The transition from teaching high school to teaching college is far more challenging than I anticipated, but the element that I find most challenging is the infrequency in which I see my students. Granted, this semester has been a bit like riding the Cyclone at Coney Island–a rickity-jerky century-old wooden roller coaster that leaves you exhilarated but jerked around and with a tiny bit of whiplash after completing it’s course. Between the Jewish holidays of September/October, Columbus Day, a week of missed classes for Hurricane Sandy, and then Thanksgiving, this semester has been a game of hurry up and wait. That is hard when you are trying to establish relationships with students who are navigating the transition from high school to a just-opened community college.
Towards the end of September, I was still feeling like I was staring into a room full of strangers. Since I only see my students 2x/week, the getting-to-know-you process was too slow for my liking. As a solution, I decided that their second Reader Response Essay would be a personal piece. I asked them to explain to me, in a one-page single-spaced essay, who are you? Who are you as a reader? Who are you as a writer? And the results were illuminating, heartbreaking, honest, raw, and exactly what I needed to read in order to better understand the students in my classroom, how to approach them, and how to teach them.
Next year, when I do this again, I am going to write my own essay, though, and give it back to them when I return theirs. I felt like I received such honest writing from them that I owed them the same in response.
But these essays were then able to serve a dual purpose:
My colleague Nicola Blake and I organized campus-wide events for the National Day of Writing in October. From these essays, I was able to cull quotes from the students about why they write and create a Powerpoint presentation that played on a wall in the Information Commons (our library) during the National Day of Writing. They were thrilled to be “quoted” like “real” authors. We had professors do writing activities in classes across the curriculum, we had creative writing workshops with our resident poet and peer mentor Carlos Iro Burgos, and we had a tweet-out in the library which included a table of laptops all logged into one Twitter account into which students would tweet a response to Why I Write. After tweeting, they got a rubber bracelet that said, Write on! on it. It was actually pretty awesome (if I may say so without sounding arrogant), and I realized that one of the perks of working at a new school is that you get to help create the culture of the institution. We really want the students to see themselves as writers. That day, I felt like they did.
Here are some quotes of what the students said in their essays and some photos of the events. As always, their words give me pause.
I write because it helps me think about who I am and be able to see if I have changed during the years.
I write because I feel it is a clear expression of my thoughts. It shows my education and the level that I am in. Writing is a sort of freedom that people sometimes don’t take full advantage of.
I write because I can freely go in depth about my opinions as well as raise awareness on whatever it may be that I’m advocating.
I write because my writing gives me strength to face my challenges.
I write because I like the satisfaction of knowing that someone understands me.
When I write I can be me, without judgments and others’ opinions about what I feel, think, or do.
Writing is good for the soul.
I write fiction because being able to tell a story, to me, can have a large impact on someone’s life.
I write because I believe that everyone has a rhythm in their hands and fingers.
I write so I can connect myself to the real world.
Writing is my way to show people my personality.
I write because it helps me release my feelings onto paper. It helps me transform them into a unique song.