Friday, September 5, 2014

Community Through Story, Part II

The students closed this school-week by sharing their own stories in class on Thursday and Friday.  I'd intentionally made the prompt somewhat vague: the kids simply needed to relate one or several watershed moments in their lives that brought them to where they are today (whether that be an explanation of how they came to CAJ in a geographical sense, or talking about events that shaped them into the people they are).
What an incredible variety of stories we heard!  We listened to stories about moving across the country, we listened to stories about moving across the world.  We listened to stories about struggles fitting in, we listened to stories about the power of friendship.  We listened to stories about speech impediments, learning disabilities, torn ACLs, and the sting of not making Varsity basketball.  We heard stories that made us laugh and stories that made us cry.  Nobody was tuned out; nobody was sleeping; nobody was furtively working on something else.  Everyone was riveted.
We started school only ten days ago, but 1st period English 11 and 3rd-4th period Humanities 11 no longer feel like new and unfamiliar groups chaotically clustered by dint of fate and scheduling.  Instead, these groups have become communities.  When we hear another person's story, a piece of their experience becomes part of our story.  When we laugh with someone, we are invited into the joke.  When we cry with someone, their hurts become ours.  It can be terrifying to be so vulnerable, but the result is a connection nourished by empathy.
My students' newfound appreciation of their class community will be tested next week as we gain two new students, and another new student returns after nearly two weeks away.  Will my students apply what they've learned?  Will they seek out and listen to the stories of these new classmates?  Will they make the space for these students to tell their stories?

Perhaps not everyone will, but I am confident that many will.  I saw inclusion happening around me today after my classes were over: an invitation for a new student to sit with the Junior group in Study Hall; an ever-so-slight shuffling of seats in the cafeteria; conversations between classmates who usually do not talk to each other.  I am satisfied with how this year has started, and I firmly believe I've found my stride as a teacher after several years of trial and what sometimes felt like lots of error.  As I finish this blog-post at Tully's on Friday evening, I am exhausted on many levels and my eyelids are heavy.  I will cherish a weekend of rest at home with my wife.  Yet, I'm also excited to dive into the next week of school.  It's wonderful to look forward to each day!

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