Today I was asked to proofread someone’s recollections about an English 110 professor’s introductory lecture for an evening class. It was the first night of class, and the professor was trying to put everyone at ease and give them a little window into what the next 16 weeks held for them. The paper, as given to me, was technically fine. The mechanics of the paper were good. The only time a “fragment” came into play was when the author was writing in a style approximating the professor’s speech patterns. As a paper, it was excellent. But I found myself drifting away from reading it as a proofreader would and reading it as a Reader would. I found myself recalling my own college English courses and the variety of professors I encountered during my years of writing under direction. I say that because, when I was in college, I never wrote for pleasure. I only wrote what I was told to write – research paper, paper to persuade, you get the drift. No creative writing (despite the fact that I took several “creative writing” courses. Don’t be fooled – creativity has nothing to do with it).
Anyway, what this particular professor had to say to his students on their first night of this English course that was required for graduation was fascinating. While he was telling his students what to expect in the course, in reality he was telling his students what to expect in life. How learning how to write properly could make the difference in whether or not they got that next promotion. The ways we express ourselves in print leave a lasting impression. I cringe when I am reading something written by someone who really should know better that has glaring grammatical errors or spelling mistakes. At the very least, it shows technological ignorance, as almost every word processor available has some sort of built-in spelling and grammar checker. If you send an email to your boss and he or she reads it and the first thing that comes to their mind is a “Hee Haw” sketch, maybe you need to consider revising your writing style.
Recently, I came across a box of papers from college – returned assignments that I had held on to for some reason that seemed important 20 years ago. In those papers were some of my English writing assignments. They certainly weren’t stupendous, but they were good, solid writing. Clear, concise, to the point. I was able to convey my message in just a few pages. Looking at them, I remembered how much of a pain it seemed at the time to have to do this pointless exercise, but my college professors were preparing me for the world. They were teaching the structure that is considered acceptable for meaningful communication. I don’t think any of them envisioned a future that included the blog as a form of communication, but they certainly wanted what we students were writing to be welcomed by the larger world. I only wish that all teachers had the compassion, care and foresight that the teacher I read about today seemed to have for his students. He really knew how to teach – not teach his subject, but teach his students.