Beliefnet
Beginner's Heart

For my students, writing a personal narrative — even armoured w/ attendant scholarship — is walking on verrrry thin ice. Their toes curl up, I suspect. They go oh-so-slooowly, each word a careful footstep forward. Each sentence almost too much personal revelation. For them, writing resembles strip poker w/ strangers.

They write of mean. Mean parents, mean ‘friends,’ mean teachers, a mean world banging at their battered hearts. It cracks my own to read their quietly desperate drafts. One is the child of a meth addict, now parenting her own mother. Another is the survivor of three suicide attempts — brought on by drugs and alcohol and the pressures of competition. Two are anorexic. Another has a disease that has put 100 pounds on her frame, earning her the rejection of her peers. For every one of my 17 students, there is a story. And almost none of them are happy.

What I learned from reading these narratives — what I learned from class today — is that my students are brave. I ask them to write, to examine their lives, and they offer up these bruises and breaks and scars. They hold back nothing. I have told them in so many words that I love them, and for some reason I have yet to understand they trust me.

What I learned today is that teaching is a sacred trust — theirs of me, mine of them. I trust that they will understand when I tell them that writing is about more than the story, so they must revise. Not their lives — although I wish 17 times during the hour that I could edit out pain and sorrow and negative self-image and grief. They must revise the writing down of these lives. This is where inspiration is non-existent, and work is all that matters.

What I learned today is that teaching remains the hardest thing I do daily. And one of the most rewarding. Try it — in whatever job you do. It will grow your beginner’s heart. Trust me.

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