A student in my writing class a few years ago left me with an indelible memory. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the good kind. He was a part-time sports writer for a local paper, and, like many sports writers, he couldn’t express himself without relying on clichés. According to him, the Saints just didn’t win, they crushed or mangled or thrashed the opponent. A trick play wasn’t a trick play; it was the ole dipsy doodle. The player wasn’t strong; he was a tower of strength. The game wasn’t just exciting, for it never had a dull moment.
Anyhow, I corrected his stories and told him he would do fine in the course if he eliminated all the clichés from his articles. Problem was, he couldn’t. He simply could not express himself in his own words. He could only write (and I assume, speak) in old time-worn lines, e.g., clichés. And it wasn’t long before he dropped the course, cursing me with clichés (“Talk is cheap and you don’t know your axx from a hole in the ground.”) as he walked out.
Now I’m not here to tell you that clichés are the worst thing in the world, or that your life span will be shortened by the use of clichés, or that your love life will suffer (although it could if you keep telling your girlfriend that she is “a once-in-a-lifetime” gal,’ who has made “all my dreams come true” and that with her there is “never a dull moment.”).
I guess that all my professional life I have faced an uphill battle to improve students’ writing. Maybe most of my efforts have fallen on deaf ears and I have just touched the tip of the iceberg, but I suppose only time will tell if I have succeeded.
As a teacher, I seem always to be working around the clock to explain the obvious right under the student’s noses. I try to give the students the benefit of the doubt, but only time will tell if my efforts came to the rescue or if they were just a last-ditch stand. The instances of when you know you have reached a student are far and few between, but a good teacher never stops dreaming about education spreading like wildfire. It’s always an uphill battle but I believe you have to give it time, never resting on your laurels, always hoping that your efforts are not dead and buried.
On the bright side, teaching college students is an around-the-clock job and sometimes you have to give the students the benefit of the doubt, hoping only time will tell whether or not your four-year high-speed chase comes to the rescue before they graduate.
Don’t get me wrong, teaching is a once in a lifetime (Did I use that one already?) career, one I would do again even if I had to face a hail of bullets. Sometimes my frustration is a blessing in disguise, for it has become crystal clear to me that teaching rarely has a dull moment, and that success is not stranger than fiction, but more a baptism of fire. Sure, teaching takes its toll and but for me but, given that I am nothing if not a tower of strength, it’s too late to turn back. It’s now a clear-cut issue that I’m not doomed to failure but that I just face an downhill battle (Didn’t want to use it three times.) in my desire to provide a word to the wise: When clichés are a dime a dozen and doomed to failure, keep your hat on, put a drop in the bucket, give it your blessing, go to great lengths, conduct a reign of terror, tip the scales, limp into port, lodge a complaint, strike a nerve, notify your next of kin, open fire, pave the way, pitch a battle, prove conclusively, make your way home, erupt in violence, heed the warning, ground to a halt, and, for goodness sakes, smell a rat.
* Lloyd Chiasson Jr. is a professor in mass communication at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana. Dr. Chiasson co-authored “Reporter’s Notebook,” and served as co-author and editor of “The Press in Times of Crisis,” “The Press on Trial,” “Three Centuries of American Media and Illusive Shadows.” He is also the author of a novel, “Stutterstep.”