"Professor, what, exactly, do you want?"
This is a question I often hear from students, especially before a critical assignment or essay is due in the class. I often cringe when I hear a student ask this, because to me, it either means I am not being clear, or it means that a student just wants an answer.
As writers it is our job to ask questions, to investigate, explore the reasons, not particularly to give answers. I believe it's my job, as a writing teacher to illicit questions, not to give answers; so, I try to get the student to come up with their own answer. Most students are just annoyed by this response. Then, I discovered that I am not the only teacher that recognizes this dilemma. Roanoke English Professor, Paul Hanstedt finally does answer the question, and it deserves repeating. So, in the words of Professor Hanstedt and to all of my students:
You want to know what I want? Here's what I want:
- I want you to come to class.
- I want you to come to class on time.
- When you don't come to class, I want you to be honest with me about why you weren't there. Please note: a lot of grandparents tend to die around midterms. I've noticed this trend. Just saying.
- I want you to accept responsibility for any work you've missed. Whatever you do, I don't want you to ask me if you "missed anything important." I want you to understand how insulting that question is.
- I want you to do the reading.
- What's more, I want you to think about the reading. How does it relate to everything else we've read and discussed in class? What do you find intriguing? Why? What startles you? Why? What challenges you? Why?
- I want you to ask why. I want you to ask this of yourself, of your classmates, and yes, of me.
- I want you to be gracious as you do this. Because being gracious is rare these days, and I want you to be a rare person.
- I want you to have some fun. I really do. I want you to go to parties and fall in love and indulge in some of the things that college students have indulged in since the beginning of time-or at least since the late 1960s.
- And I want you to come to class on time, have I mentioned that? Even when class is at, say, 8:30 on a Friday morning.
- I want you to take some risks. Raise your hand even if you're not entirely sure you're right. Ask the questions that get us all thinking.
- I want you to fail.
- I want you to not give up when you fail. I want you to step back, reconsider, think about what happened.
- Then I want you to try again, more thoughtfully this time.
- I want you to study abroad. I want you to wake up in a foreign country and be confused and have to learn your way. I want you to learn that you are capable of doing this.
- I want you to push yourself.
- I want you to push the world.
- I want you to look at what's not right and change it.
- I want you to push me to do the same. Years ago, I was at a workshop when someone said, "Well, obviously we don't want our students to be line workers: we want them to be line managers." I didn't say anything at the time, but what I thought was, "No: I want my students to walk into the room, look at the line workers and the line managers and say, 'There's got to be a better way.' And I want them to have the courage to act."
- I want to see you walk across the stage at graduation. I want to barely recognize you, because there's a light in your eyes that changes the way you look, a light that tells me that you've found something-a poem, a social issue, a question in the sciences-that keeps you awake at night, that tells you who you are, what you value, what really matters in life. I want to see that light, and I want to see your face, and I want to shake your hand.
- That's what I want.
- But in the meantime, I want you to write that damn paper and turn it in. Preferably on time.