Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Do You Really Think You're a Good Writer

I sometimes come across students in my remedial English labs who would say, “I am a good writer. I don’t know why they put me in a remedial class.” This reminds me of the show American Idol, especially the early episodes of the season when you see a lot of people who tell everyone, “I am a good singer. I am the next American Idol.” Many of them ended up rejected.

However, there are some in my remedial English labs who actually have writing abilities above the remedial level where they are placed, but I emphasize “some”. Whether your writing is as good as you think or not, your approach is the same - work to improve your writing.

Instead of wasting time and energy complaining and thinking counterproductive and negative thoughts, use the energy and time to improve your writing. Better writing skills (along with public speaking skills) are generally correlated with better pay and increased chances of advancement in the working world, as studies have shown. Even if you are right and they made a mistake placing you in a remedial class, use the time to improve your writing. I’ve had a student, Vlado, who began the semester sitting back in my class not willing to do any work, because he thought he didn’t belong in a remedial class. I told him exactly the same thing about using the time to improve his writing anyway. I also used the analogy of the greatest players in sports such as Michael Jordan, Steve Young, and Lance Armstrong. These “best of the best athletes” continued to work at becoming better and better, despite being way ahead of the rest of the field.

If you are as good a writer as you think you are, you have nothing to lose if you use the time in the remedial class to work to become even better. That way, you can show the professors and administrators that they did make a huge mistake. That’s exactly what Vlado did. In time, I realized that Vladeo was right. He was actually a good writer, but he really took to heart my advice and worked harder than everyone else who didn’t have his writing skills. Evaluators of his writing portfolio eventually made a rare exception for him that they allowed him to skip some hurdles that remedial students usually have to go through. This saved him both time and money.

If you are wrong however, and you are not as good a writer as you think you are, the approach should be the same. Use the time in the remedial class to improve your writing. Really work to improve you writing. Whether your writing is superior or sub-par, the approach should be the same.

Unfortunately, I have seen some cases where the student wasted their time in class or lab thinking they don’t belong there, and they end up having to retake the class. They end up frustrating themselves wasting more time and tuition money, since they have to pass the remedial classes and their writing proficiency exams before they can take other core classes.

The lesson here also applies to other parts of your life. If you are required to be somewhere, such as in a class or at practice (for athletes), use the time to actively improve yourself rather than passively sitting back. Whether you are as good as you think you are or not, the same approach applies.

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