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?