May 24, 2014

Seeing the Potential by Lynn Dove

I've just spent a full week marking Junior High essays.  Over the past couple of months my students have been immersed in studying for their Language Arts Provincial Exam (PAT's).  I had the task once the fifty students wrote their narrative essays and business letters, of marking their work. 

I am convinced marking papers, especially four to five page essays, is the greatest test of endurance and patience for any teacher.  I AM NOT an editor but I sure know how an editor must feel once the red pen comes out and the red ink starts to "bleed" all over a student's paper.  Spelling...non-existent, sentence structure...huh?  Punctuation?...not a chance.  I shake my head and circle another contraction without an apostrophe.  I know I taught contraction usage and spelling over the past few months...was he even listening to me? 

I pick up the next paper.  I do not look at the name.  I want to be surprised.  There have been too many disappointments today.  The first line grabs me.  My red pen is perched above the paper but I'm too caught up with the story to make a mark.  It is like a roller-coaster of emotional ups and downs, a plot-line worthy of print.  Characterization that is meticulous and imagery that transports me into another universe. 

She is a brilliant writer.  She is only fourteen years old and probably a far better writer than I was at that age, and one who has the potential to be even more outstanding as she matures.  I almost wish I did not have to circle the one spelling error.  To put a red mark on the page seems almost obscene, desecrating a near perfect work of art. 

Interestingly enough, I remember her work from the previous year.  Hadn't I marked an essay and riddled it with red ink then?  What happened? 

I smile.  Teaching has its rewards.  I look at the paper I marked before reading hers, my numerous red circles splayed all over it.  At the top of the page I leave a few comments about spelling errors and then I add a check-mark smiley face with words meant to encourage: "Keep trying!  This is a good effort!" 

Yes, this paper is rough-looking but I look forward to reading this boy's work in a year's time.  He'll make a fine writer.  I just have to look beyond the spelling, punctuation and convention errors long enough to just read the potential.  After all, it's in every student!


  1. Thanks for sharing. Teacher's encouraging words go a long way in a students life.

  2. I have graded student's papers in the past and know how disheartening but also encouraging it can all be. I'm glad you are seeing your students' potentials. May you be a light and encouragement to each one of them.

  3. It sure is nice to have a surprise like that once in a while! I'm sure your students appreciate your encouragement!
    Pam Mytroen

  4. Your title is encouraging... there is so much potential to see all around us. Thanks!


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