When I walked into my Critical Thinking class at the beginning of this semester, I automatically assumed it would be an easy A. I’d sailed through English 1A the semester before, and thought that this advanced English class would be along the same route. After all, I’ve written eight books (and counting), and I work at a newspaper. Writing, to me, is like breathing. I figured that all of this gave me an edge on the other students, and I did my best to keep my ego in check and open myself up to learn something new.
The professor came in, and she was seriously like a dream. She was this outspoken Jewish woman who was incredibly well-versed in all the literature classics, and she brought us food so we wouldn’t starve during her class. Plus, she was a total passionate liberal, and she had numerous news sources to back up everything she stated.
Here was this book loving, newspaper reading, incredibly wise woman leading our class. I felt like I’d met my soulmate. My love for her and this class only increased when I realized I would NOT be earning an easy A. I was about to be educated, and I couldn’t have been more excited about it.
I was so naïve.
The difficulty of this course increased with each class. She raised her expectations of us to a bar we couldn’t reach. She often mused about the disservice our previous teachers had given us in not teaching us certain things, assigning certain books, pushing us to our hardest levels. Thinking back to some of the lame books and essays I’d had to read during last semester, I agreed. Yet, it didn’t change the way she kept pushing.
Things came to a head when she split us into groups so we could present a certain topic to the class. I’ve never loved public speaking. In fact, this one area holds me back in my book career. If I could figure out a way to write and sell books without ever having to speak to a crowd, I’d do it in a heartbeat. I would have traded writing a dozen essays instead of conducting a five-minute presentation in front of the class—and that’s not an exaggeration.
My group and I had spent weeks poring over the reading so that we understood our topic. I was a bundle of nerves for a whole week before that dreaded class. However, my nerves subsided (as they usually do) once it was our turn to present. When it became my turn to speak, I knew the material well enough that I didn’t even need to look at my notes. I thought we were crushing it.
And then I looked at my professor’s face.
I faltered in that moment, forgetting everything I’d studied over the past few weeks as I took in her furrowed brow, the thin line of her lips, the air of disappointment that surrounded her. Quickly, I averted my gaze and finished what we’d rehearsed. At the end of the longest five minutes of my life, I took my seat with the knowledge that we’d failed.
In fact, we had. The whole class had. Following our presentations, the professor raked us over the coals for every way we’d failed to follow directions. Our group ended up with a B on that presentation, but the way she verbally whipped us, I was sure we’d all received an F.
Little by little, this teacher deflated the ego I’d shown up to class with on that first day. The essays I wrote, revised, and re-wrote came back to me full of red marks for things I’d missed. Class discussions became more intense. And the workload and reading requirements increased substantially. I found myself counting down the days until this class could be over so that I could curl into a fetal position and lick my wounds for the three months of summer.
As that day came closer, however, I started to realize how much she’d taught me. Her style of teaching was akin to throwing us in the deep end and telling us to swim. However, it forced us to think for ourselves as we strived to reach that impossible bar. I’m still not sure I’ve reached it; however, it seems closer than it was before.
Tomorrow is my final class with this professor, and I have mixed feelings of relief and disappointment. I don’t know if I’ll ever be in a class that will push me this hard in my Major, or will teach me this much about writing and collecting information. Honestly, if she suggested I quit school in favor of learning everything she had to teach, I’d become her disciple in a heartbeat.
As I prepare for this last class, one decision is plaguing me. This professor has no idea I’m an author. Once I realized how much I still had to learn, I chose to keep my novels under wraps. I came there to learn, and I didn’t want her to think I thought I was too big for my britches. Plus, I was sure she’d mark up my book with red ink, pointing out every time I was too wordy, used passive voice, or committed some other literary faux pas.
Now that we’ve reached the end, I keep going back and forth on whether I should reveal that I’m an author and present her with one of my books. If I did, I’d give her Loving the Wind or The Road to Hope, the two books I’m most proud to have written. But every time I think of giving them to her, I can feel the apologies and explanations rising up: I still have a lot to learn…my next books will be better…I promise to work on my passive voice…don’t read them… I’m totally overthinking what should just be a gift. All I want to do is offer her the things I’m most proud of as a thank you for all she’s offered me.
I know I need to give her one (or more) of my books. I know I need to just get over my fear and do it. I let fear win far too often, and this is one chance to overcome that fear and move forward. However, jury is still out on whether those books ever leave my backpack during my final Critical Thinking class.
P.S. If I do give her a book, which one do you think I should give her?