Suzanne Reisler Litwin: Red Pen People

When I was a little girl I played school. I loved playing the role of teacher. My friend Gloria Gorman was my excellent student. We traded roles all the time, but I mostly preferred to be the teacher. I would deliver a lesson, prepare a class assignment, and give out homework. We pretended it was two days of school, so we would take a break in the middle, have a snack, and return to school with our homework. That’s when I would take out my red pen and correct Gloria’s homework. If the homework was done well, I would draw a big E for excellent and apply a star sticker on it!

Oh, how I loved to receive stickers on my corrected homework. Nothing made me more excited than to receive a star sticker from my teachers. As an elementary school student I would do anything to earn stickers. I would do extra work, clean the black board and handout stencils to get stars and animal stickers. Collecting stickers was a little hobby of mine.

In grade 6, my teacher Miss Chess wrote in green pen. She found red was too bold and offensive. She would do her corrections in a soft green ink. I liked that a lot. It was soothing to a person like me, who made a tremendous amount of spelling errors. It’s easier to look at a paper filled with green ink corrections than redly inked marks. After a great year of learning with Miss Chess, I decided green ink was the way to go when I played school with my friends.

As a university instructor, I still correct in green ink and pencil. I try to give my corrected papers a soft eco-green earthy feeling. I still find red way too bold for giving a simple message of corrections. Teachers do not need to use red ink to get their message across unless they are “Red Pen People”.

Red Pen People is a term I like to use to describe people who assume the responsibility to constantly correct other people. It’s as though they have this right to be right about everything even though their behavior is extremely irritating, annoying and bothersome. I defined this term on Urban Dictionary which can be found here: https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Red+Pen+People

Are you a Red Pen Person? Are you a Red Pen Teacher? Really ask yourself this question as NOBODY IS PERFECT! Even Red Pen People aren’t perfect. But… For some reason, they feel the need to be recognized and correct others all the time. Maybe it makes them feel better about themselves to be perceived as smarter or more perfect in an unnatural way. I wonder why these people need to correct others all the time?

Early on in my teaching career, I rarely used a red pen. I personally make mistakes all the time and I stand corrected very often. I just don’t need to be identified in red, nor do my students. My corrections are never the barometer of what is rightfully true; they are simply suggestions of how to do it a little better.

I find Red Pen People stand on ceremony. Their world is black or white, yes or no, correct or incorrect, right or wrong. This behavior usually doesn’t fit in a creative world. So when a student asks me if something is right or wrong, my answer is what do you feel? Perhaps this application doesn’t fit into a subject like math, but even math can be taught without the use of red pens!

Considering my column is about ‘Living in the Now’ and I try to spin a positive light on everything, I call to all the teachers during this glorious start of September school, to please put down your red pens! Try green pens instead. Correct with optimism and hope your students will create beyond the realm of what you teach. That your corrections will be suggestions to your students go further to think and feel about their work.

When your students ask if something is right, ask them what they feel. Correct in colours such as pink, green, purple and blue. Teach beyond your own mold. When you correct your students’ assignments, it’s not about the right and wrong, but the journey on the path to learning more and interesting things.

Consider the students who learn by experiencing life rather than by memory. Those who stare out the window and day dream are most often creating and thinking, maybe even meditating. And…GIVE OUT STICKERS!!!! For good behavior, for efforts well done, for simple accomplishments, for paying attention, for smiling the most on any given day, for kindness to others, for sharing and giving love. Stickers make all the difference for some students of all ages.

And…Play with your students. Listen to them and watch their body language which speaks louder than their words. Feed your students if they are hungry! They won’t learn otherwise. I always had a huge bag of lollypops in my drawer. Ask any of my students about that! The more you give to your students, the more they will give you. If you give them love, they will give you love doubled!

One last note… Teachers create a lasting impression on students’ lives. Be the best most loving teacher you can be and your students will love you for a very long time. Share your world with them and they will share their world with you. A teacher might be the only guiding light in a student’s day.

Sorry, one more note…. BUY A SHIT LOAD OF STICKERS AND LOLLIPOPS!

—Suzanne Reisler Litwin

(2) comments

Allan Ghetler

Too old for school, but definitely going out to buy stickers and instead of lollipops, your favorite ice cream, I deserve it.

Gloria Gorman Berger

Great article! I love when teachers use colors other than red. Great memories! We had so much fun. You’re a fantastic writer and I’m sure you’re an amazing teacher. Your students are very lucky. 💗 Gloria

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