Even though I haven't written much as far as teacher blogging so far this year, I've been thinking about writing a lot, and banking ideas for when I finally have time. Well, Cross Country season is officially, completely over, so my excuses are done. Time to practice what I preach and start posting with some regularity again!
There's a boy student in 7th grade that I've wanted to write about since he sent me an email last month. As a 1-to-1 school (iPads), our students are always using email to communicate with teachers. Sometimes this is frustrating. I want kids to come talk to me in person, and there are many instances where I simply won't allow them to use email to communicate with me. But sometimes email allows my students to express things they might not want to say to my face. It's a form of writing that we often think of as quick, easy, but that doesn't mean it's disposable. In one simple, grammatically terrible sentence, a student can reaffirm everything about why I teach:
Hunter's original email sent a question asking if he was doing okay with our in-class writing. I told him he'd been doing an excellent job so far this year, something he might not hear often. This response melted my heart. He loves to write. He wants to make me proud. What more could I ask for? A simple email like this reminds me that I need to be worthy of the position I hold in young peoples' lives.
Flash forward to today in class. This same 7th-grade boy is a twin, and his sister Caylee is in the same class period. Caylee is quiet and self-conscious, the polar opposite of her rambunctious brother. I have my students choose peer response "allies" each trimester in my class. An ally is a person in class they can trust to be honest and respectful with any piece of writing that they bring to response days. While I often combine allies to make larger groups, they will always have at least that one person to be on their side. The twins chose each other; allies from the womb united for writer's workshop.
During peer response today, I noticed Caylee's eyes starting to water. I knew it was because of her topic. The twins lost their mother to cancer the summer before their 6th-grade year. They watched it rip her apart for most of their elementary school years, and at age eleven faced something most of us couldn't possibly imagine. She chose to write a personal narrative about her mom for her trimester final, and I could see the tears from across the room as she shared.
I was concerned for multiple reasons, to be honest. I wasn't sure how Hunter would react to his sister's topic, and he's not always sensitive with her. As I walked over, I prepared myself for the possibility that he had done something in peer response to elicit the tears. My first walk-by was simply to ask if she was okay and give her permission to leave the room if she needed. Caylee said she was fine, and Hunter didn't respond. I continued to check on other groups while glancing over occasionally.
I was on the other side of the room when I noticed brother and sister, foreheads together, locked in a shaking hug, their peer response group mates across the table from them staring silently, not knowing what to say. I worked my way back around to crouch behind the twins and they accepted me into their circle. I told them that I was sorry for their pain, but that I'm grateful they have writing to help them through it. That moments like this show us how powerful writing can be: it can reopen old wounds, but it can also help to heal them. Writing ensures that we are never alone, that no amount of suffering is trapped inside because it moves beyond thought and into something that can be shared. The burden is lessened in the sharing, even if it will never completely stop hurting.
I left them with a hug and continued to move through the groups, walking by only once again to hear their whispered, "I love you's" to each other before they moved on with the response activity.
These twins, through the email last month and the emotional response this morning, reminded me of the power in teaching writing. It's an amazing thing we English teachers get to do every day when we give our students the power to share their stories with others.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.