The last day at Tate was bittersweet. It’s been a long journey, both in the students growth and in myself as a leader and teacher. incredibly rewarding to have watched them gain confidence and meaning in their writing, and to see them find value in their own voices. I couldn’t hope for more than that the students find something in writing that goes beyond simply completing assignments for class.
One of the most notable leaps I saw was as once student seemed to suddenly realize that actually doing work and participating was not so impossible as it seemed before. It seemed to begin when he wrote a single line in response to a prompt. I told him, “You did it! You finished, that’s all it took.” His normally carefully expressionless face leaked a smile. That was a couple lessons ago. This week he was engaged in class, looking around and paying attention, and willingly read his work to the whole class.
In fact, all but one student (and I think she was just having a bad day) participated in our last day reading. They read either passages or lines from a prompt, and we clapped after every single one, no matter how brief or simple. I think another contributor to lending the students confidence was when Rachel lead our nature writing, and we passed around a legal pad, writing a poem together. One girl just wrote “Sun, sun, sun,” and that was fine! It seems to be important to start small with young people who are already so doubtful of their own creative ability. In my opinion, if everyone in class is talking or listening to each other, that’s an excellent start. If they pick up a pen and draw instead of write– that’s fine! Even if a student wants to sit on the floor with his hood up but begins to doodle when we hand him a pen and paper– that’s great! As long as something is being created. I hope to have conveyed that in my time at Tate– that whatever the system might have told them, it’s enough just to be alive and making and thinking, even if they aren’t doing it the “right” way. It’s vital, if counterintuitive in a school environment, to impress that even if the exact parameters for “success” aren’t met, effort and a personal voice are still of value.
There were several students missing on that last day, and I truly regret not being able to say goodbye and good luck. I hope to see them again when I volunteer in the fall, and I hope they have the chance to get a copy of their book bound works to remember the awesome things they did in Friday writing class!