An open letter to my Freshman English students (1)

Or, I’m a cheesy instructor, and these are some things I wish I was told when I was a wee freshie.

Dear All,

Early in the semester, I told you that there were only three ways to fail this course: first, exceed the number of allowed absences; second, don’t turn in the requirements; third, plagiarize. The first two are often matters of sloth, the last not only of sloth but also of dishonesty, carelessness, or cowardice in expressing your ideas—follies that are antithetical not only to the objectives of this course but also to the core values of this university: honor and excellence.

I don’t know what impression English 10 will leave on you, but I still remember my own experience of English 10 though it was almost a decade ago, because I’d never had to work so hard at something (other than math, of course) in my life. Writing was not difficult for me, but English 10 is not so much about the craft of writing as it is about thought. To converse intelligently about something, one must first understand what one is talking about; intellectual humility—and integrity—consists in recognizing what one does and does not know, realizing that one hardly ever knows enough, and striving to be a little less ignorant for that.

I toured practically all the libraries in UP—including the forbidding library of the College of Law—in my first year, spent late nights scribbling annotated bibliographies on index cards, and chugging down coffee to turn in a 15-page position paper hours before the deadline. All that effort for a grade much lower than what I would’ve liked—indeed, the lowest I got in the university. Still, I loved that course—my “test of fire” in UP—because it taught me something I was lucky to apprehend early in life: that in learning—as in other matters of import, from effecting social change to cultivating lasting and meaningful relationships to honing skill and building character to losing and keeping off excess, unhealthy weight—there are no shortcuts.

Like in the conclusions of your papers, you are not entitled to claim what you have not earned. Excellence does not come by ease—if it did, would it be so valued?  True learning takes work and initiative and belief in what you already can do and what you may still achieve, if you push yourself a bit more. That sounds tiring, and it is, but it only becomes tedious if you don’t care about what you’re doing. So find something to care about—a passion or a higher purpose, if you will—and work for that.

Lastly, I’d like to thank you all for an enjoyable semester. It was a pleasure to have discoursed with a bright class, and if we’d had more time and I more skill, I would’ve liked to draw you more out of your heads. I hope you take greater responsibility for your learning, in classes and in life, and bear upon the world with a worthy end in mind.

Best regards,

Ma’am K

Related: An open letter to my Freshman English students (2)

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One thought on “An open letter to my Freshman English students (1)

  1. Pingback: On a little hope and gratefulness | tenant on the top floor

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