Ten Hours: Thank You Emails

[This is the third installment in a series I’m calling Ten Hours, about my trip with students to a college in upstate NY. These are a few moments of ten hours we spent on the bus that’ll hopefully give you a sense of the whole 36 hours we spent on the trip and about all the things rattling around in my brain. Enjoy!] 

“Ms. A-P can you read mine?”

“Of course,” I responded as I stood up from my seat and headed against the flow of the bus as it pulled away from the campus. As I reached L she held up her phone for inspection.

Each student was told to write two thank you emails to professors who we interacted with while we were on campus. Each student from my school got to sit in on a real class and then we had a few professors talk to them about college more generally, so they had several to choose from.

I handed the phone back to L and said, “Alright, it is mostly good — I like the ideas you have in here. But let’s read some parts out loud.” I then proceeded to read a few sentences out loud, emulating what my mom and other teachers have done for me throughout my years as a growing writer. But for L, there’s a double task when hearing her work out loud. Some things, like spelling errors that change the word itself, she can catch. But L’s native language is Creole so there are some things (prepositions!) she just hasn’t perfected. Furthermore, there is the issue of register. An email to a professor is not a text message to a friend, though admittedly she writes both on her phone.

Before we could get through it all J interrupted, “Ms. I’m done and need you to read mine!”

“Give me a sec, I need to finish with L first.”

For the next twenty minutes I pored over cell phone screens, fighting with tiny scroll bars and reading sentences out loud to students. This exercise found me repeating my little speech about “professional language” — no form is better or worse, just useful for different situations. Talking to your grandmother requires different language than talking with your best friend. We might not agree with the rules, but we’ve got to follow them in order to get to a place where we can change them.

Once the emails made it through my “professor-worthy language filter” each student tapped send and, thanks to wifi on the bus, shot their message back towards the campus we were hurtling away from.

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