be a good student,” she said.
You are a good student, I told her. You work hard. You’re improving in your writing. You should be proud of yourself, I told her.
Vickie ended the class by getting a solid B. She was so pleased with herself. And I was so proud of her.
And I was so impressed with her willingness to practice to get better.
I’ve thought of Vickie often through the years, and when I was considering writing about her, I came up with these lessons she taught me about the importance of practice.

·         Make the decision to get better at something. I don’t believe you drift into a practice. You make a decision that you will begin a practice. Making a decision shows commitment. Vickie committed to taking a class she had already taken and wasn’t required to retake.
·         Put in the time. Practice takes time. Whether it is 15 minutes a day or an hour a week, working to become better takes time. Even with a busy schedule as a student-athlete, Vickie made time to work on her writing.
·         Put in the effort. Vickie had to make the effort to write a draft in time for me to review it with her before she revised it. She couldn’t blow off the assignment until right before it was due. She had to work on it, then work on it some more.
·         Don’t try to go it alone. Vickie enlisted help. That help in her writing endeavor was me. She didn’t have to struggle alone. I could offer not only technical assistance, but encouragement. We all need encouragement.
·         Persevere. I’m sure Vickie got tired of pouring so much time into writing essays that had nothing to do with her major classes. But she didn’t give up. She kept showing up in class and at my office door.

And here is what I’m sharing with you that I didn’t on my editing website.
It has been about 25 years since Vickie was my student. Some years after Vickie was my student, I read in an alumni magazine that she had passed away after a car accident.
Even though I had not seen or spoken with Vickie for about five years at that time, the news of her death hit me hard. It hurt to think that this talented, beautiful, kind young woman had lost her life so early.
So my memories of Vickie are very special to me. She taught me a lot that I want to share with others.

How important is practice to you when learning something new? Have you ever known a person who taught you lessons about the importance of practice?


  1. I'm sorry for your loss, Tina. It is amazing how we may not have a full blown social relationship with someone, and yet they can touch us profoundly. Considering how much time and effort you poured into her, I suspect she would have felt the same about you. I bet you were an awesome teacher.

  2. I think it's so beautiful that you still felt such a strong bond with her despite not having seen her for years. Everyone comes into our lives for a reason, and it sounds as if you both came into each other's lives for a reason. You both learned from one another. How inspiring :)


  3. Oh Tina I am sorry about your friend there is a reason we all meet when we do and I am sure she never forgot you and what you did for her. HUGS

    I would love for you to have been my teacher, you have all the traits of a perfect teacher. Knowledge and compassion are the most important.

    Practice is very important I find this helpful in most things I have ever tried to learn and yes it is very important. Hug B

  4. Rick is my role model for practice. He plays classical guitar and practices diligently every day, measure by measure, over and over. Let me say I hate to be listening while he practices -- it's as tedious to hear as to do. But to hear him play shows why it is worth it. I'm trying to incorporate his example into my new exercise routine. And bit by bit.... I always found as a writer and editor that everything I wrote improved exponentially by editing. And as my editing improved, so did my initial writing, knowing to anticipate the things I would be likely to change. It's hard to find time to practice anything but it makes all the difference.

    Your story about Vickie is so poignant in so many ways. What an inspiration for a teacher to have a student who so wants to learn -- and does. The ending is very sad. I'm glad you shared her story -- it's a way of sharing her legacy. I'm glad you kept up with her through much of her career -- clearly, it was an important relationship for you both. Sending healing hugs -- and a sense of knowing that Vickie has loved this post.

  5. i love that she was so driven and that she impacted your life. bless her family for their loss, which i am certain they still feel.

  6. This post rings a bell with me. i was a teacher for 37 years and learned many lessons from students that will stick with me for the rest of my life.

  7. That is so sad. But the moral of the story is a happy one. That is for sure.

  8. inspiration comes from so many so many ways, i have teachers from grade school that i will never forget!!

    i enjoyed this story and although it is sad, it has a very impactful, important message!!

  9. She sounds like a really special person. And you sound like a wonderful teacher! Sorry her story ended so soon.

  10. Sounds like you both impacted each others lives profoundly. I'm so sorry for your loss.

  11. The bond you two shared is really special. How heartbreaking that she died so early in life. When I was first learning photography I shot every single day, read tutorial after tutorial, and sought other photographers for advice. So yes, I believe practice is essential to be the best you can be! :)

  12. We never know when our time is up, Tina, but it sounds as if you both made a difference for the better for one another, and this will live on.

  13. I constantly have to remind myself that practice is a necessary thing. I expect things to come out right the first time but that isn't necessarily the case. Then when I do something a few times, I remember that practice makes perfect. I found that with writing too. I never thought I could write but I found that writing is like everything else with practice, it comes out better. You learned some nice things from your student. It's interesting how things work out that way.

  14. Practice makes the man perfect in all the things. My kid used to get frustrated if he did not come right in the first time. I used to tell him constantly if you practice well you can do good. If he does anythings good i used to appreciate him!

  15. That is a lovely tribute to Vickie. May she rest in peace. I so admire people who have the strength to ask for help. It's not always easy. I took a drawing class a few years back. I was okay at drawing but realized that it was going to take a lot of practice to get proficient at it. I just didn't have the time and patience then to keep working on it. Sometimes I regret that I didn't keep at it, but I know that it was entirely up to me to practice and I didn't. Well, maybe I'll get back to it again some day.


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