Monday, November 17, 2008

Our Many Storied Lives

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post where I mentioned the integrated project my students (10th grade) were working on. The project was turned in November 7th and I have taken my time reading through them. When the students not only work hard, but also produce something so intimate and personal, I don’t want to rush the process. I don’t want to grade too many at a time because the projects may start to blend together and I’ll forget who said what.

When I posted about the project previously, McEwans asked in the comment thread if I could share some of the students’ stories. Here's a sampling of their stories and the trends...

Overall:
Most of the students give a lot of credit to their parents for instilling values, morals, principles and beliefs. Family was overwhelmingly their most credited influence. A lot of students mentioned chores and being a participating member of their home with a needed role as an important aspect of who they are and how they fit in. Especially students who have to help with younger siblings in the afternoons until parents come home from work.

Friends and peer relationships, of course, figure prominently into their middle and high school years. They are greatly influenced by their peer relationships. It was inspiring to read how some students, upon realizing they had chosen friends with dissimilar values, were brave enough to go and make new friends.

Most of the students who credited God, religious beliefs, and church involvement felt it helped them resist negative peer and societal influences. For these students religion has been a positive experience that has helped mature them with empathy and mindfulness. Others felt disconnected and disappointed from their experiences with organized religions. Some students who go to more zealous and narrowly pedantic churches seemed less empathetic and more judgmental towards others.

The negative factor that shaped their lives and which was cited most often was divorce. This was mostly true when the divorce was bitter or a parent became absent. One student revealed the difficulty of dealing with feelings of jealousy towards friends and cousins who had a father present in their lives.

Students who are fully engaged in school and have engaging exeriences are usually involved in a program outside of core subjects. Band, music, art, sports, dance, student government, extracurricular clubs were all cited as major factors in shaping them and influencing them positively. These factors are the reasons (along with their friends) that they love coming to school. (So please keep out the shout to not cut these programs)

They value their education more than they admit to on a day to day basis.

Those who have gone through tough times in their young years (domestic violence, parental drug abuse, abandonment) could break your heart not only by their resilience, but also by their forgiveness and unconditional love.

Specifically, some highlights and quotes:

My grandfather was a huge influence. He took me fishing and to the beach and spent a lot of time teaching me things from his life. I am proud of him because he served our country in WWII.

A poem of growing up in domestic violence titled “When My Blue Skies Turned Grey”

Another poem a student wrote about her current relationship with her parents includes these two lines:
I hate how we can’t talk like we used to
There are so many things that I want to tell you

Or this insight from an essay, Growing up an only child, I got sunburned from the spotlight that my parents always shined on me.

Another student wrote that her jealousy of her little sister’s birth when she was five and the consequences of being pushed out of her parents spotlight were the factors that drove her to seek excellence in academics (and regain her parents’ attention).

I loved the idealism of some of the students. One wants to become a pharmacist. But she did not write about making her own personal fortune in the pharmaceutical business. Instead she shared how she would like to start a program to bring much needed medications and vaccines to third world countries.

One student’s poem describes her feelings when she passes the beach parks with the tent cities of the homeless:

Tides of grief rolled into my heart
And left my body quaking
My comfort burst by Indigence’s dart
A dream was birthed, a goal set
To aid families down on their luck
To cleanse the next generation of our regrets.

Another student wrote his poem about how he used sleep as therapy to get him through the angst of middle school. A few lines of a six stanza poem:

What wonders it brings
to shut my eyes closed
and put down all the walls,
and weapons and soldiers
that keep me safe from
the biting and gnashing of bitter teeth
and bothersome, mindless chatter of the world.

Please leave me for awhile
And I will reach you across the wide oceans of my mind
Through the colossal mountains of thought
Beneath the clouded sky of reflection
And speak with you
In the green fields of sleep.

Or a poem about a parent who made some bad choices that includes these lines:

When your hero falls from grace
All fairy tales are uncovered
When your hero falls from grace, so do the stars
And your perception of tomorrow.

Some students prefaced their essays with a favorite quote:

“Opportunity is not a lengthy visitor” Into the Woods

“Wars and elections are both too big and too small to matter in the long run. The daily work that goes on, it adds up.” Barbara Kingsolver

“Life is a gift; however, living life with values and principles returns the favor.” Anonymous

“Life is not about finding yourself. It is about creating yourself.” Anonymous

I love my job.

111 comments:

Twenty Four At Heart said...

First!

