Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Writing Experiment Part 3

The end of the school year is here. I can’t believe how quickly it went by. We almost finished “The Freedom Writer’s Diary,” but ran out of time, so I picked through the last chapter trying to find stories that my students could relate to and write about.

Here’s what I learned from this experience:

1. Isabel Gomez, my department chair, was brilliant to suggest we read from this book to our kids. The students totally related to it. It made my English classes better than they ever could have been.

2. The boys needed to call it a “journal” to write, but they wrote! Some of them REALLY wrote! (The girls were happy to call it a "diary.")

3. I skipped the dicey entries. There were some entries that crossed the line and I don’t want to lose my job. Do I think doing this took away from the overall learning experience? No. There were still many other entries that were acceptable for me to read in public school.

4. We had some excellent discussions out of many of the readings. We talked about abuse, drugs, alcohol, drive-bys, homelessness, gangs, juvy, immigration, depression, and much, much more. I learned more about my students through these discussions than I ever would have otherwise. I am grateful for that.

5. I learned a lot from my students. They are smart. They are tough. Many of them have endured things I never could have. They are surviving; some of them in places were they shouldn't, but they do. They are growing, not stunted. They have hopes and dreams for better lives than they have now.

6. I learned about myself. I’m naïve. I’ve lived a pretty happy, sheltered life, despite my first marriage and not having a lot of money since I left BYU. I have insight into other things that they don’t though. I told my students many times that my parents were and are good people. They loved and cared for us. (And still do!) They didn’t beat us. They didn’t leave us when things got hard. They didn’t do drugs, nor were they alcoholics. They worked hard to provide for us. They were good examples for us. They took in friends and relatives who needed help. I learned that being happy and coming from a good life is helpful for those who have never had that.

I also told my students that within a few years many of them will be parents. I asked them, “What kind of parent will you be? You have a choice. You can be a good one or a bad one. Just because your family life isn’t what you want doesn’t mean that you will end up like that too.” I could see a look in many an eye that said, “I want what she had. I want to be like her parents.”

7. There are things my students shared that will haunt me. I can’t even begin to touch on those things. (Steve and my mom know some of it, but not all of it. It’s too much to share even with them.) Whenever I could I talked with the counselors at school and referred the students to them. Bless the counselors at my school. They are amazing women who never give up on our kids. They saved so many of them this year.

8. I’d do it all over again. I would. It was a great year and a good group of kids, despite the flasher and the thief. (Stories for another time.) I’m really looking forward to next fall though. As I looked over the little 6th graders this week, I thought about all of the writing exercises I want to try with them. I want to organize each class into a little publishing unit. I’m going to copy Ms. Gruwell, the teacher of the Freedom Writers, and assign each student a number. They will submit one diary entry per month to be reviewed, edited and compiled by students in their class into a class book at the end of the year. I think it’ll be fun. I think it’ll work. I’ll keep you updated.

1 comment:

  1. Very insightful and informative. I thanked God this morning for the peace in my life. I pray for those that lack it. Thanks for being one of those teachers who is making a difference!