This school year, I’ve had the opportunity to teach a writing class. The class takes up the second half of a college prep program that guides high school students toward higher learning through their high school careers. The program would have them call me their “coach,” but we don’t really do that. They call me “Miss Um-um…um…” more often than not.
As an English teacher, I have a jaded view on student writing. I feel like they have not been taught enough at an elementary school level, nor have they read as much as they should have, and by the time they end up in my classroom, writing is a foreign language to them. One that I have to re-teach, down to showing them how to choose the right verb tenses. Or worse, showing them what a noun is.
So far, my writing students have proved every snotty little misconception of mine false. I was wrong about them. There is some hope. They started out with food critiquing, in which we ate random dishes and wrote up reviews for them after watching episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. I created my own little Bourdains with sassy little attitudes.
But what has surprised me the most has come after our short story assignment. I was really dreading starting this unit because short stories are a beast to tackle, and I had no idea where to start with them. So, I chose to start with a story from Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. Then, we started to outline a plot line, and after that, we wrote up scenes…and in the end? Success.
Right this instant, my students are handing me short stories that are anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 words long. They are proud of themselves. The whole way they yelled at me for NOT collecting homework, since they worked all night on their short story scenes and wanted me to see them. Now, they are turning over their finished products, absolutely beaming over their progress. And the stories? They are actually good.
I underestimated them. As a writer, I am ashamed. As a teacher, I am humbled.
Remember that our school system isn’t what it used to be. Feed books to your children. Give them worlds that they wouldn’t otherwise choose to hold in their hands. Encourage them to write in some fashion – we all like food, teach them how to constructively critique it. Give them the time, and they will give you masterpieces. They will prove you wrong over and over again, and you will never grow tired of it.