An open letter to my Freshman English students (2)

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


Dear All,

I’ve uploaded your grades. But before viewing it, a caveat: I hope you don’t fixate on grades. Rather, focus on what you have learned and how to learn better. To paraphrase Maria Popova’s BrainPickings commentary on “Fixed” and “Growth” mindsets (I highly recommend that you click on that link), may your priority be learning, not “the binary trap of success and failure.” In the world outside the tiny space of your college transcript, high grades are meaningless if you don’t have the knowledge and skills to show for them. I’m glad to say that I feel quite happy about most of your papers, and the growth you’ve evidenced from the beginning to the end of the semester.

Thank you for your feedback in the process papers, which will help me refine my course design and pedagogical methods. I will incorporate suggestions regarding groupings—specifically, I will limit group size to three to facilitate better coordination, but I will keep the requirement of working in groups. Mainstream neoliberal culture in general, and UP culture in particular are individualistic and often self-serving, such that it is easy to forget that no matter how independent-minded we are, we can never escape the fact that, as a social species, we cannot avoid working with or affecting others; thus we are always obliged to other people.

I hope that working in groups taught you something about the consequences of trying to do all of the work, or of jettisoning responsibility and being “dead weight,” instead of communicating with one another to achieve group goals—after all, problems don’t simply disappear if you don’t acknowledge their existence, or if you just rant to your Facebook friends instead of confronting the matter with calm and purpose.

I hope you understand that the point of the many exercises, papers, and class discussions was to help you become better learners—and there is no other way to accomplish that but in practice, in questioning and trying to make sense of things, in thinking and learning on your own, in the constant striving to grow. To think of class exercises as mere requirements to get over with so you can get a diploma and land a cushy job is to do your learning and your human potential a great disservice. You get out of your education only as much as what you put into it.

And if you thought Finals Week was hell—wait until you graduate. Life is never going to get any easier (haha). The only way to surmount the difficulties ahead is to train yourself to surmount difficulties now, and try to find meaning, even happiness, in that exertion. If you don’t wish to end up drifting through a life of passionless, purposeless mediocrity steeped in the endless tedium of wake-walk-work-sleep, make peace with the fact that life is joy and wonderment, as well as suffering (but essentially suffering, if you ask a Buddhist). The question is what is worth striving for.

It’s been a pleasure working with you. I hope you enjoy the rest of your vacation.


Best regards,



Related: An open letter to my Freshman English students (1)



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