Twenty Four At Heart said...

OK - now then! I am jealous! It sounds like you have wonderful, insightful students. It must be so inspiring to read what they've written. I loved the one about getting burnt by the spotlight from the parents. Amazing insight! Thanks for sharing!

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

I'm having a lot of fun watching you guys with the first tag. such energy ; -))

Yeah, they mostly did real well and kept me liking my job on this one. Plus they made me hopeful that they are not going to hand the world to hell in a handbasket when I'm trying to retire someday.

thistle said...

That is some great stuff...what a wonderful project for the students to learn about themselves, and for you to learn even more about them. Did any of them surprise you? And it is reassuring that, in a world that has role models such as Paris Hilton or tose Jackass boys, that there are still idealists that see the work that needs to be done in the world around them.

Thanks for sharing...

Smart Mouth Broad said...

WOW! I'm speechless!

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

thistle- it was refreshing. I don't always get to see this side of them.

SMB - If they only knew!

goodfather said...

Oh wow, what a great post.

'(So please keep out the shout to not cut these programs)'

Yes!

Also excellent that you are providing kids with a way to express what is going on with them, in a real way.

Candid Carrie said...

I wish you would have been my teacher. I was being eaten alive by my home life throughout middle school and high school.

I wish a teacher would have noticed. I was so well behaved and blended in so well (which was my goal) but I think if I could have gotten some of the shame/pain out of my body and onto paper it would have really helped.

Thank you for being everything you already are, I am sure you are making a tremendous difference in their lives.

You have my encouragement to ask for your salary to be doubled.

Mama Dawg said...

Such inspiring words and thoughts. This is why I want to become a teacher.

Kristan said...

I'm really impressed, not only by the thoughtfulness and talent of your students, but also by their openness. I can't imagine being that forthcoming in a school assignment at that age. At least, most kids I knew wouldn't be.

Sounds like there are a lot of really good seeds in there -- of talent, and of people who are going to make a difference.

McEwens said...

I am so glad you shared! Many of their writings deeply touched me. What a great job you have, and what a great teacher you MUST be!

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

GF- I know you'll help in the shout for those programs ; -) Orchestra, marching band, and the ukulele program keeps a lot of our students happy and striving to do well (gotta make grade check).

carrie - I was like you; major issues going on at home that I never even revealed to my best friends at the time.

MAMA DAWG- I love your picture ;- )
You would be an awesome teacher. I hope you go for it.

kristan- this is a good year. I have a great group of kids who have a lot of trust and openness, and yes,a few with somemajor talent as well.

mcewan - thanks for giving me the idea.

Lo said...

wow. i am, seriously, crying right now. just small tears of ... just, wow. how insightful and full of promise. and encouraging to me. that our future is in the hands of people that actually, just might know what to do with it.

the part that got me, tho? 'i have so much to tell you.' that one broke my heart. i hope they find someone worthy enough to listen. (you!)

Anna Lefler said...

I've got chills from reading this post. Wow.

Everyone should read it.

Your students are SO fortunate to have you. And it sounds like you feel just as fortunate to have them.

You made my day.

Thank you.

XO

only a movie said...

So moving and impressive. Just wonderful. What a great project and good for you for taking the time to assess their work.

What a cool group of kids. How many students do you have?

I'm still trying to figure out how I can type about my students and keep things private.

Love this post, Pseudo.

Eudea-Mamia said...

You and your students have renewed a little of my hope for the future.

The media might highlight the freaks, geeks and popular, but it's the ones that fall in between that will grow into responsible, respectable adults. I pray!

Em

starrlife said...

Amazing, simply amazing words!Talk about a gratifying job!

Queen Bee said...

I wrote a journal entry this past week about the fact that high school students don't make the connection between what they learn in school in real life. I also added that high school teachers need to help their students see that connection and judging by this you do that for your kids.

It almost brought tears to my eyes.

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

lo - me too with that one kid. she's a swret, quiet girl that you would never guess is fighting with her parents.

anna- thank-you and I do feel fortunate to do have this goup of kids.


movie -that line is hard. There were other very moving insights, but too particular for me to feel comfortable sharing, even anonymously.


eudea- you are so right. I have 146 students. The popular kids and the punks were generally not the hopeful, sensitive or deeply thoughtful students. Most of these examples are from the quiet kids, the artsy kids, the ones who try NOT to stand out in the crowd.

