My first upper-level undergraduate history paper was a life-changer. Or at least it changed the way that I looked at school work. I honestly don't even know why I was in the class, being a Computer Science major amidst a sea of History and Poli-Sci kids. It was freshman year and while all my friends were cruising through Western Civilization, I was stuck with Advanced American History with a professor who was known as being the toughest in school.
On the very first day in class, I knew it was gonna be a bitch when I saw the syllabus, which included a 25-page paper on the topic of our choice that had to be pre-approved by his TA. I chose the Jim Crow laws and de jure racial segregation mandated in certain states after the Civil War. I got a D+. In big red letters on the cover page. With the words "sophomoric" and "see me" underlined directly below it.
When I went to see him, he called me out on exactly the kind of lazy student I had become. Cruised through High School without doing any work at all? Check. Never really studied for tests, but did well on them anyway? Check. Researched and wrote this entire paper in about a day and a half, right? Uh...check. He was one of those rare teachers who wouldn't settle for anything less than the best from his students. Instead of just beating on me though, he handed me a book he had there on proper writing techniques (all of which I've OBVIOUSLY forgotten since), and offered his input on any future papers I had with him. I jumped at the chance, especially since I had to deal with another semester (and another 25 page paper) with this guy in the Spring.
I eeked out a C+ with him that semester, but I managed an A the following semester. And I don't believe I received anything less than an A my remaining college career on any papers. I still didn't study much for tests, so the rest of my grades weren't as good. But I could write a pretty damned good college paper after he was through with me.
Interestingly, he pulled me aside at the end of the year and told me he was trying to get a Film Genre class approved by the school in a couple of years and he hoped that I would be one of his students in it. So not only did he take the time to make his students better students, he also took the time to know them. He got the class approved in time for my senior year, and I was one of about 100 who signed up for it. Half of them walked out when they saw the syllabus. Which included two 25 page papers and several more 10 page papers. Another 15-20 dropped out soon afterward. He wanted everyone to know that this wasn't going to be an easy A. It was for me, though. Especially those papers.
I guess it really hasn't helped my in life outside of school, but the time he took to correct an obvious flaw in my work really helped me get through college. So thanks, Mr. Kelly...wherever you are.