I started graduate school last week! It’s a Master’s program of Rhetoric and Writing, and it means I suddenly have less time for blogging than I did before. But it also means I’ve been reading a number of books and scholarly articles that are prompting me to think more deeply on topics related to teaching and the writing process.
That might not sound, at first glance, like something that has to do with “finding our true selves in the people God created us to be.” However, I’m struck by similarities between best practices for teaching students to improve as writers and what I know about personal growth. We don’t all follow the exact same patterns for personal growth, nor do we all grow at the same pace and in the same way. Similarly, one-size-fits-all is not a great approach to teaching writing. There are, of course, certain things we look for in “good writing” — a strong thesis, structure that supports the thesis, integration of quotes and examples, etc. But to a certain extent, whether or not something is “good writing” also depends on the individual writer.
When I was an undergrad nearly 10 years ago, one of my favorite English professors gave me a C grade on a first draft. He allowed endless revisions so it wasn’t the end of the world, but by that time I’d taken 3 or 4 classes from him and was familiar with how he graded. I’d been sure it was already a good paper. I watched him mark it up, talked with him about the issues within the paper, and (after a bit of existential panic over whether or not I’d suddenly lost the ability to write) rewrote the entire thing into what I had to admit was a much stronger paper. Several weeks after that class ended, he said he’d have given the first draft an A if it had been from a student he didn’t know but since he was so familiar with my writing, he could recognize when I was being lazy.
You can’t give every student that sort of individual attention, of course, especially if this is the first/only class you’ll have them in. Still, when I think of a good writing teacher he’s the first to come to mind. He made himself available to personally work with every student and encouraged us to challenge ourselves and improve as writers and thinkers. As much work as we were willing to put in, he’d match it with feedback, advice, and encouragement.
As I think about it, that’s sort of how personal growth works especially in the context of Christianity. There are certain things God expects from each of us, but there’s also a great deal of room for individualization. For example, He doesn’t expect the same type or amount of growth from everyone, even though He does expect us all to grow (something I’ve been writing about in other recent posts). And He’s also the perfect teacher — noticing and encouraging our efforts, as well as supplying everything we need to keep growing.
More and more, people are learning to see writing as a process rather than a skill; something you continue to learn about and improve instead of something you check off a list of skills to master and then move on. Personal growth is like that, too. You’re never going to become “perfect” (at least not in this life), but so long as you’re heading that direction you’re on the right track. In this endeavor, you do “get points” for effort. If you move from a C to a B student, you’ve grown just as much as if you’ve moved from a B to an A, and that growth matters just as much as the growth of someone going from a D to an A student.