I teach three sections of ninth grade English at Lamar School in Meridian. I love teaching freshmen; they are so unsure of this whole high school thing and are, for the most part, pretty eager to please. Translation: the perfect guinea pigs for me! Our school, like most, stresses writing. The students begin writing in kindergarten and literally journal their way through lower elementary, report their way through upper elementary, narrate through middle school, and analyze through their senior year. So the kids in ninth grade are in transition, to say the least. I try to ease them into the analytical world of high school by leaving the objective tests behind and moving into more and more discussion questions to challenge them. At the beginning of the year, I invariably get the same questions during tests; you know the ones, “Is this enough?” “How much will it count off if this is all I write?” “Will you look at this and tell me if I answered the question?” We are a college preparatory school, and I know these children have been pushed academically for at least ten years by the time they get to me….but many of them still want to do the least amount required, and be done with it. Or do they? Maybe it is this same academic pressure that urges them to make sure the answer is “just right,” or at the very least, “long enough.” Maybe, just maybe, being overachievers is keeping them from excelling!
I have taught all ages…from Pre-K to college sophomores, and I believe the ones who are most pressured to do well are the ones who heap that pressure on themselves. Often this trait of self-sufficiency is looked upon as a blessing; as the mother of one such child and the teacher of many, I tend to look upon it as a curse. What in the world does this have to do with writing? The same thing I attribute to the fact that my once-avid reader of all things readable now equates reading with school work. Translation: a tiresome chore. Gone are the days when my daughter would curl up with Harry Potter books 1-7 all hours of the night; now she spends her late-night, early-morning hours with AP Everything. I don’t make her do these things; she is the guilty one. I asked her last week why she felt she had to tackle this tremendous work load at school. Her answer: what else could I do? SO…reading becomes a chore, or at the very least, a forbidden luxury of days gone by. And writing is the same way…you want me to journal for self-reflection??? Who has time? Jot down some ideas for an amazing short story? You’ve got to be kidding. So this week I am giving a paper topic to my little guinea pigs…write a fictional story about whatever you want….of course there will be guidelines and a rubric (this is school, after all!), but hopefully, they might enjoy writing the papers…and sharing them. And maybe, just maybe, at some point during this year, they might learn to truly express themselves through their writing. Realistically, though, I am bracing myself for the first one who asks me how long it has to be….