Monday, August 30, 2010

Scrapes of the Hearts

Today was my first official day of student teaching.  I'll be spending my semester with a great group of 7th and 8th grade pre-AP English students.  During the first nine weeks of school, all of the classes are focusing on personal narrative. One would think that the average middle schooler would have personal narrative down to an art.  I mean, look at Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube.  Our entire culture is obsessed with the need to broadcast itself to the general public.  However, the wisdom I gained today was not a new lesson but a rehashing of a lesson I think everyone learns on what I call a "continuing education basis."  Some people will just always refuse to scrape their hearts.  Here's what I saw all day long.....

Students in my classes have writer's notebooks.  These books are divided into sections that students use to work on different types of writing.  Today, we focused on "scrapes of the heart."  Scrapes of the heart are those things that dig at us.  It our burning questions, our frustrations, our failures, our pains and angers.  Scrapes of the heart are uncomfortable because we try to bury them in a place where talking is unnecessary.  However, writing about the things that scrape us up can be amazingly cathartic.  This was the focus of today's lesson.  And this is how students responded....

Girls immediately began to write.  Some of them looking forlornly at the pages of their journals and sniffling occasionally.  Others furiously filling pages like they couldn't get words out fast enough.  When it came time to share their scrapes of the heart, hands flew into the air, tears were shed, and tissues were passed around.   In stark contrast, the young men in 7th and 8th grade pre-AP English found a million things to do besides write.  They passed jokes across the table about the emotional state of their female friends, they started conversations about sports or what was on the menu for lunch; Thinking about scrapes could potentially show a weakness, so why even go there?  It's so much easier to bury those scrapes down deep, where they can only grow into bigger wounds over time.

The gender differences were obvious all day long, and it almost made me smile.  These reactions to scrapes of the heart will continue for these students well into adulthood, just like they continue for all of us.  As a woman, I can't help but apply this whole scenario to my own life.  How much of my life is spent guessing what a man is thinking or feeling?  I mean, obviously they won't say it, because it might scrape their heart up.  Whereas I always seem to find myself being an open book.  If only we could all just find that happy medium, communication would be so much simpler....

So, the first piece of wisdom I gained from the middle was this: "Don't be afraid to share your scraped up heart." I heard some beautiful stories today--stories about lost siblings and parents, about unanswered questions and unanswered prayers, and about the frustrations and confusion of being young and a little misunderstood.  The kids that shared experienced a visible sense of relief once they got those scrapes out in the open.  It was as if letting others hear a small piece of their pain allowed their scrape to begin healing.  I hope I can be that courageous.  I know I've got a few scrapes myself.  Sharing sucks.  It hurts and it's hard and it makes me feel vulnerable. But maybe, if we all start sharing our scrapes, we'll get a little relief and things will heal up nicely.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Snatches of Talk

Well, I've finally made it.  All the college hours are complete.  All that stands between a diploma and myself is one semester of student teaching.  Sitting at Starbucks yesterday afternoon, with the last hours of summer slipping away and graduation and a real grown-up job looming on the horizon, the full impact of being almost, kind-of finished with college finally struck me.  Then I started thinking, what have I really learned in college?  Sure, I've sat through all those basic gen. ed. courses that we all drag ourselves through as freshmen and sophomores (and even as seniors).  I've learned a million strategies for struggling learners and gifted learners and all the kids in between.  But what is going to make me a successful middle school teacher?  In college, we talk and talk and talk about how to be effective in a job, but there's a big difference between talking about being effective and being effective.  So all these thoughts are going through my head as I'm sitting there, pondering the days until I am officially a teacher and no longer a student teacher.  

I think the key to being a successful student teacher is having an open mind and, more importantly, open ears.  You have to listen to what's going on around you. So, for the rest of the semester, I'll being listening for pieces of wisdom from the middle.  Of course, this wisdom will be gained from my mentor teacher and the other teachers and administrators at the middle school where I'm assigned to student teach.  But even more importantly, I can gain so much from listening to students.  It would be selfish of me to keep all of this newfound wisdom to myself, so I think it's better if I share it with you.  Every post will explore a small snatch of conversation I happen to catch from a student.  Kids really do say the funniest things, especially when they're thirteen and think the most mundane things could end their world.  So hopefully we'll all learn a lot this semester.....I'll learn how to be a teacher, you'll learn about the innate wisdom of the average middle schooler, and maybe (if I'm lucky) the kids will learn something, too.