If only she’d known…


“Becky, if you could punctuate, you could write books!”  That was the comment written in bright red ink at the top of my high school senior term paper…right beside that “A+/F++” that was also written in red.  The top grade was, of course, for content and the bottom one for punctuation.  Pat Coffey was making a point.  She’d been making points all year.  That was the 3rd time I’d had her as a teacher, so she knew me pretty well and she wasn’t about to let me slide on anything.

The complete content of the paper with the theme personally chosen for me by her (“because the ones on the list would be too easy for you”) no longer stays with me, but her confidence in me remains.  She had no idea that her influence would extend into my college years where my first English comp paper resulted in my being asked to stay after class so the professor could ask where I’d gone to high school.  “You’re one of Pat Coffey’s students, aren’t you?  I can always tell.  Keep it up.”  Without a word from her personally, Pat Coffey’s influence had shown through and insured that my next instructor of writing would also expect more from me.  As a result, I was soon inundated with other student’s papers to proof-read.  Apparently, I’d found the formula even when it didn’t always show up on my own papers.

Grad school found me assigned to my main professor…who just happened to be editor of our profession’s most illustrious and technical magazine.  Seriously?!  The man edited his own notes to himself!  My job, in part, was to find anything he might have missed.  It was the easiest hardest job ever.  He didn’t miss anything unless it was on purpose and his purpose was to make me pay attention.  He helped make me a better clinician by making me attentive to the details that might otherwise be missed.  The up-side was that my thesis was returned by the Graduate School Department with only 3 small errors for correction and their stunned declaration that they had never before seen such a clean first draft.  Dr. S and I declared the required corrections to be matters of opinion, but changed them anyway to keep the peace.  At the end of our time there, he threw a party at his house for me and the other audiology student who had managed to survive our tenure.  It was the first time in years that anyone in the department remembered being invited to his wonderfully hidden and beautifully planned abode.  I think it was because we had somehow managed to exceed even his exacting expectations…either that or he was really glad to get rid of us!

I won’t promise that Pat Coffey or Dr. Moore or Dr. Sheeley will be excited about what might show up here…or about the punctuation.  I will tell you, however, that their attention to detail has shaped my life in ways they could never imagine.  They enhanced my already deep desire for the written word and they sharpened my focus on the world around me.  Because of them I am loathe to miss the details of life, I adore watching for the small blessings that surround me and escape the notice of others, and I am eternally grateful for those who’ve dedicated their lives to teaching.

Like the distant mountains in the photo above, the educators of my past helped create a more beautiful world for me.  They granted me differing perspectives and were secure enough in themselves to encourage (and endure?) the forming of a world view often differing from and challenging of their own.  I am forever grateful to them and to the God who chose to grant me such gracious gifts.

Here’s to the teachers and the young minds of which they will forever be a part!  I can’t wait to see what ambitions–quiet and otherwise–will result.


4 thoughts on “If only she’d known…

    • We were blessed to have her, Robert! I heard back from Mrs. Coffey after writing this and I’m including a portion of her response here (I’ll forward you the rest): “If any credit is due, it is to you and to the many others who allowed me the privilege of having taught you. As we grow old, we find ourselves returning to those times that made us happiest. I simply loved teaching, and I loved every one of you. Any enthusiasm I had sprang from the challenge of being allowed to help guide young minds and hearts that were already poised for accomplishing great goals in life….God blessed me every day, and I never dreaded walking into the classroom. Today I hear laments from so many teachers, so I think God placed all of us together at a blessed time in this country.”


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