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

starlife - most of the time it is gratifying. Sometimes not so much (usually that is dealign with parents or admin)

Queenbee- sometimes the connection presents itself. But I am also an advocate of the "spinach" doctrine - as in sometimes they need the basics before you can get to the meaty, cool, connected project type things. A lot of the high school students are very spoiled and entitled and think it is our job to entertain them and if it does not, they tune us out.

Example - the students who were boycotting lessons on figurative language were not able to write very good poems when it came to the project.

The students need to trust that the boring, seemingly irrelevant stuff will connect to them later.

smiles4u said...

Wow! I really enjoyed reading this. These students who you get to reach are blessed for this opportunity. There is so much to be learned from their words. Each spring, the English teacher at my school, puts together a book of things students have written that year. The students can submit how ever many they want. She then makes a book of all the submissions. They have a choice of being anonymous or having their name behind their writings. The students are very proud of their work. Each year I read it and cry. It's beautiful and I feel that all parents should read this and take these things to heart.

You are a great teacher...touching lives more than you will ever know. Thank you for all that you do!

Laura said...

I love teaching because the students are still capable of showing their hearts--if you dare to ask and to make them feel safe. You, truly, have made a wonderful safe place for them, and you have made the paper a safe place for them. What a gift.

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

smiles and laura- yes, these are the good days and good moments of teaching.

Robin said...

What a wonderful post, so full of hope and promise. My boyfriend is also a HS teacher (music) and he is proud of "his kids" and how they are all good kids, although like most teenagers they have to play at "being cool" all the time, so when they share like this it is always astounding, and equally promising.

hillgrandmom said...

You are obviously a great teacher for those children to feel that they can be so open with you and trust you so much. Kudos to you for bringing out what is usually there in young hearts (though they may be well buried)

The Rambler said...

Wow. I incredibly impressed with your students (and more so because they hail from HI :)

Thank you so much for stopping by my blog today and commenting. It's been great to open the door to people I never knew existed. Including my own home state! :)

There's another blogger Maki who hailed from Oahu but moved to Florida that I blog friend with :)

Aloha!

deconstructing jen said...

wow. it's moments in teaching like these that make you wish you could teach forever.

you have some amazing students.

cat said...

As a mother of small children I love the insight you gave me into the hearts of teenagers. Thanks - and happy SITS day.

Donnetta said...

I have chills.

My favs - the only child and the hero's fall from grace.

Absolutely amazing.

Congrats on being a featured blogger. It is well deserved.

Carebear said...

Hi stopping by from SITS to say congrats on Featured Blogger! I was a high school English teacher for 2 years before my kids came along. Now I'm on permanent maternity leave! You've got some profound thinkers and talented writers in your class! This image blew me away :Growing up an only child, I got sunburned from the spotlight that my parents always shined on me.
As did the imagery in the poem about sleeping through middle school. Seems like a great project. Keep up the good work!

Tranquility said...

Wonderful... thanks for sharing!

Mrs. Jelly Belly said...

Fantastic post! It was always an eye opener for me to read essays my kids wrote when they were that age; the things I thought they hated me for, they actually appreciated.

And I totally agree on the importance of extra-curricular activities. What a difference that makes.

Happy SITS Day!

Jamie said...

Dropping by from SITS...It looks like you have an amazing bunch of students. Thank you for sharing this post with us. :)

Eve said...

What a great post, thank for sharing it!! Stopping by from SITS to say HI!!

Tanielle said...

Wow what a rewarding profession! Loved your post!

What A Card said...

Wow, how wonderful. It's so redeeming as a teacher when students really step up!

Bethany said...

Wow. You are making an impact on your student's lives! Happy SITs day.

sandy said...

What an impressive group of kids! Very inspiring!

Alex the Girl said...

The amount of trust your students have in you is astounding. At your grade level, that is a hard thing to establish.

Kimm at Reinvented said...

Amazing. Sometimes we forgot, or just don't realize how wise and insightful teenagers are capable of being.
Thanks for sharing. Enjoy the spotlight today.

carma said...

I can tell you are really making a difference in the lives of these kids. Thanks for sharing.
carma

Beth said...

Happy SITS Day! I love this entry! As the mother of 2 teenagers & an 11 year old, this insight into the lives of their peers is so interesting. It also reinforces how important it is to be a positive influence on your teens, although they may seem like they don't care, they do more than you know.

Craftymoose Crafts said...

