A couple of months ago, my friend, Barb, sent me the link to a blog post titled How I Want to be Remembered – My Students Tell the World. Barb thought it would make a good class project, and I concurred.
I tucked the assignment in the back of my mind, starred the email (so it would remain at the top of my list of emails), and as May drew to a close, incorporated the assignment into my lesson plans.
I used this as a writing assignment and graded it according to a narrative writing rubric. I required students to type the assignment in Google Drive and share them with me so I could provide feedback/assistance along the way.
At first, my kids looked at me like this…
You see, there were a few things wrong with the assignment:
1) It was the end of the year. In their opinion, they weren’t supposed to be working still. (insert evil teacher laugh)
2) This was going to be a test grade, so they knew if they didn’t do the assignment, their averages would be affected.
3) Their final exam assignment was going to be linked to this writing prompt. Double whammy.
4) They were going to have to get in their “feels.” Don’t know what this means? Visit Urban Dictionary (or use context clues). 🙂
This assignment touched on something very personal to all of us. We had lost a classmate right after Christmas. I worried that the kids would be too emotional to handle an assignment that hit so close to home. The kids wound up proving me wrong, growing beyond a level of maturity that I’d expected.
I had written my own response to the prompt and read it to them so they would get an idea of what the assignment entailed.
I read a few excerpts from the blog post.
I think I saw some light bulbs go on, but I still saw some hesitant looks.
The first day was spent mostly setting up the document online.
We used my Google Chrome Books plus a few I’d borrowed from other teachers, but I still ran around like a mad woman trying to get students to READ the instructions I’d typed and copied for them.
Following instructions…one of the biggest woes of a teacher’s life.
Let me tell you what I observed.
Around the second day allotted, students finally started typing in earnest.
Some students asked me to read their work, which I did from my own Google account (and provided comments through Google Docs and face-to-face feedback…which they loved).
Then, my sixth period did a beautiful thing.
They started sharing their essays with their peers who, in turn, started providing feedback.
The teaching angels sang.
The kids started working on their assignments after finishing work in other classes.
They were typing their essays on their phones.
And what they produced touched me to the core.
As the writer of the original blog post (linked above) experienced, my own students opened their hearts in ways I had not expected.
There were humorous moments but more moments of levity.
I had spent ninety minutes five days a week with these kiddos, but still, I learned things about them that they had covered up or not been given the chance to share.
My final exam was that students orally present their essays.
They didn’t like that much, and I sometimes wonder if it prevented some of them from digging as deep as they would have had they not had to do a presentation. Somehow, I doubt it affected many in this way as you’ll see.
For the next few posts, I am going to share snippets from their essays, with their permission of course (and their identities protected).
Keep in mind the demographics of my kids. They come from very low income homes where they are lucky to be under the care of one parent. Many live with grandparents or aunties. Quite a few have jobs. Many have housing issues and camp out with extended family or friends.
These are their stories.
K is a young lady who stole my heart the first day she walked into my classroom. She wrote these words…words that truly, when I look back on the year, epitomize the way she conducted herself with her peers…
I want to be remembered as the girl who could brighten your day by making you smile. When people look at me, I do not want them to see a letter or a GPA. I want them to see or remember when they were once down, and I made them smile or laugh and it changed their mood instantly.
V is another sweet girl who echoed some of K’s thoughts…
I want to be remembered as the girl who always smiled. Every day my objective is to make someone smile. You never know if that very same person you may be talking to was about to kill themselves, haven’t ate in two days or just got out of a bad relationship.
V went on to say…
As the year continued, I always prayed before I came in this class. I know your like is she serious, but I really am. I prayed that you would accept me for who I am, and that I become closer to everyone in this class. Which I did by having a conversation with you , laughing at your jokes when they weren’t funny , helping you with your work or just saying hello when I walked in the classroom. I learned that some of you have problems at home, learning disabilities, don’t have a mom or dad at home, never like to get personal, some of you don’t go to church but you really want to, I learned about your boo`s , bae`s , and etc.
Did you just wipe a few tears from your cheeks? I know I did. To watch this girl live out the words truly was a privilege.
A is a super-sweet girl. When I read the following words, I found myself scratching my head. This young lady could be counted on as a team player. She never, ever complained. I depended on her to keep a group focused during team projects. Her insight gave me pause to think.
Some of you may think I am shy and all, you may be right, because I really don’t socialize as much. I personally like to work by myself and think on my own.
I also had to pull out one other line she wrote…something that I saw give her confidence in the middle of the year…
I want to be remembered going in weightlifting and discovering my strength.
She had strength, that’s for sure, and she walked to the beat of her own drummer. I respected her for that.
I’ll end this first post with the majority of T’s essay (it’s not long). He really struggled socially, and I gave him the space he needed…when he needed it. For him to write these words AND share them while standing in front of the class spoke volumes about the trust we had created in our class.
But I still want people to accept me for who I am. I think people would remember me as: aggressive, mean, snappy, and even rude. And even I consider my self with these traits.
The reason I was like this was because that I am a perfectionist. I always want everything to be exact, first time, every time. But I should know there will be mistakes in time, we can count on it. Nobody can be perfect, everyone will have a disadvantage at something. And I, am far from perfect; reading is my disadvantage.
I also consider this class from perfect as well. However, we all do connect in some way. I know I can be gruff sometimes, but that’s how I am.I hope one day you can forgive me for my nonsense I also hope I can call you a friend one day; and you could do the same with me. But I believe we are one-of-a-kind family.
I connected with his words about being a perfectionist, and I need to take his lessons about making mistakes to heart.
I also loved what he wrote about being connected. I work so hard on making connections with my students…with helping them make connections to each other and to reading. This young man certainly learned those lessons.
Stay tuned for my next post. I’ll be sharing more of my students’ hearts.