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School Climate & Safety Opinion

Pass the Mic: Letting Students Write (on This Blog)

By Christina Torres — November 16, 2015 3 min read
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“So, how do you think you did on this rough draft?” I raised an eyebrow to *Mike. He was a kind, friendly (if, perhaps, talkative), sun-bleached kid with a swimmer’s build who liked yelling across desks or playing in the hallway before class. He’d weave past me to his seat before I realized he was in the room.

Now, though, he seemed bashful. He had written a piece that had admittedly surprised me. All my students had to write about a stereotype they faced. Mike had written a thoughtful, earnest piece about struggling with weight and dealing with bullies in elementary school. Mike was a good student, but I hadn’t seen his capability as a writer until this draft.

“Oh, um, I think it’s... okay?” He uncertainly responded. I like asking kids this question, because they’re so used to hearing my thoughts, it’s a good chance to make them reflect on their own work.

“Well... I think it’s great!” I said. “You’re a good writer, man!”

“Oh, really? You liked it?” His face lit up, surprised. I realized that, unlike some of my other students, Mike may not have not walked into my room seeing himself as a writer. He had put something honest and vulnerable on paper and didn’t know he was able to have an emotional impact on others.

Some days, the nature of my job is messy: teacher, guide, cheerleader, director, mentor, parent. At this moment, though, my job was crystal clear: I needed to hold up the mirror so my students could see how much power and potential they have. I wanted Mike and my other students to see that they had the capability to do lots of things that, before, maybe they weren’t so sure about.

I looked him in the eye and said, “Yes. I liked it. This is good.”

I spent a lot of this summer trying to rethink and recenter my practice on students and community. I’ve written about trying to empower student voice or shift power dynamics to my students.

Still, this leads to a whole lot of me talking. So a few weeks ago, when I was tired and unsure what I was going to write for this column, I did something a little crazy:

Of course, though, taking risks had some rewards:

After a few weeks of editing and talking with kids. I’m excited to announce that later this week I’ll post the first few pieces in my student voice series. My students were asked to write something about education, and culture, and they didn’t just deliver, they knocked it out of the park.

When I first started teaching, I might have seen this as “setting high expectations.” I remember being told that “if you set the bar, students will find a way to reach it.”

I understand that, but now I can’t help but question whose bar we’re trying to reach. Why do I need them to reach for someone else’s bar? Why can’t I help them see and unlock all the magic they already contain?

As I wrote previously, I can’t help but feel that I need to move away from the measuring stick and more towards the mirror. Teaching isn’t just about grading a summative assesment against a rubric. Teachers should see an assignment as the opportunity to show students what they are capable of doing today that, yesterday, maybe they didn’t think they could do.

So, it’s time to walk the walk a little bit. We can’t just talk about student voice, we need to make active choices to give them the space, guidance and support to get their ideas and words out there.

I’m so excited to share those voices with you not just next week, but hopefully throughout the entire year.

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*Mike isn’t the student’s real name.

(Image above is from author)

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The opinions expressed in The Intersection: Culture and Race in Schools are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.