I’m in an airport in Charlotte, NC, and a man approaches me.
“You’re Dr. Holleman. I had you for English class like 8 years ago. When I was a freshman! Do you remember me?”
“My goodness! Tell me your name again,” I say, scanning through a thousand student names in my brain. He looks so mature, so professional–nothing like the ball-capped, hoodie wearing eighteen year old of nearly a decade ago. But I know him. I know him.
He reintroduces himself and tells me that he’s a lawyer now, on his way to a wedding with all his friends. I congratulate him on all his success in life after Penn State.
He looks at me and says this: “You know, I remember that day you read every students’ best sentence aloud to the whole class. I loved that day when you did that.”
I went back to the beginning in my memory, back when I struggled over lesson plans and ways to motivate those Penn State freshmen, back when I wondered how to help anyone write better anyway, back before my list of vivid verbs and refined techniques. I remember wanting to encourage those freshmen, really encourage them and celebrate their writing in some public way.
So I did. I took the best sentence of each essay, and I just read each one out loud, pausing to note the excellence of a well-chosen word or a particularly wise use of punctuation. Students beamed, simultaneously proud and embarrassed.
That was it. I moved on into my day, into a teaching life that would span years and years. My hair would start turning grey and my pen and paper lessons would turn into PowerPoints.
“I need to do that again!” I laugh.
And I do. I make a PowerPoint this afternoon of the best sentences in every Signature Story. We will celebrate publicly. We will cheer as we give courage, hope, and confidence to writers lacking it. Like most moments in teaching, this one may or may not stick or make any difference.
But maybe it will.