An Educator's End-of-the-Year ThoughtsDecember 23, 2011 | Elena Aguilar
The responses to my post last week raised some interesting questions. I described how I offered my middle school students the letter-writing genre as a way to express their feelings. Many wrote to loved ones who were no longer in their lives; their letters were powerful and heavy with emotions.
One reader raised questions about how teachers can prepare for and manage students' emotions that arise. This has had me thinking about my responsibility as a teacher with the fragile emotional states of young children. At the time that my students began writing the letters I described, I'd been their teacher for over a year -- I looped with my middle school students. I knew them well; they knew me. I believe there was a lot of trust. I don't know if I would have, or should have opened up such emotions had this not been established.
At the same time, however, I know that my students came to school with a whole lot on their minds. Giving them some space to express these feelings might have allowed them to process their experiences, or release them enough to be able to focus on other things. I don't know.
I was reminded of an article I read a few months ago about another teacher in Oakland, in a high school for recent immigrants. At Oakland International High School, Thi Bui, the school's art teacher offers her ninth and tenth graders the genre of the graphic novel as a way to tell their immigration stories. Her students communicate their sometimes traumatic experiences in a visual form -- how appropriate and meaningful for students who speak very little English.
I'm supposed to be writing my book -- seven hours a day -- that was my goal. So far this week I've logged less than an hour. Sometimes you just need a break from work. You need to cook for your family, build legos with your boy, watch distracting TV shows.
A beautiful friend, colleague, artist, and the mother of two little children recently received the worst news possible, the kind we all dread. News that comes with a time frame. News that includes the words "metastases." She's not even 40 yet. She did a year of every kind of grueling treatment you can imagine. She has two babies.
This news put a stop to my creative output this week. Right now, there's not much I can do for her, in spite of my desire.
As is natural, I suppose, I've been reflecting on my own mortality, my choices, and how I spend my days. My first thought: Too much time spent working. Next year -- less working, more time with family, more time to sing and hike and hug my boy.
Maybe next year more of a balance. I love my work; it's deeply meaningful and energizing and my son does have his own emerging life. Maybe a little less time working, once the book is done.
Do you make New Year's resolutions? I prefer "intentions" (I feel less guilty when I break them). For inspiration, see these resolutions by the folk singer/songwriter, Woody Guthrie. Strangely, many of them resonate, especially the last one.
How are you spending your vacation? What are your New Year's intentions?