Happy SITS day! As Mom to an 11th grader, I really enjoyed reading this post. We saw with our own daughter all the value, morals, etc. come through in her essays also.

Amy said...

It is great to see students that reflect in a positive way.

Tiffany said...

Incredible stories. Teens are so much more than the stereotypes. Thank you for sharing. And congrats on your SITS day!

Creative Junkie said...

Coming from a parent of a ninth grader, that sounds like such a great project - I hope my daughter gets a chance to participate in something like this one day.

mommytoalot said...

Very impressive.

Elizabeth said...

My 6th graders are not this insightful, but assignments like this make me love my job, too!

countryfriedmama said...

It's this kind of stuff that makes me miss teaching high school. Good for you giving them an assignment about which they could care.

Janna Bee said...

Wow, it is wonderful to hear such insight into a teenager's mind.

Procrastinator Crafter said...

Wow!! What an amazing teacher you are. You ask your students to think beyond what is conventional and make them really look inside. For your students to really respond so well shows what an inspirational teacher you are. Thank you for sharing these amazing stories. Maridith

Columbia Lily said...

don't you love those moments that make all the other stuff worth it? I do wish my 10th graders wrote even half as well as yours do.

Cammie said...

I love your job too! If I would have been a teacher it would have been English...it was by far my favorite and best subject. You have some talent in your class for sure! Happy SITS day!

DawnS said...

Wow - I am deeply touched by this unexpected insight into todays teen. It gives me a little bit more hope for what they will bring to our future!

Melissa Papaj Photography said...

Stopping by from SITS! Those were awesome! Thanks for sharing!

Brandy said...

Obviously you have a great bunch of kids, and you are a great teacher. Who cares enough to read what they write.

You're the kind of teacher I hope every student gets to experience.

Mimi said...

What wonderful students!

Porters said...

You sound like a great teacher!

My New 30 said...

Happy SITS Day!! Wow, what an enlightening assignment - very authentic. Both joyful and heartbreaking, but that indeed is life isn't it? Thanks for sharing.

Gibby said...

WOW. All I can say, is wow. It is amazing what people, especially young people will say if they know you will listen. Thanks for the enlightenment, I loved this.

Happy SITS day!

Wifey said...

Wow. How powerful ... and truly inspiring. Loved it.

Winks & Smiles,
Wifey

hellosweetworld said...

Those are some very talented students.

Happy SITS day!

Kelly Deneen said...

Wow!! That project is amazing and inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing some of the talented work your students shared with you.

Marrdy said...

You have amazing students!

Mammatalk said...

Wonderful. So glad you shared!

Laurie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Blake said...

I hope some of your students credited you for clearly inspiring them. It's hard to be so candid about your life, your students must feel close to you and have great amount of respect for you!

Amy said...

What a great assignment. I loved getting the assignments that were so introspective. Not many HS students actually take the time to look into themselves and note how they have grown and developed into the person they have now become. One of my favorite assignments was similar to this one, and I loved it.

mommy4life said...

Sounds like a great group of students. You sound like you have a really rewarding job!

Kristin said...

as a parent of 4 ranging in ages from 11-5, your post give me hope that what I am doing with them now will continue to be of improtance in another couple if years.

BumbleBeeRunning said...

Wow. It's refreshing to hear such insightful thoughts from kids this age. Great assignment! I bet your kids think you're a wonderful teacher!

mrsbear said...

Thanks for sharing that, it was really enlightening. My oldest is 14 but as a whole I think kids this age are such a mystery to me. It must be wonderful to get that window in to their thoughts and feelings. They sound like a great group.

BeebaBottoms said...

your students are very good writers. They must have a good teacher. :)

Tori C. (The Sweet Jelly Bean) said...

Right after college, I tried teaching 10th grade English and learned that it wasn't for me. It is obvious that you are where you are meant to be.

Andrea said...

Your students are so talented. Thanks for sharing their work with us.

Just say Julie said...

It's good to know they eventually catch on. I teach 8th grade now, and I worry on a daily basis if they're going to be able to handle it one day. Your students show that maybe it just takes a little time. Thanks for sharing.

Aubrey said...

So much talent there! Just amazing! I can see why you love your job!

Coming over from SITS! Enjoy your day!

Willo said...

What amazing thoughts. I can see why you feel lucky!

Heather @ Sugar N Spice Mostly Nice said...

What group of talented kids!

Happy SITS Day!

Jamie said...

