Yesterday I worked with three students, from different classes, who were writing about the death of a parent. That’s rough. My first thought is sometimes: Who’s encouraging topic choice? No thank you! I didn’t sign up for this.
Anyone who knows me, knows that’s not what I really believe. First, I’m the one encouraging topic choice. Although I don’t like the sad stories, I know they’re important for the writer and important for the readers. But they’re tough.
I think the reason they are so hard is because I never know how to respond. Death, eating disorders, abuse . . . I’ve been trusted with these kinds of stories and they never get any easier to read. First, I’m often on the verge of tears because I feel compassion for the student. Then, I’m overwhelmed because the student has trusted me enough to share meaningful writing with me. Finally I’m stumped. How am I suppose to respond as a writing teacher?
However, when a student has shared raw, emotional writing with me, I simply can’t respond as a writing teacher. I must respond as a human; as a fellow writer; as someone who cares. Then I shift to The Writing Teacher. My teaching point in these situations is usually along the lines of helping the student decide what he wants to do with the writing. Does he want to work on it more, revise it, make it into something? Or is he ready to tuck it away and move on to something else? It’s a process lesson. A lesson about writing reasons . . . and sometimes those reasons make no sense until years down the road.
I know, because I’ve written “close to the bone” as Katherine Bomer prompted me to do this summer. Because I’ve written things that matter (whether I share them with students or not), I understand what a gift it is when students share their writing with me. It’s hard to put yourself out on the page and then give it to someone who has the power to crush it with a swoop of a red pen. We must remember this.
Through blogging, and posting things like “Mine Forever“, I’ve gained respect for students who write close to their bones. When students write like this, then it is our responsibility to respond with respect and love. If you notice the comments, people responded to me with encouragement and emotion, which makes me willing to share the writing about things close to my bones more often. If someone told me the line breaks were off and the sentences were incomplete, I probably wouldn’t post writing like this. Even worse, if no one said anything, I really wouldn’t post writing like this. The same is true in our classrooms.
The classrooms where students are writing meaningfully, are the ones where the teacher has empowered students to write, not just to meet standards; or to take a test; or required to by administration, but because writing matters. And the teacher knows it, because she’s been there.
Unhurried. Finding the magic in the middle of living. Capturing a life of ridiculous grace + raw stories.