Tonight I am grateful for a student’s essay.
I know, I know, I always complain about grading. But this essay made me cry. And not because it was so badly written—believe me, I’ve had those. (Lord and Lady Copulate, anyone?)
For my AP class, I created a summer project that was one part things I’ve done before and one part brand new. Namely, I felt I was tired of my students’ souls and spirits being neglected. It seemed time for some so-called “soft skills.” So I put together a playlist of videos and reading matter—things like Brené Brown’s TED Talks, an excerpt from The Practicing Mind, Carol Dweck speaking on the growth mindset, and other suchlike things.
Yesterday I hit my classes with a writing assignment—a prompt from the state English teacher association’s annual writing competition. Yes, they had to write it. But they got to choose what form they wrote it in—essay, poem, fiction. And their focus was to discuss how a text, any text (from a book to a movie, article to poem, visual image to whatever—you know, text) had inspired them to “read more, write more, learn more, or live differently.”
I sort of love that. A very open assignment. Many entry points. And they often drive AP students crazy. And I love that, too.
Some students seemed baffled by the assignment. It was either that they didn’t know how to deal with such an open, unstructured assignment anymore, or that they couldn’t believe—no, really, for real?—their good luck.
One student, male, athletic, from an ethnicity that might cause one to expect a certain degree of male confidence, wrote about watching the Brené Brown videos. He wrote of his longstanding self-esteem issues and about how her discussion of vulnerability caused something in him to shift.
I couldn’t finish reading it. I was in class, his class. I was tearing up. I was moved that, two months after the summer playlist assignment was due, at least one student could reflect on the power and lasting benefits of the work. I felt useful again, and that is a good feeling after the experiences of the past couple of years.
I am so grateful.
Compound that with another student—a sophomore, who “does bars” (Xanax) but who is brutally honest with me about her practices and intentions—who came in at lunch to serve a detention for her second tardy. Detention is a chore, and I assign very few of them. For some kids, I don’t mind allowing them serve detentions with me, because inevitably we talk during such sessions.
This was no different. She spent detention highlighting—yellowizing entire pages of her agenda planner, just for something to do. And she talked. And I listened and talked back.
Her mom went back to jail after only two weeks of being out. Her grandma doesn’t want her but likes to stir up drama. Her aunt and uncle are drug testing her now. Of course she failed this weekend’s test.
She advanced the typical “I can quit” defense. “I did it for two weeks before school started.” I challenged her to do it for two months, starting tomorrow.
She thought a long time. Then she wrote down the date in her agenda planner, highlighted it. “It’s gonna be harrrrrrrd.” She hates it when it gets hard. She’d rather detach, escape. But she can’t pass up a dare like that.
I am prayerful.
And I am so grateful.