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[Aug. 27, 2001... The assignment: 250 words on a grade-school teacher for an alumni magazine.]

Getting It Just Right: A Teacher's Lessons Still Ring True

By Sreenath Sreenivasan

"Cross your t's, dot your i's," he would say. "Cross your t's, dot your i's." I never forgot those instructions.

They came from the tall, wiry teacher whose thick beach slippers -- the thickest I had ever seen -- made him taller still. His hand, clutching a piece of chalk, a couple of fingers outstretched, would punch the air as he made his point: "Cross your t's, dot your i's."

If you forgot to cross the long stem of a lowercase "t" with a crossbar at the right place, or you forgot to put a dot above the "i" at the right height, he would make you rewrite that sentence 20 times. I did a lot of rewriting the first month.

Fr. John Manipadam, S.J. -- who always seemed to wear those slippers with his white Jesuit robes -- was telling us about the importance of good penmanship. But he was also imparting lessons about more than just handwriting.

He taught me the importance of getting things just right. Making sure your work is done properly and checked -- and double checked -- before you turn it in. Getting the details and getting them right.

As a journalist-to-be, these lessons would last me a lifetime. And now that I am a teacher, I appreciate his pushing us the way he did. I must admit I didn't much appreciate of his methods while I studied under him. Resenting, whining, complaining was more like it.

I hardly ever write anything serious by hand anymore. Word processors and e-mail composers do most of my work. But of all the things that Fr. John -- teacher of English literature, serious basketballer and letter-writer extraordinaire -- taught me, none was more important than "cross your t's, dot your i's."


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