It is true that we teachers often know more about the personal lives of our students than do the parents of our students. In most cases, teachers spend an average of five-hours a week with kids, and even more with one-on-one time and talking and listening sessions and after-school tutorials. Teachers, especially English teachers, can get to know their students on even deeper levels, still. Carefully thought out journal prompts and writing assignments can encourage students to tap into certain emotions and thoughts, emotions and thoughts that may be suppressed or covered over or forgotten, mainly because there’s no one at home to notice or listen or take an interest in them, or just to simply inquire if a problem exists.
Journal writing provides students the opportunities to contemplate the world of which they are so thoroughly engulfed. The classroom itself is a sanctuary for many students, a place both welcoming and necessary. One may not think of the actual classroom as a provider of private and comfort, especially with class sizes ranging from thirty to forty students, but students cling to their desks and to the space around their desks and to the view their seat provides.
In fifteen-years of teaching, I’ve never had a formal seating assignment. Yet every day, students enter my classes and sit at the exact same place they did the day before, and this continues throughout the year. Very rarely do I make changes. In essence, students are territorial when it comes to their special place in the room. They no little of the trap of complacency, but it’s ok—they’re young. However, they are old enough to know what bothers them, and through writing, they can get it all off their collective chests.
This 2014-2015, school year, I began my journal prompts on the first day of school. So far we are thirteen journal prompts into the school year. We’ve written about Ferguson and Salinas, about their biggest academic challenge(s), about historical events, about Holden Caulfield, about the perfect age for marriage. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by their writing. It’s not always the case, but this particular group is honest. They have things to say.
On Friday, I asked, “What is one thing you wish your parents would notice about you?” It was an honest question. I wasn’t fishing for any particular answer. I was simply offering them a chance to get in touch with something they might not have thought about—something to get them out of their comfort zones. Here are some responses (as were written):
One thing I would want my parents to notice more about me is when I do good, they don’t really care. But when I do bad, they do care. I really want this to change with my parents because it confuses me a lot, and it gets to me and my emotions. My mom, for example, gets happy when I do good in school, but I would rather have my stepdad be happy with me, but he never is. Ever since my father passed away, I haven’t been doing too good. My mother didn’t really talk to me about my father’s passing. She never asked me if I ever thought about him or nothing, but she does mention him sometimes. When my mother does mention him, she brings up when they used to be together. I don’t remember a lot about him because he and my mom divorced when I was three. I would go visit him once in a while. My stepdad is very sad because he gets jealous over a deceased man. I wish my mother never met my step-dad.
One thing I’ll like for my mom to notice is that I’m trying the best I can to graduate. I would like my mom to notice this because she thinks I’m not putting any effort to get out of high school and to go to college. If she’ll notice my effort, she would know I’m really looking forward to attending college and to get a career to help her out. She noticed I didn’t care about anything after my brother passed away, but now I’m focusing more on everything because I know he would have been proud of me. I would also like for my mom to notice this so I can have more of her support. I know that she can’t be there for me all the time because she works, and well she’s always busy with my little brothers, but if she would at least support me more with my goal, I’m pretty sure she will be proud. I would like my mom to notice a lot more things, but the most important one is that I’m trying everything to graduate with or without her support. I’ll make it just for my brother.
One thing I would like my mom to notice about me is that I like to work on cars. I would like her to notice this about me because she wants me to go to college, but I just want to be a mechanic and not go to school. Mechanics have been running in my family for more than 20 years, but my mom wants me to go to college and do something else.
One thing I would like my parents to notice more about me is how much I’ve grown in the past two years. I want them to see that I’m not the person I was two years ago. I’ve learned to appreciate life and take advantage of the things I own. Last year, I would procrastinate too much, but this year I have put a little more effort. I know my parents think “que ando de loca,” but I really am trying my best in order to have a good future. I don’t want to say that I would want them to see my weird and funny side because they already do. I know they understand me as much as I do them.
One thing that I would like my parents to notice more of me is that I try in school, and I don’t slack off in class. My parents would always call me lazy and tell me that I never do my work in class. I would like if they would see how hard I try in school and how hard it is for me to do certain things. I would also like it if my parents noticed that telling me stuff that puts me down causes me to start to give up in school, and they would get more upset. I just want my parents to notice that I’m struggling and I need help and not to be put down by them.
Something I want my parents to notice about me is that I probably, don’t really know. Like basically, my mom know everything about me. My dad, well, I don’t live with him. I only get to visit him every summer for the last three summers. My parents are separated, so I don’t get to see my dad that much. I want my dad to know it isn’t easy to live without him. I love him a lot, but my dad left and never came back. I forgave him and stuff, but I never told him how much I hate that he doesn’t live with us. He has another family. This is what I want him to notice. I miss the old times when the family was together.
You can see that kids have a lot of deep, emotional things to say. This particular prompt served as a personal reminder to myself to listen and notice my own children. It’s a tough task, at times, and it’s a little draining, especially after dealing with our students at work, but in the end, the effort is worth it to us and our children. Of course, as parents, we love doing it, so it’s not too much effort at all.