Saturday, May 17, 2014

I Could Go On

There’s a special language that exists between a teacher and their students. This language grows and changes over the course of the days, over the course of the year, and over the course of time with our students.  As teachers, we need to learn this language, and sometimes it is learned in the most amazing ways.

The Hero’s Journey

Life is a series of journeys. We never know where these journeys will take us and who we’ll meet along the way. As teachers, we are lucky enough to encounter people at various parts of their journey, one part no more important than the other, but the impact we can have as teachers on that journey can be life altering. This post is the story of one such journey and the languages used to tell of this journey.

The Call to Adventure

People love stories and I thought what better way to engage my students in the study of Greece than by examining their stories and myths. We began the study by looking at an engaging TED-ed Original by Matthew Winkler entitled, “What Makes A Hero”.  video
Over the next few classes we discussed this and looked at what the Ancient Greek considered a hero. My students were then given the task of creating an “epic” poem about a journey they’ve been on, or a legacy they want to leave behind. This would culminate with students sharing their poetry to a global audience during the Second Annual Poetry Summit. What I got from my students was more than I could imagine.  There were dozens of poems and journeys I could write about, but I chose this one because it brought tears to my eyes, and truly shows the power of words.


I’ve been blessed this year to have to amazing students in my classroom who have been not only trying to learn the “social studies” part of my classroom, but have been trying to learn English as well. They have taught me much this year, most importantly, that there are no barriers to wanting to learn.
When I presented the task of writing a poem to them, they struggled a bit, but when I gave them the option to write it in Spanish, they beamed. And when I told them they would get to share it with students who were learning to speak Spanish at a school in NJ, they couldn’t believe it. I won’t lie to you and say the first attempt was magical and worthy of recognition. Initially, they googled a famous Spanish poem and began to share that as their own. With the help of the ELL teacher, I was able to communicate a very important lesson on digital citizenship and plagiarism. We encouraged them to talk about the journeys that they had been on. What one student wrote was nothing short of amazing, not because of the literary devices or hidden message, but because of the story it told.

It Touched My Heart

At 12:20 PM Dayana read her poem (1:28) to the world. One of my other students read the English version that ended with the lines "with your help, I could go on". The poem told the story of her journey from Cuba, the struggles she’s encountered, a friendship she developed, and her hope for the future.

After Dayana shared her poem, the students in Raquel Williams’ 8th grade class shared a poem by Cuban poet Jose Marti Perez. As Dayana listened, I asked her if she understood, and she began to cry. There are no words a teacher can use to describe the feeling you get when you see one of your students cry. When I asked her what was wrong, she just shook her head, smiled, and said “That touched my heart.”

“New Life”

There’s always more to the story, especially in middle school. We talked more, she cried more, I gave her a hug, I cried a bit, and we talked some more. Late in the day, she came by my room, looked in the window and waved and smiled. What was said during that conversations between her, me, and her best friend. If I told you what was said, I’m not sure you’d understand. It was a combination of English, Spanish and that “special” language that only teachers have.