Thursday, May 8, 2014

Reminders of Why I Teach

This week I've been conferencing with my English 102 students over their final papers. I love having these conferences as it's an opportunity for me to take time with each student, being able to sit back and enjoy the student's work followed by listening to the student explain the choices made for the papers. I learn so much from the students.

When I do these conferences, I try to compile some passages from various papers. Passages that speak to me, make me uncomfortable, fill me with sadness, or evoke joy. I try to keep these passages close by to remind myself of why I teach.

Here are a few from this semester I'd like to share:

--from a student paper in which the author explored her cousin being born with Maple Syrup Urine Disease and having to undergo a liver transplant. The liver came from a little girl who had died in a car accident. This is from a scene of Evan's third birthday where he had two cakes.

"But the next set of candles was not for Evan; it was for his organ donor. It was for the child who was never going to have another birthday, who was never going to have anymore candles. It was to celebrate her [the mother's] forever gratefulness for the child who gave Evan life."

--from a student paper in which the author explored her father's fight with oral cancer. Unfortunately, the cancer wasn't diagnosed quickly and the cancer was such that part of his jaw had to be removed, making eating nearly impossible.

"The day came where he was well enough to sit at the table with his family even though he couldn't eat, and he watched as the family cut the steaks on their plates, what used to be his favorite meal."

--from a student paper about prescription drug dependency/addition.

"Sitting beside Lola* was her daughter, little 10 year old Penny,* her hair tied up in a knot, clothes two sizes too small, and shoes that looked several years old. Lola was dressed in a light pink dress, heels that made her at least a foot taller and that matched her Coach Hand bag and her face covered in freshly applied make-up. Penny did not say a word. Each time her mother said the word “addiction” Penny lifted her stare from the floor and shot her mother with a look of disgust."

These next few excerpts come from student reflective essays in which they discuss their journey through the class, how they felt about themselves as writers at the beginning of the course, and how they feel about themselves now at the end of the course. Little gems.

" . . . but I guess feeling uncomfortable was the key. By feeling uncomfortable I had to learn how to master these skills and eventually feel comfortable."

"Writing this [a paper about her step-mom's bout with breast cancer] and going through my own situation [becoming homeless and trying to find a place to live] at the same time led me to deal with my problem with much more grace and positivity than I may have at another time in my life."

"By having this assignment, I have found some closure for my family's tragic loss. Although my topic was stressful [a cousin dying after being hit by a drunk driver], I found it being the right choice for me because I was able to develop a more meaningful piece of writing and hopefully I will be able to persuade others to become organ donors and even for them to just pay it forward . . .."

"Reflections can be easily described as the accurate, reflective picture in the mirror. When I look in the mirror as the semester comes to an end, not much has changed. Appearance does not change much over the time of a semester. The most important but unnoticeable changes come from the inside, which the mirror does not show."

"You need to be able to add emotion and constructive logic into your paper. You can't have both unless you use both your head and your heart."

"But now, I realize that finding confidence in not only myself, but also in my writing, is the key to success. It is okay to obsessively edit, it is okay to be nervous and freak out about writing something, and it is okay to hate it while you are working on it."

"When it comes to the “creativity” of creative nonfiction work, I now am convinced perfection is overrated.  Creativity, in essence, is imperfect.  It is unrealistic to expect any creative nonfiction piece to be flawless.  My new expectation of myself . . . is to be gracious to myself as a writer, for this is what creativity is all about.  Likewise, my goal is to continue writing . . .. This semester has strengthened that resolve, for these months of experiences in writing creative nonfiction changed me.  Composing creative nonfiction affected me deeply as a student and as an individual."

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