Monthly Archives: July 2012

“But What I’m Writing Isn’t True…”

I tend to have the best conversations with students in the margins (read: the time and space before class starts, or the moments when it ends and they’ve gathered their belongings and linger to talk about something of interest to them, risking being late to their next class ’cause there’s something on their mind). Today, I was running late to class after HAVING to order an iced coffee from the T station and ran into one of my students. She wanted to discuss her writing and explained to me that she felt that she wasn’t going to get a good grade on her narrative essay because during our Friday workshop share (I’ll write another post about that), two of her peers wrote about places where “significant” events occurred: one an act of violence and another an act of gender discrimination. She said that overall, she hasn’t had anything horrible happen to her, and she tends not to pay attention in ways they do. But, was simply being observant about a place that was interesting, but where nothing momentous happened, from her perspective, enough for this assignment?

One of the things I love about this summer program is that I get to know kids as writers. I also think teaching for a while now has created a pretty good BS-meter. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. But, I think I’d not thought deeply enough about what it means for kids to mine the ordinary in their writing. When she told me her feelings, I quickly wondered if I’d set up some expectation that their narratives be heart-wrenching and traumatic, so I disabused her of that notion and told her, essentially, that what mattered most and what I was interested in seeing was showing rather than telling. Most importantly, I told her that if she had to make it up, it would come through and that if it didn’t feel right to her, in her gut, then it wouldn’t read well on the page.

She was relieved. And I was reminded that just because they are living in urban environments doesn’t mean that their lives suck. I’m looking forward to reading her essay about the ordinary. I’m certain that, since she’s writing from her gut, it stands to be quite extraordinary.

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Filed under Teaching Writing in the Summer

Ending My Sabbatical in the Suburbs

I resigned from my suburban job last week. Not a completely shocking decision given folks who wondered why I was going there in the first place, but enough of an unexpected rumble that it makes me sad. I worked with phenomenal colleagues who were willing to share their practice, to help me figure it out, and to remind myself that even in the suburbs, someone has to speak up for the kids of color. In the ‘burbs, too, I realized that speaking up for other kids matters, too, the ones who are a bit quirky, a lot uncertain, and majorly unhappy. It always comes down to missing the same things, ultimately: my colleagues and the kids. However, I read this great quote (accidentally, but perhaps not, as I’ve an affinity for lovely quotes): Saying goodbye doesn’t mean anything. It’s the time we spent together that matters, not how we left it. Trey Parker–of South Park and the Book of Mormon, maybe?–said that. I was moved by the quote and taken aback that Parker said it–maybe I shouldn’t have been, but that’s just the way it is.

While it’s the kids and the classroom triumphs and challenges that stay with me, it was also a deeper desire to work with kids of color again that compelled me to leave the suburbs. I realized the differences, though, between the city and the suburbs, and it’s lit a fire under me to do more. It matters. And I think MY work matters more in the city than in the ‘burbs. For now, at least.

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After lots of writing and rewriting blog posts in my mind, I’m finally doing something about it. Welcome to this space, one in which I turn over what it means to teach English, to be a part-time academic with aspirations, to work with hesitant students as they explore the craft of writing. Mostly, I’m blogging here because I need to remember–always–what it’s like to write beside them.

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Filed under Housekeeping