An Open Letter To An English Teacher- Some Memories Never Die

The Scarlet Letter (1926 film)

The Scarlet Letter (1926 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dear Mrs. Hackleshmackle,

Hi, it is Josh Wilner.  Rumor has it that you are dead now so I don’t expect you to respond to this note and I am ok with that.

Twenty-six years ago you gave us an assignment to read the Scarlet Letter and then to write an essay about it. I won’t lie and say I remember the exact parameters of the assignment but I know I turned it in on time.

What I remember most about the assignment was your public accusation of plagiarism and how you gave me 12 F’s on the assignment. I won’t comment on how your grading system resembled the tax code nor will I talk about how I remember your eating a stick of butter in class.

Ok, I lied, I just mentioned the stick of butter. Some might accuse me of being bitter but I’ll swear on a bible I included it because it adds color to this tale.

My Own Scarlet Letter

You gave me my own Scarlet Letter to wear. While it might not have been literal the public accusation of plagiarism embarrassing. Maybe you thought that publicly shaming me would teach me a lesson or maybe you didn’t think about what you did.

You certainly didn’t listen to my protest of innocence. I’ll repeat it here again. I didn’t copy anything. Maybe a phrase or expression sounded like it had been pulled but I didn’t do it.

Some might wonder if any of this matters. I graduated with my class, went to college and earned a BA in Journalism. I was Editor-in-Chief of both my high school and college newspapers.

I did all those things in spite of you unfounded accusation and your refusal to recommend me for the Advanced Placement English class. Incidentally I am convinced that you refused because you believed that I did it.

People Remember How You Made Them Feel

If we turn this around and ask what lessons can be learned from this experience there are a bunch of areas we can focus upon. As a father I could argue it serves as a good example to try to make sure our children always feel free to confide in us, but that is not the focus of the blog.

The real point here is for businesses, brands and people to remember people may forget what you did but they almost always remember how you made them feel.

If your goal is to build long term relationships with people and convert them into life long customers your goal has to be to make them feel good. Your goal has to make them feel wanted, loved and valued.

Think about this for a moment and you can probably think of a company that has made you or someone you know very angry.  You can’t make everyone happy. Some people are unreasonable and always will be, but that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t try to make your customers happy.

Substitute the name of my English teacher with Brand X and think about what would happen if my children were taught not to trust Brand X. How many of my friends and family would also be swayed.

An Easy Way To Distinguish Yourself From Your Competition

Great customer service serves as an easy way to distinguish yourself from your competition. It is worth the time and effort.

Don’t be a Mrs. Hackleshmackle. Take the time to listen to your customers and then respond to their requests. People will remember and they will respond.

What do you think?


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  1. Fitz December 26, 2012 at 9:48 am

    Who admits that they plagiarized? The public humiliation was wrong, but so is the idea that everyone should be treated like a customer. Parents don’t always coddle for good reason, but this same idea doesn’t apply to teachers – particularly female teachers.

  2. Bell October 11, 2012 at 7:22 am

    Josh, I feel you, man. We’ve all had teachers who unjustly accused us of something or other. Fortunately for the human race, only a very slight minority act in bad faith.

    I once got kicked out of a seventh grade maths class because I dared borrow an eraser. To correct a mistake I had made in my exercise book. My teacher demanded absolute attention all the time. Which is of course an impossible demand. When she caught me thanking my classmate and returning the eraser, she asked us both, “What was I explaining this very minute?”

    We didn’t even get a chance to defend ourselves. And of course we didn’t know what she was saying during that minute time window. So… Off we went, with a misdemeanor tallied against us.

    I can’t remember her name, but I remember her as a terrible human being who treated her students like dirt. Given hindsight I can tell that she couldn’t have been satisfied with her life and took it out on us, but… It’s hard to forgive someone like that.

    • Josh October 12, 2012 at 12:18 am

      Hi John,

      Teachers like the one you just described are just peachy examples of why some people develop misanthropic tendencies. Or maybe they are why some people want to develop lycanthropic tendencies. 😉

      I am not someone who believes in doling out forgiveness to all who ask or need it. Maybe that makes me a bad guy, but bad teachers fall into that category. FWIW, I will clarify that to say “bad teachers” aren’t the man/woman who has a bad day/semester/year because sometimes those things happen.

      I am talking about the bad teacher who knows they are in over their head and yet they stick around for years.

  3. Mitch Mitchell October 10, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    What’s funny Joshua is that I got blacklisted in my own way for plagiarism without someone actually coming out and saying that to me. My grades in English in 8th and 9th grade weren’t great. I had battles with teachers, my parents saw my work because I was just that kind of kid. I did well on tests, thank goodness, because teachers weren’t giving me the benefit of the doubt with writing papers.

    That is until the 2nd quarter of 10th grade, when the class had to write a paper right there in the class. I wrote my paper and turned it in, and I guess the teacher realized I couldn’t be cheating anymore because I got an A on that paper and every subsequent paper for the rest of the year.

    Sometimes we get pigeonholed for some stupid reason and it’s hard to break out of that belief. The same happens in business. Customers put us in a category and we do the same to them. And every once in awhile we’re wrong. It’s better to have ways of proving yourself to them and making them prove they’re worth it, then proceeding or not. I know some people worry about making the sale but after all these years in business, I can tell them that some sales and clients aren’t worth the effort.

    • Josh October 11, 2012 at 12:55 am

      Hi Mitch,

      I am glad your teacher was willing to change their mind based upon the paper you did in class. A lot of people are so insecure about admitting they were wrong they will fight to the death to defend their position.

      You make a good point about how we judge customers just as they judge us. Some clients are worth taking because they generate so much stress and work it cancels out the value of their cash.

  4. Mary Stephenson October 10, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    Hi Josh

    I agree with your post and how businesses should treat their customers if they want to get ahead. Bad experiences can get around a whole lot faster than good ones. I remember four local businesses a few years back when things were booming. Each were doing a tremendous business. They were bought out by others and the new owners figured they could save some bucks by cutting back quality (they were restaurants) of what they served. Surprise! One by one they lost customers to the point they actually had to close down.

    Your experience with your English teacher reminded me of one of my own teachers. We were given an assignment in which we were supposed to write a 3000 word short story. I spent many a weekend, even forgoing a field trip to get the assignment done. He read my first 3 pages and the last page to the class because he felt it was well written, but then had the nerve to say it was too long. I got a C+ and my friend who spent one evening and wrote 600 words got an A. I was shocked at the unfairness, anyone that wrote less words than the assignment should have a got an F. Today I would have protested that at least to the point of him giving me an A.

    Good post.

    • Josh October 11, 2012 at 12:52 am

      Hi Mary,

      In college I wrote an opinion piece about why grades are worthless. It was based on a premise that wasn’t all that different from what you alluded to in your story.

      A lack of uniform standards made me crazy.

      I think your restaurant tale has happened in more than one place. You can only ride your reputation for so long because after a while people forget about the past and focus on the present.

      Cut back on quality and you risk much.

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