Last Day, 2015

The following post is reblogged from Anthony Sedun’s blog, Digital Bamboo

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Last Day, 2015

It’s here again. Last day of school for students and just like that, the Academic Year (AY) is drawn to a close.

Talent show, slide show, luncheon with goodbyes.

The bigger the building, the larger the silence when the life has left it. And that’s what it feels like here, at school, when the kids go home.

We are and it is for the sole purpose of helping children learn and grow.

WITHOUT THEM, THE BUILDING FEELS LIKE AN EMPTY SHELL, WASHED UP ON THE BEACH. NO MATTER HOW PRETTY AND SHINY, IT’S ESSENCE WAS IN THE LIFE IT HELD.

There are so many thoughts that surface and dodge and dash in the watery end of the year habits of mind.

Here, I suppose, are some of the moments I’m most proud of as a teacher and fellow traveler along the arc of language and life with my kiddos this year:

SKYPING WITH CLASSMATES IN COLOMBIA. Through my work with The Life Writes Project (www.lifewrites.org), I’ve started taking baby-steps into the ocean of opportunities for connecting my students with teens and others in Medellin, Colombia (South America) who want to reach out to native English speakers like many of my students. I’ll never forget how some of my students had a chance to make live presentations of their Comic Strip How To projects to both, their classmates right here in Harrisburg but also simultaneously to students in Mr. Durango’s English class of native Colombians in South America. For my kids to see that their work mattered to peers and adults in our school and in that Colombian school as well was huge and it will stay with them for a long time. One of my deepest desires in teaching is to continue breaking down the barriers of geography and place to open up and build bridges that connect our kids, our teachers, our communities together. When I look out into the vastness of the night sky or the vastness of the schools, I see stars and stories waiting to be told, shared, connected into brighter constellations of hope.

SATISFACTION SCALE. After reading their Father, Mother Narrative Poems to their peers, I invited students to write their initials on a piece of scrap paper and attach it with tape to the classroom cupboards anywhere along the Satisfaction Scale. The scale had “NOT SATISFIED,” “SATISFIED,” and “DEEPLY SATISFIED” along the spectrum. “How satisfied were you with your writing?” It was really revealing and humbling to see how students saw their own work. Some indicated they were not satisfied, others that they were satisfied, and still others that they were deeply satisfied. Now, everyone did very well on their graded portion of the assignment. So what these ratings revealed were remarkable glimpses into a world of young people, young people who said time and time again in many ways that yes, I want to be counted on to do great and wonderful work, I want to strive for compelling writing and not just completed work, and yes, I want to believe my words can reach others and make a difference.

FATHER, MOTHER NARRATIVE POEMS. In April, my seventh grade students were challenged and tasked with learning about poetry and specifically with the charge of writing a certain kind of narrative poem I call “Father, Mother Narrative Poems.” Simply put, the poems had to tell a story and they had to focus on one parent, either a father or mother. Now, I am fully aware of my students and how many of them live in family situations that have experienced disruptions, separation, divorce, or some other arrangement in their primary caregivers. But this underscores one of my fundamental principles in teaching, especially teaching writing. A teacher ought to be the first to take the risks he asks of his kids. That’s why I wrote my own poem and shared it with the kiddos. When I write, I don’t tend to write “school-ish” pieces as others might. I don’t “dumb it down” or simplify if those decisions are not ones I would have otherwise made as a writer writing real pieces to be shared with others outside school. So I open up about my early life with my sister in Korea and how our mother died and how Korean dad neglected us and became an alcoholic. I write about this not to say poor me. Rather, when I show my scars, I find my students are drawn more deeply into this thing I am asking them to do now: write deeply, richly, powerfully from your life. The first students to clap for me when I read my poem were the students who also had scars from their lives like me. And despite our occasional head-butting about getting work done or staying on task, these kids saw me for a real man who can bleed like them and moreover, who can write like them. I mean that. I want to show them that I can write like them and that they can actually write like them too, but it takes time and effort and lots of attention to crafting your story and wielding these words as powerful, precise tools for the journey ahead. So what did I see when my students worked and worked on their Father, Mother Narrative Poems? Absolutely beautiful things. Truly, my students were brave for themselves and for one another. All of my kids stood in front of class and read their poems about their dads or moms and they did so to applause. We applauded before and after they read to set the right tone that yes, we see you, we know you, we celebrate you and your work in this piece. Some kids wrote about missing or absent, deceased, or distant fathers. Others wrote about tired and tough mothers who, despite the tough relationships, they know still want great things for them. Some kids held it together and some broke down in tears reading their writing. In those moments, we stood up and we stood close; we hugged each other and we shook hands. Kids who weren’t even close or friends per se looked each other in the eyes, glanced down with respect, held out a hand or leaned in for a hug and said in so many ways: I hear you, I see you, I am here for you, and I am glad you are here. Tough girls and cool boys alike, gifted, unidentified, or special ed, none of it mattered in these moments.

IN THESE MOMENTS, WE WERE ALIVE TO ONE ANOTHER’S NEEDS AND WE HONORED EACH OTHER’S HUMAN DIGNITY TO TELL OUR STORIES AND TO BE NOURISHED BACK TO LIFE BY THEM. AND FOR THAT, I TEACH WRITING. FOR THEM AND FOR ME, I CRY OUT TO ANYONE WHO WILL LISTEN: THESE WORDS MEAN LIFE AND TOGETHER WE RESUSCITATE OUR SOULS BACK TO A MORE BEAUTIFUL WORLD WHERE WE MATTER TO ONE ANOTHER.

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Last Day, 2015

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