I love object lessons. Scouring parenting magazines and Web sources for creative methods to cultivate learning became a pastime shortly after Pumpkindoodle’s birth. One of my favorite illustrations involves toothpaste. Each participant is given a travel-sized tube of toothpaste, a paper plate and one ooey-gooey mission: squeeze the tube dry. After the tubes are flattened, participants receive a tooth pick and are given the daunting task of putting the tooth paste back into the tube. It’s an impossible feat. The lesson? Words are like toothpaste. Once they’re piped out, they cannot return.
Last month, the Professor read through student evaluations from the previous semester. While many students expressed positive feelings about his classes and astuteness, a fair share of malevolent comments remained. The comments were not of the constructive nature, rather petulant, sharp toned, and intended to wound.
My fighter instincts shot into action. I wanted to find those surly students and give them a lesson on manners. I wanted them to understand that the Professor gives his all to his classes and deserves better. I wanted to take away the pained expression worn by my tender husband. I did not want to think about Dr. W. “That was different,” I told myself. “No it wasn’t,” said a voice deep within, "and you need to deal with it."
The image of the kind, shy man with an unkempt appearance and heart for God’s creation stamped my mind. When I was a college sophomore I regarded Dr. W. as an adversary of sorts. He stood between me and a higher G.P.A. (which by the way is meaningless once that diploma is grasped). I needed a science credit and heard that fun times were to be had in environmental biology. But I didn’t get into Dr. Fun’s class. Instead, the mild manner professor who asked tough questions was to instruct me about grassy terrain and various species of algae living in local lakes.
The fact that Dr. W. was so impassioned about his subject infuriated me. Did he honestly think that this communication major who was, in her own mind, destined to be the next Diane Sawyer cared about oats, goats, and banana pokes? I found his teaching methods difficult and dismissed it as his problem. “If he was a good teacher, I’d certainly understand the material,” I rationed.
When time came for me to submit my student evaluation I knew that my grade for the class was a C. This anal-retentive over-achiever felt appalled. Anger bubbled over as I checked the Most Definitely Agree box next to the statement Professor has distracting mannerisms. I followed up the multiple choice portion with terse comments. In my immature mind I accepted no responsibility for my C. Yes, I missed a lot of classes, “but had he not been so boring I would have shown up more often.” No, I didn’t take good notes, “but if he were a better professor I would have.” On and on I rationalized and blamed my woes on Dr. W. Had I even had a smudge of proof, I would have blamed him for every ill in society including poverty, blizzards, and Shepherd’s Pie. At the time, I didn’t feel the slightest guilt regarding my shallow words. “After all, he needs this feedback to better his performance, it’s his job to do well,” I told my friend Joy who shared similar beliefs about the class. Now, I am ashamed.
Oh if only I could go back. If only I could erase those harsh words and replace them with encouragement and constructive suggestions. I don’t know how Dr. W. felt when he read my comments and the disparaging remarks offered by other students, but I cannot image he was edified. In fact, knowing his gentle demeanor, I’d wager that his expression was similar to that of my Professor. A kicked in the gut, stabbed in the back look of anguish, surprise, and confusion. Oh what a powerful weapon is a No. 2 pencil.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. – Ephesians 4: 29, 31.