Friday, February 23, 2007

High on Education

Every now and then, I have a day in the classroom where I can't imagine myself anywhere else. I can't even believe that other things exist, in fact, or that other joys are possible. Today was one of those days.

My morning started out at 850am, when my hungry student was waiting for me when I got to the writing lab. I had a note the night before saying he was lifting weights at 630am and would probably be napping. I fully expected to have to wake him up, but there he was, ready to write his philosophy paper. The assignment was five pages on his personal values and belief system. He was stuck. He had no idea what he could possibly write about.

I asked him why he thought he got out of bed to come work with me that morning, what made him come in here. He started talking, telling me how he knows he needs to work hard or he will never reach his goals. How if a person doesn't have goals they won't go anywhere in life. How nobody needs to ever motivate him because the thought of his family's and his own pride in his accomplishments keeps him moving, keeps him pushing harder and harder each day. How as soon as he reaches one goal, he gets right started on the next one.

I started writing down his words, verbatim, copying them in all his colorful vernacular. When he was done talking, I showed him what he had said, essentially over half his paper about his values of discipline and goal-driven motivation. He was so excited he almost spit out his orange juice. He said "Aw, heck! I was just talkin! I had no idea you could make a paper out of stuff I just think about."

I told him I hoped he knew how exciting and unique he was and how wonderful it was to have such a work ethic. His attitude was so natural to him he assumed everyone operated that way. He makes me feel good inside.

Then I had my final session with the gifted high school students I teach on Fridays. For our last class, I arranged a reading for them to share their work at a local coffee shop. I sat in the front row, alternating tears and hysteria listening to them read their polished work before a captivated audience of college and graduate students. They were brilliant. Their revisions were stunning. Their final projects were publishable. I could barely wait to kick them out of there so I could read what they wrote in their course evaluations.

It turns out they love to write. Not knowing what to do otherwise, I gave them readings that made me laugh and gave them writing exercises that stimulated my own creativity. It turns out this was a great tactic. They wrote about how freed they felt from structure of their regular classrooms, how comfortable they felt with a teacher who let them write about whatever they were feeling, even if that involved death or atheism or curse words.

I probably broke a million rules in doing so, but I treated them like I treat my own classmates and often forgot they were in high school. I just got so excited by their wonderful writing I forgot I was supposed to be in charge of them. I feel like I should be paying them because they make me so happy.

I enter into a hellish deadline week for my own writing. I find myself so inspired by the writing of students who make me happy that I don't even begin to know how to thank them. I will have to remember to dedicate my work to them, the only way I can think of to thank them for sharing their day with me.

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