When I was in fourth grade, I was in love with my teacher, Mrs. L. C. Nichols. Mrs. Nichols was the sun around which my little brain planet orbited.
Mrs. Nichols gave our class a spelling test each week. One week, our test covered the names of the days of the week.
Mrs. Nichols wrote in giant letters on the chalkboard: W-e-d-n-e-s-d-a-y. “Class, when I call out the word Wednesday for your test, look up here at the board and copy the word exactly as I have written it. Every one of you wants to spell this word incorrectly. You do not need to practice spelling the word Wednesday incorrectly even one more time. Write it correctly. W-e-d-n-e-s-d-a-y. In the future, if you are not confident how to spell the word Wednesday, ask me and I will tell you how to spell it correctly.”
Now, in my little mind, looking at the chalkboard during a spelling test felt a great deal like cheating. As a student, wasn’t I responsible for studying the words and memorizing their correct spellings? Was my beloved teacher asking me to compromise my integrity? Maybe this was a different kind of test, something more than just a spelling test.
When Mrs. Nichols called out “Wednesday,” I closed my eyes and swallowed hard. I wanted so badly to look at the board, just to check, to make sure I had it right. But even more, I wanted to pass the integrity test.
You can guess what happened. Little Miss A+ Overachiever was the only student who misspelled Wednesday that day. When Mrs. Nichols handed back our graded papers, she paused at my desk. “Camille, I need to see you after class.”
Mrs. Nichols listened calmly as I explained my inner dilemma and the reason for misspelling the word she had explicitly told us to copy from the board. I felt like such a failure. Placing her hands on my shoulders, Mrs. Nichols stared at me ever her black cat-eye glasses. “Now, Camille, please spell the word Wednesday for me. Correctly, this time.”
“Capital W, e, d, n, e, s, d, a, y.”
“Will you ever spell Wednesday incorrectly again?” She raised her eyebrows.
“No, ma’am.” Nope. No way. Not ever. No, because I loved Mrs. Nichols, and because I wanted more than anything in the world to please her, and because my gross disobedience and embarrassing mistake had stamped “W-e-d-n-e-s-d-a-y” indelibly in my brain.
All this to say – funny how sometimes it’s when we get something WRONG that we learn most assuredly what is RIGHT. Our mistakes and failures teach us in powerful ways.
As a writer, when I receive a request for changes from an editor or I get a critical review from a reader, I do not consider that a setback or a disappointment. Rather, these are opportunities for me to learn. If no one ever points out weakness in my writing, how will I know where I need to improve?