There have been a few times in my life when I’ve finished a project for a teacher, instructor, professor, or whomever I aimed to please, and when they handed it back to me, there was a neatly written note across the top, sometimes in pencil, pen or even a post-it note.
This is excellent! May I keep this?
I mean, is there any great affirmation?
It happened in college, in my intro to education class (which I somehow considered to be a not-real class because it had the word ‘intro’ in front of it and I felt like that meant we would be learning about what we would learn later instead of actually learning how to be a teacher, which was the greatest cry of my heart at that time in my life), when I finished a teaching practicum and needed to write a case study on myself, a student in the class, or the teacher whom I had observed. I wrote about the teacher, an angry woman who clearly didn’t like children. I wrote about the evidence I could see that she didn’t like them, she didn’t like teaching them, and they weren’t learning very much as a result. I wrote about what I had learned not to do.
I received the graded paper with the note on the top. Please, can I keep it?
It happened in fifth grade art class (the same class where I decided red could no longer be my favorite color because a study of colors indicated that such a person is disloyal and unfaithful) when we were learning to draw ‘a vessel’, and I could draw anything I wanted as long as it held a fruit. The idea was to draw a bowl or a vase, but she had said I could draw anything I wanted, and I was inspired by the open crayon box sitting on my art table. So I painted a classic green and yellow Crayola box spilling with pears. I even recall one resting next to it.
I received the painting with the note on top: Tricia, this is lovely! May I keep it?
It happened in my writing class in my senior year, when I wrote a compare and contrast essay about my third and fourth grade teachers.
It happened in fifth grade when I wrote a song that somehow won something on behalf of our elementary school.
It happened in college when I put together a thematic unit on the five senses.
Interestingly, I don’t recall that ever happening with any of my papers or projects in the maths or sciences. But, whatevs. You can’t win ’em all.
You know what’s funny? I never, not once, said, “Yes, sure. Of course, professor. You can have it.”
There was something deeply satisfying about holding the work in my hands, feeling the weight of the project and the time I put into it, reading the affirmation written on the front. Not just a grade, but a request to immortalize my work.
Somehow, that mattered more to me than my work on display for anyone else or modeled as an example. I always said no. Somewhere, there is a stockpile of my work that someone once wanted, surely they don’t anymore, and yet I didn’t share it because I was hoarding the notes to myself.
I’m not sure what that says about me.