Friday, August 24, 2012


Here’s an email I sent to my college English students yesterday, and I thought I’d share it through my blog.

I have SOOO immensely enjoyed reading your introductions. In fact, I’ve made myself a little cheat sheet with notes about each one of you! (No, I’m not a stalker, but within the art of teaching, it sure helps to know a little bit about your students as well as what they are juggling!) 

One recurring theme that keeps popping up within the introductions is the fear of failure. I just want to shout it from the rooftops, DO NOT FEAR FAILURE!!! EVERYONE fails!  It's how you respond to failure that separates the successful ones from the UNsuccessful ones. Here’s a personal story.

In working on my doctorate degree, I had to complete 60 credit hours of coursework in education, over and above my two master’s degrees. Each master’s degree entailed 36 hours of coursework. I also have a couple of educational certifications (Library media specialist, 24 hours and special education, 24 hours) for which I do not have degrees.

So, by the time I completed the coursework for my Ed.D., I had amassed a whopping total of 180 hours of graduate work in literature and education. (I told you I had been going to school forever!) Having 180 hours’ worth of graduate work is ridiculous. (It’s quite stupid, actually. No one is going to pay you more for having two master’s degrees!) Nevertheless, that’s what I’ve got and most people would look at that and say, “Hmmm, she’s got enough education to know what she’s talking about.”

Well, here’s the point of my story. When I finally finished all of the coursework for my doctorate, I had to take something called a comprehensive exam at Liberty University. This was to be a timed exam consisting of 6 essay questions. I was to take the information I had learned in the 60 hours of coursework (they weren’t holding me accountable for all the Longwood and Marshall University hours) and answer THREE of the SIX questions. Three questions. Six hours. Open book. Piece of cake. Right? 

WRONG!! To make a long story short, I completely bombed the test. I got the essays back via email and they had rubrics attached to them. There were comments (like the ones you’ll receive from me on your essays) scattered amongst the margins of my paper. Now, for those of you who don’t know, Liberty University is a Christian university. The professors are Christians, which means that they SHOULD exude kindness and patience. Well, I guess that my three essays were so bad that those professors FORGOT they were Christians because I received some of the harshest, downright mean/cruel feedback I have ever seen in my life. To make matters worse, I knew that at least THREE professors had graded it. And ALL THREE agreed in their stinging assessment of my essays. 

There were three questions. I had to pass all three. If I failed a couple and then passed one, then I would simply have to re-take the sections that I had failed. Easy enough. Right?

WRONG!!! I failed ALL three questions! I not only failed them, I BOMBED them! According to the rubrics, to receive a passing grade, I had to accumulate a score of 10 (with 25 being the highest score possible) on each question. My highest question received a 5 and my lowest question received a 2. Yep, I had bombed it.

As I sat in my office and read that email and accompanying attachment back at the end of last September (2011), I just cried. I had to quickly pull it together, though, because I had a group of kindergarteners coming in that I had to read a story to. So, I pulled myself together, wiped my eyes, and went out there and gave the best “reading performance” I’ve ever given!

And then I returned to my office. And I cried. And I cried some more.

Then my friend (the assistant principal of the school; we were right in the same place with our doctorates) came in, singing her own Hallelujah song because she had just received an email that she had passed her comps. Now, you talk about pouring salt in someone’s wounds! But I told her how happy I was for her and how I was going to use this experience to “become the person that OTHER people come to when THEY need a shoulder to cry on.” I told her, “I want to be that person who encourages others to keep going when they hit a roadblock because I know that I can do this!”

So, I signed back up for the test, printed off my exam and feedback (a paper that literally looked like someone had bled to death on, with all the awful comments!), and set off to improving my answers. I retook that exam at the end of November. This time I passed. In the nine months that have passed since this experience, I have been able to share my “Study for Liberty’s Education Comps Exam” notes with 4-5 other folks, ALL who have passed their tests with flying colors.

The moral of the story? Failure hurts. Absolutely. Failure does NOT kill. It only makes you stronger. More determined. More motivated. 

Don’t fear failure. Fear unwillingness to try.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Our Week in Aruba

Sometimes life is funny.  I don’t really mean “funny” as in the strange, weird, coincidental funny.  I mean FUNNY.  Laughing your head off, stitch in your side, soda burning as it comes out your nose funny.  Sometimes I get the feeling that portions of my life serve as a sitcom for the folks in Heaven, and they are just up there laughing away at some of the situations we encounter. 

This past week, my life has been FUNNY, and all I can do is sit back and laugh. 

Several months ago, my husband and I decided that we were going to do something a little different for our vacation this year.  Having joined the millions who descend upon Myrtle Beach every year, we thought we’d change it up and take our children to Aruba this summer.  Not surprisingly, neither one was very excited about this Aruba trip, as they have both gotten used to having friends accompany them on vacation.  

Months went by and we never pursued the Aruba trip.  We still had the condo booked, and I still had it on my Outlook calendar, but we never got our passports and we never booked our flights.  Finally I cancelled our condo, opting instead for a week in Orlando.  Our week in Orlando was fun, but it wasn’t the Caribbean. 

The weeks of summer came and went.  We made other plans, thus forgetting about Aruba.  Last Saturday, as my husband and I crawled out of bed, I noticed that my phone light was blinking.  Emblazoned across my screen were the words “CHECK IN ARUBA.”  Yes, I had remembered to cancel our condo, but I had failed to remove our trip from my Outlook calendar.  What a cruel trick my Outlook account was playing on me, as I was preparing to go to a body of water.  Not the Caribbean Sea, but the James River. 

Yes, we had signed up to go canoeing with our church, a trip that would consist of three splendid hours rowing between the glorious banks of the James.  This trip turned out to be a fun-filled day shared with wonderful people, and we had a great time.  But I had to laugh when I woke up that morning, my Outlook calendar alerting me with “CHECK IN ARUBA.”

The days of the past week went by quickly, with everyone in my family working, practicing the various sports they play, and preparing for school.  It wasn’t long before I forgot all about the fact that we were supposed to be in Aruba.  Friday night, we got a call from our daughter, claiming she couldn’t get her Jeep started.   After picking her up in the darkened parking lot (she had been sitting in another friend’s car while waiting on us), Brian quickly decided that he needed some daylight to work on the Jeep, so we headed home, resolved to return to the Jeep in the morning, when it was light enough to see.

Feeling somewhat like Bill Murray in Groundhog’s Day,  I woke up Saturday morning to another Outlook message flashing on the screen of my phone.  This time, it read “CHECK OUT
ARUBA,” and I laughed, thinking, “Well, at least we’re checking OUT and not IN.  What else can we compare to Aruba today?”

The day proved to be crazy, and we didn’t return to the parking lot where the Jeep had been parked until that evening. 

When I saw that the Jeep had been parked not ten feet in front of Rachel’s Jeep, I had to laugh, thinking, “We are really on Candid Camera, Heaven’s Edition, because I know that the sitcom is going on right now!  Out of ALL the parking lots in Lynchburg, out of the HUNDREDS of parking spaces on Timberlake Road, the Jeep was parked right in front of Lynchburg’s own Bahama Sno Shack, which once again served as reminder of our defunct Caribbean vacation. 
One of the greatest gifts that God has given us is a sense of humor.  I love to laugh, and I am confident that the events of this week, combined with the reminders from my Outlook calendar have provided a good laugh for those onlookers from Heaven.