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Giving Thanks

posted: 11.27.13 by Andrea Lunsford

When I was a kid, my very favorite holiday was Halloween:  who could resist dressing up in homemade costumes (I once even got to wear my mother’s high heels!) and going from door to door throughout the neighborhood, getting invited in for hot chocolate or hot apple cider and adding more and more loot to our bags.  Absolutely awesome.

But then I grew up to become a teacher, and while I still love Halloween (at my condo, the kids mass in the front of our buildings, march around the circle to oohs and aahs of the adults, and then fan out for goodies), for decades now my favorite holiday has been Thanksgiving.  Every year I take time to sit and think—and write—about those things I am most grateful for.  And no matter how bad a particular year may have been, I always end up with a long list.  Today I’ve been looking at photos of family and friends, and especially of great nieces Audrey and Lila, and counting the ways in which I am grateful for all of them.  Now in my first year of retirement, I have also spent time reflecting on the deep gratitude I feel for the teaching career I have had.  I can think back to the first class I ever taught, and come forward from year to year, remembering faces and names and memorable occasions, like the time I spoke very harshly to a class of students who, I thought, had done very poorly on a test.  They sat there, looking at me with wide, miserable eyes, taking my heated criticism.  Then one brave young woman raised her hand and said, “Professor Lunsford, do you always give trick tests?”  “What do you mean,” I thundered?  “Well,” she said, “at the top of our test it says we should answer 15 of the 20 questions, but now I see you wanted us to answer all 20.”  I was stunned into silence and then into a rapid apology and a re-collection (and re-grading!) of the tests.  As has been my experience, these students were gracious and generous, and we ended up having a good laugh over my “trick test,” which became an inside joke for us the rest of the term.  I was grateful to those students then, and I’m grateful for them now—along with so many others I have had the privilege to teach and to learn from.

I’m sure all teachers hear from former students, and I expect you are as thankful as I am when I do.  This Thanksgiving, for instance, I received a very special message from a young Chinese student I met when I taught on the Semester at Sea voyage in 2012:  “Dear Professor Lunsford,” he wrote,

I always believe in the power of words, but because it is hard for me still to write in English, it makes me very hard to express my deep gratitude to you.  I know if I hadn’t met you on our ship, I would never have made my mind up to study abroad or to push myself far beyond my limits. And if I hadn’t met you again in Beijing this last March, I believe I would have given up my dream and would never be able to come to the States this year. Most importantly, I have had the very best chance to learn from you that teaching (and more broadly, education) can be transformative for those people who want to live their dreams. You helped me find my lifetime goal and taught me how to care deeply about what I believe in.  So now I am pursuing my Master’s in business education, and I will try my best to get into a good PhD program next year and devote my life to educating others, just as you educated me.  Thank you, and Happy Thanksgiving!

I don’t need to tell writing teachers how much such messages mean, how perfectly wonderful it is to find that we have connected with a student in some especially meaningful way.  So Happy Thanksgiving to all writing teachers everywhere:  may your “thankful” list be very, very long this year.


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One Response to “Giving Thanks”

  1. Tim Hagood, Lakehill Preparatory School, Dallas, TX Says:

    Dear Dr. Lundsford, I am exploring some changes in our Upper School English curricula, the most drastic of which is to offer the AP Language course in the junior year. I have been perusing your *Everything’s an Argument* 6th ed (isbn 9781457631498). I can find “Acknowledgements” bookending the text, but have been unable to locate a Bibliography, which I would appreciate exploring for my own edification. Please advise.
    Yours,
    Tim Hagood