Completers of Assignments. People.

The thing I hate most about being an English teacher is the thing most English teachers hate about being English teachers: the grading. The sheer volume of it, regardless of the task or the quality of work, ensures that any assignment will take foreeeeeeeeever.

It's also the best part about being an English teacher.

It's how I get to know my students. 
As readers and writers and completers of assignments, yes, but mostly: as people.

English class affords so many opportunities like this.

This is not a small thing. After all. We spend more time together, my students and I, than we do with many of our families and friends.

My 9th graders have been working on revising their memoirs. The stories they have chosen to tell.

I asked them to think about who they are and what makes them so. I asked them to think about moments or events or experiences that have changed them.

I said: 
You can tell any one story. 
It must be true. It must be yours.
And I challenge you to express it.
As wholly and deeply as you can.
And I will help you. I have tools.

Because I've asked them to take their most meaningful experiences and memories.
The ones they really believe in, the ones they still roll around in their minds, the ones that haunt them.

The ones that could have started with any number of sentences or hooks, because there is no defined beginning.
The ones that they're not sure how to end. They're still living these stories.

In our classes together I talk about strategies and techniques. I provide them with menus of writing options. We read examples and I show models. I teach them about compelling dialogue. And strong verb choices. And using imagery. Playing with plot techniques. Why metaphors are awesome. 

The English teacher's toolbox.

And right in the middle of the process, of writing and refining and bringing life to our words, I feel quite disconnected.

I confessed to them in class that I felt tremendous guilt for my role in this assignment. For being the evaluator of these pieces. For manipulating their experiences and turning them into stories. 

For seeing a paragraph like: 

Days went on and we got much sadder. We didn't leave his side and we stayed there until he finally started getting better. The sickness went away but the improvements did not show. 

And responding with a red-inked margin comment like:

This is such an emotional part of the story. How can you use imagery or style techniques here? How can you SHOW instead of TELL how he progressed, and how you experienced it?

What kind of monster reads a deeply personal and heartfelt reflection of a young person's life and treats it like a piece of writing?

What expertise can I pretend to bring to these stories? Who am I to hold a red pen over these?

I'm quite aware of the dynamic here. I tell them about it, too.
I thank them for trusting me with their stories.
I honor the hard work they put into articulating their experiences.
Reliving and replaying them.
Using them as tools for creative expression.

I hope this has been more than a writing exercise. It certainly has been for me.

Paintings by Geoffrey Johnson

So, where are you from?

I return to the East Coast with giant lemons and clippings of succulents stuffed among the belongings in my suitcase. My aunt's yard is an exotic treasure to me now.

I grew up in Los Angeles. I used to say that I'm from LA.

When people ask me now, So, where are you from? I try to determine what they mean before answering. Sometimes they want to know which restaurants are near my house, and other times they want to know which part of the planet my ancestors occupied.

The timeline has warped my answer and my identity. I was from LA when that was more recently true. But now, officially half my life has been away from it.
Where I'm from is only part of where I've been.
Or how I identify.

But still. This place.

It will always be a piece of home. A fraction, whatever size, of the full answer.
Of how I became me, now.

I hope I always see it through this lens. And that this feeling of home never grows too distant.