My Life: Imparting life lessons among 10th-grade teacher’s favorite tasks
by Christina Grande
When I was in third grade, I dressed up as a teacher for Halloween. My mom sprayed my jet-black hair gray (with semi-permanent dye) and wound it into a bun. Making my look complete, she fitted me with plastic black frames, a long skirt and a button-down shirt. I stood up tall to show the camera my best prim and proper stance, putting on a serious look.
Twenty-eight years later, in classroom A2, I stand in front of my 10th-graders in leggings, flats, and hair that always hangs down my back. At this stage in my life, I am nothing like the snapshot of a teacher I saved from years ago. There is nothing prim and proper about my attire, nor is there anything prim and proper about my attitude. While I love literature and writing, my favorite things to impart upon my students are thoughts and ideas about life.
Before class, Maddie whispers to me that she has a secret to tell me afterward. Even though I know the secret will be about a boy and a crush and maybe things that will have no relevance tomorrow, I smile, because this is the essence of childhood and youth.
In Room A2 at 10 a.m., these are the details that matter. In a moment, we will talk about writing memoirs. Later on, Maddie might have to deal with her parents’ divorce and where she will spend her first separate Thanksgiving dinner — at her mom’s or her dad’s house. She might have to decide where she will apply to college or how her SAT scores compare to those of her peers. But, right now, in this moment, she will giggle and share whispers with her friend Sid. The bell has not rung. Third period has not yet begun. And right now, we are silly.
I keep this in the back of my mind as I remind myself that writing must be both thoughtful and fun. The bell rings, and I begin my lesson with a video about how to write six-word memoirs. I watch even the most disengaged kids become transfixed as they look at some examples of writers who have effectively used six words to convey their life stories. They see memoirs from famous people like Molly Ringwald who says, “Acting is not all I am,” and the writer James Frey who says, “So would you believe me anyway?”
I challenge them to create their own memoirs in 15 minutes, unsure of what will become of this short exercise. This is one of the few English classes at my school that is de-leveled, meaning that of the 17 students I teach in this course, half of them are honors students and the other half are standard-level students, who sometimes need additional support writing and crafting sentences. For this reason, I never know how to anticipate the engagement of my students.