Sounds like you have some great students on your hand...so smart & insightful!! Lucky you. Love this post because it opens up our eyes too.

Happy SITS day!

Jamie :-)

Sturgmom said...

Amazing! I hope my children have such inspiring teachers when they hit that age.

Mandy said...

Wonderful post! Congrats on your SITS day! Well deserved. :)

K said...

Sounds like you have great kids.

It's good to hear some of the insights - I'm trying to learn all I can to parent my son well.

Tara said...

WOW! what an amazing post!!! Kids are truly amazing. I've had the opportunity to help kids write and publish their stories and I'm always humbled and amazed by them...thanks for sharing this beautiful post!!!

The BLAH BLAH BLAHger said...

Wow, I can truly feel how much you care about your students...and I'm sure they know, too!

Orah said...

How profound - all of it. I worked in a HS age youth group as an Advisor. They are not all shallow and emotionless. They can offer words that we as adults can learn from...

Laura said...

You sound like an amazing teacher! It's wonderful that you can share and also learn so much from your students.

Kendra said...

What a fab teacher you must be! Happy SITS day!

Nydia said...

Happy SITS day ... congrats on being featured. That post was so different from what I'm used to reading and it was refreshing and inspiring to see how amazing kids are ...

Great post and over-all blog!

kimberly said...

I loved this post....thanks for sharing. It is amazing to me how deep teens are, if we would just listen...take the time to actually HEAR them. I have a 12 (almost 13) year old, and when we are in the car, we really talk...well...she talks, I listen. I am so delighted and enthralled to hear her deep thoughts and her perspectives...hearing her share makes me want to dig deeper into life....

misty said...

It makes me happy to read things like this. It shows that not all teenagers are drug-crazed, alcoholic, mean, ungrateful hooligans like so many portray them to be. These kids have a heart and soul just like us and we adults would do well to listen to their stories and walk our path a little more lightly than we do.

Preston said...

Your students are very lucky to have a teacher like you.

Suzi said...

It sounds like you has some inspirating writings from your students. It is nice to know that they think of their world on a much grander scale. You are lucky to work with such insightful young adults.

Reluctant Housewife said...

I'm impressed by the amount of thought and work that obviously went into your students' work. That must be very rewarding!

Joy said...

Those kids of yours are smart, wise cookies for their age. :o)

Congrats on your SITS feature!

Laura said...

Wow! Good writers & thinkers for such a young age.

adrienne said...

Amazing. Just when you think kids don't understand anything, they really do. They get it. You are commended for creating an environment where they feel safe and valued in sharing with you their innermost thoughts, joys, feelings an fears.

greedygrace said...

Makes me want to be in High School all over again!

Happy SITS Day!

AP said...

wow that is amazing. children, no matter the age, have so much to share with us, if we would only take the time to listen.
happy SITS day

Michelle said...

Wow... I don't think I was nearly that insightful at that age. Those are some overly(?) wise students there. I'm really impressed -- and heartened for tomorrow.

Xazmin said...

Wow, it sounds like you are and amazing teacher with some amazing students. Very inspiring.

Jess :) said...

As someone who is currently looking for my first teaching job, this post really inspired me. Thank you so much, it really gives me hope for truth and thought from a generation of students who always seem more interested in video games, texting and selfish things. It's refreshing to see such insight and honesty.

Thank you, SITSta :)

Rachel said...

So inspiring!!! Thanks for posting this! Love ya SITSta

Debbie said...

I really love hearing all of your teaching stories. Congrats on being the featured blogger.

Blue Castle said...

Those are some deep poems. The one about sleep and also the one about the parent who fell from grace made me stop and think for a minute. Beautiful stuff from high schoolers.

Adrian's Crazy Life said...

Sounds like a great project. Too many times we look at the funky clothes and wild hair and make our assumptions before we actually look at these kids and get to know them a bit. They're a lot deeper than we give them credit for.

Live.Love.Eat said...

So glad to come by and read such a wonderful post about your kids. I'm a day late but congrats on being featured!

Chelsie and Nicholas said...

I love your job! I can't wait to graduate so I can do the same thing! What an inspiration you and your students are

administrator said...

I appreciate hearing positive remarks about teaching, and about our young people, considering how much negativity there are about both subjects, far too often. The students' poems were inspiring. You are truly blessed! Hope you continue to love your job.

jubilee said...

Incredible.

Rachael said...

People don't give kids enough credit sometimes. Thanks for sharing! Happy SITS day!