Written by Discovery Education Blogger Sarah Santucci
I was not a very good student.
My grades were always excellent, but I can’t say I was an excellent student. I was prone to daydreams and procrastination. While I enjoyed learning new things, I didn’t love the work involved; I despised homework, putting off projects until the last moment, and sometimes scribbling out assignments over my morning cereal or on the bus. My grades were more a result of being blessed with natural ability than studiousness. With the exception of math (oh, math), I don’t recall ever struggling in school, despite my bad habits.
As a result, my teachers never had to spend much time with me. They seemed to recognize that I would do just fine left to my own devices. As long as the work was done well, no one seemed to mind that I wasn’t the most disciplined student in class. I understand this—there were other kids who needed a more hands-on approach, and allowing me to work on my own freed up my teachers’ valuable time to assist other students.
Perhaps my tendency for educational independence is why I developed a love of writing. If nothing else, writing is a solitary pursuit (and anyone who has ever done it professionally can tell you numerous tales of epic procrastination, including me). It was the perfect subject for my learning style. “Young Authors” awards piled up, and the A’s came easily. The B’s I achieved in math? Those were hard fought. I gutted out a few B-minuses to hang on to my honor roll status by the skin of my teeth, as my 4th grade teacher Mrs. Webster once put it. But writing? Writing was easy.
You can imagine my shock and horror when I first realized that I wasn’t quite as gifted a writer as I believed. The class was AP English Composition with Mrs. Provencher. At that point, I’d spent ten years hearing nothing but rave reviews for my writing from every teacher I’d ever had. Yet on my first assignment from Mrs. Provencher, I got a C-minus. In a writing class. A C-minus!? Twenty years later, I still remember staring at the grade and thinking there must have been a mistake. Did my paper get mixed up with my math exam?
The truth was, I blew the assignment. Tasked with writing a “descriptive essay,” I wrote about an old neighbor of mine, a woman I never liked very much. My essay was mean spirited, poorly constructed, and full of grammar mistakes. Not to mention, as Mrs. Provencher pointed out, it had clearly been dashed off at the last minute, just like most of my assignments at the time.
For the first time, I was in an English class where I was going to have to work hard for a good grade. Mrs. Provencher was tough, but she was also funny and charismatic, and seemed to enjoy taking me down a peg. I liked her. She had my number, and after eating a fat slice of C-minus humble pie, I wanted nothing more than to prove to her I could do better.
I had never really gotten to know any of my previous teachers. My desire to do well in AP Composition forced me to get to know Mrs. Provencher, and to improve on my worst tendencies as a student. She taught me how to conduct formal research and take meticulous, organized notes. I learned to love grammar and vocabulary. Most importantly, she forced me to become a more disciplined writer. I still loved it, and did have natural ability, but it wasn’t going to be enough. Not for her, and certainly not in college or beyond. She taught me the value of accepting edits, and reworking draft after draft until I got it right.
When I got an A on the major research paper that accounted for a huge chunk of my final grade in the class, she called me at home to congratulate me and talk to my parents. At 35 years old, that A remains one of my top accomplishments. That first C-minus changed everything, and I’m still grateful.