Every Monday and Friday, we started our time together in second block by writing for six minutes. I was lucky enough to get a document camera half way through the year in order to project my own writing so I could model for students just how cluttered and unfocused this warm up could be. After the six minutes were up, we shared our writing and talked about some of the issues brought up in the writing.
While I always strive to be developmentally appropriate with students, I also strive to show my authentic self in my writing with them. This means that I wrote relatively freely about my year of dating disasters and my on-going questioning about whether or not I want to have kids. One of the great joys about that eleventh grade class was that we could talk about these subjects to create a classroom community which in turn led to students really opening up in their writing (and for those of you who think this all sounds too touchy-feely to be of use, I have to say that I have observed that a student who feels valued and safe writes much better than a student who is merely trying to please a rigid requirement).
My students continually surprised me with their forward thinking on some issues that really bogged me down personally in the past year. I once wrote about a dream I had in which I decided to append my mother's unmarried name to my father's last name. I wrote about how the idea to do that stuck with me. I wondered if I should follow through since I do believe that our surnames should reflect as much equity as possible. But I wrote that I knew it would be a lot of clerical work and that people would find it really strange.
"Do it, Ms. T!" B told me enthusiastically when we got to sharing time. She told us how she planned to change her last name to her mother's when she turned eighteen to reflect the fact that her mother had worked so hard to raise her right while he father had never really been in the picture.
Another time I wrote about how I really loved kids but worried about being able to balance caring for them while also dedicating myself to improving public education. I also wrote about my worry that I, like many people of my income and education level, wouldn't marry until very late in childbearing years, rendering my balance concerns moot.
The answers to these problems were so simple to my students.
"Just adopt a baby when you're ready," K told me, "and figure out the balance as you go along." But wouldn't adopting before I had a partner make it harder to meet someone in the long run?
The classroom full of children of single parents told me I was wrong. They explained how their parents had known that a boyfriend or girlfriend was for real only when he or she was willing to really invest in their kids.
Duh, Ms. T.