I want my students to leave my classroom with a love of reading, writing, speaking and listening, but I know that's not possible for every single kid. I believe they can all learn to use and appreciate language, but I'm not naive enough to believe that they will all love it as much as I do.
What I really want them to learn about writing is that it's the best therapy in the world. If something in your life hurts, then putting it on paper (even if it's something no one else will ever see) can make you feel just a little bit better. And if you feel good about something in your life, sharing it with an audience can spread that joy to more people. Writing about life is the best way I've found to let go of pain and hold on to happiness. I want my students to know that writing for yourself is sometimes the best tool for coping with whatever comes your way, and it's a skill you should use forever, not just because of a class or an assignment.
I want them to know that we read books (and poems and essays and articles) to find out that there are other people out there who think the same things we think, who feel the same way we do. Whenever we find a piece of literature that resonates it means that we are connected to that author, those characters, and the millions of other fans who also love that piece of writing. And when we find a piece of literature that challenges our thoughts, it's just as important because it's one more way we construct and refine our own beliefs and values.
I want them to speak words that are true and that have value and purpose. Those words should represent who they are and how they feel. Spoken words are powerful because they are in the moment, they are urgent, and they are often the hardest words to forget and the ones we most wish we could take back. Spoken words do not allow the forgiveness of revision and editing, and they are the part of language we most often abuse.
And while I love reading, writing, and speaking both individually and as parts of the art I teach, I want my students to know that listening is often the most important aspect of them all. I've said here before that my students trust me, and I know it's because I listen. I don't add a lot of small-talk in group conversations with other adults because I'd rather listen. I learn new things from people who know more than I do because I listen. I think the world would be an infinitely better place if more people took the time to listen to others before shouting to be heard.
All of these aspects of language add up to what I view is most important: How you use language in your day to day life greatly impacts the quality of your life. The most important lesson for my students is that what they read, write, speak, and listen to matters. It forms them as human beings, and it's how they express that humanity to 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.