My 8th graders have just finished up their first writing unit of the year and have turned in what they consider their "best" personal narrative. I love starting the year with personal narratives for 8th graders. It's a type of writing that teenagers often love to do: who do they spend more time thinking about on a given day than themselves? It also provides a fresh start to the new year. Since I've already taught them in 7th grade, I like to start 8th grade off by giving them the opportunity to reintroduce themselves. Maybe there's something I really need to know about them that they haven't expressed before. Maybe they've gone through some major changes since we last met. As I write with them over the course of the unit, I also make sure they get to know me better through my own (sometimes brutally) honest narratives. Most of them are astonished to know that I'm self-conscious about my appearance, or that my family situation growing up wasn't ideal. It's a way for us to all get to know each other a little better than we did before.
I love the way some kids respond to my openness and reveal their insecurities, or parts of themselves they've never shared before. It creates a bond, and it allows me to see them as people, as individuals with unique feelings and troubles. I know that shouldn't be hard to remember, but sometimes as a teacher it is. When you stare at stacks of papers, or flip through documents on the screen, it's easy to forget those words are connected to a living, breathing, emotionally fragile young human.
Starting the year on a personal note paves the way for the rest of the year. If I've asked them from September to dig deep and reveal, then other writings aren't as difficult later. Personal narrative writing often gets a bad rap for not being "academic" but I think it requires a lot of work. It takes guts to examine yourself and your life and translate that into something coherent to express and put out there for others. It takes a lot of thinking to filter through memories and recreate a situation for others to experience even though they weren't there.
It's fun to see individual personality shine through in a piece of writing; to see this sarcastic, self-aware 14-year-old girl call herself out while also sharing her deepest feelings.
Or to see something like this. Who doesn't feel hideous at some point during puberty? Were you brave enough to share it with your English teacher?
I rewarded my students for their honesty with a little treat on Friday. Since they opened up and peeled back the surface a little bit, I thought it only fair to do the same for myself in visual form this time. It helped that school pictures came in the day before, sparking the idea. My students got to laugh a little at far I've come over the years, and I got to express to them that no matter what issues they confronted in their narratives, time will heal those wounds eventually.
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.