Watching Our Students Find Their Voices (Amy)

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.” 
―    F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

With only three days remaining of the 2011-2012 school year, I find myself with that familiar pit in my stomach. While I welcome warm summer days spent in my garden and long hikes with my husband Mike and our dog Phoebe, I know I will miss my daily routine and my students’ boundless energy. The seniors at Gwinn High School have already moved the tassels of their mortar boards to the left and the hallways seem vacant without their swagger. After eleven years you think I would learn, but I am always so startled with how traumatic the end of the school year feels.

My ninth grade English students do not seem to share my trepidation for the school year to be over. As we discuss the essay they will write for the final exam, I watch their eyes glaze over. The last of the book presentation grades are entered and they write notes to each other to slip into the “time capsules” they will get back as seniors. It saddens me that many of them will walk out of my classroom on Thursday or Friday and seemingly never look back at room 116. Next year some will pop their heads in to say “hello” and stop to chat in the hallway. Though, I know that by their junior year the majority will be too busy and preoccupied with their other classes. I like to think that sometimes they pause and reflect on our time together navigating Greek mythology and Romeo and Juliet. Ultimately, I hope that some return to take my creative writing class to dabble in fiction writing and poetry.

Macie Mitchell, who in three days will be a senior, is one of my students who returned to explore the power of language in creative writing. She is sweet and shy girl and often puts her hand over her journal, or computer screen, to hide her work from me. This always makes me laugh and I understand wanting to guard our words from the world. I can still see Macie sitting in her desk as a 9th grade student. She dazzled me with a stunning collage for her book project on Pam Muñoz Ryan’s novel, Esperanza Rising. Quickly, I learned that Macie was both a gifted visual artist and a wordsmith. She’s a pensive girl who keeps a deft eye on the world through her striking photography and carefully crafted lines of poetry. When you mention a book to Macie, it is not long before she owns it and is devouring the pages. I am delighted that this year she came to know and love The Great Gatsby and The Catcher in the Rye. It is students like Macie who remind me why I love being a teacher and the magic and wisdom we can seek out in gorgeous pieces of literature.

Right now my creative writing students are in various stages of completing digital projects for their final exam. I know this is a painful process for many and I try to keep the expectations and options wide open. My wish is that they experiment and explore different methods of publishing their writing and by doing this they allow their words to breathe. Two students composed and recorded an eloquent and political charged spoken word poem and one student, who enlisted help from a group of friends, snapped over 600 photos and uploaded them to Movie Maker to bring her poem to life.

Macie was one of the first students to bring her completed digital story, or Action Poem, to class. Heather and I always encourage our students to use their own narration when they create digital stories. Though often we find our students hesitant to put down their own vocals. When I played Macie’s poem I had to keep myself from jumping out of my seat with jubilation when I heard her voice coming through the speakers in my classroom. Her writing sent goosebumps through me and I am thrilled that she took her hand from the page so we can all experience the majesty of her writing.

I am so proud of Macie and I cannot wait to see where her creative pursuits take her.  I know that she will make the most of the summer and will type out brilliant pieces on the vintage  typewriter she just received as a gift. Macie brings to her writing a wonderful combination of old-fashioned values, an appreciation for the music and literature of the past, and an understanding of how technology can amplify our writing. How thankful I am that Macie came back to my classroom and continues to share her creativity with me.  I urge her to continue to flex and find her voice. It’s such an honor to be able to share her lovely digital poem with you today.

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2 Responses to Watching Our Students Find Their Voices (Amy)

  1. Deb Day says:

    Really beautiful. I have a student like Macie. I was sorry to let her leave my creative writing classroom. She wrote a memoir in verse that made me cry. That made me sit back in awe at the power of her word. That made me sit back in envy. I really like the idea of the digital project. Do your students just do one piece? Do they create a portfolio of their work? Is this a totally new piece?

  2. Judy Sarosik says:

    Oh Amy…precious words…writing was my best time of day when I was teaching…I remember clearly when one of my students came up and read me her haiku “white confetti snow, I can almost hear the cheers coming from heaven” and there were so many more…
    Your students are fortunate ones!

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