I walked into the school building at 6:33 a.m, the earliest I have arrived all year. I stepped into C212 armed with my tea, mat, and flip flops. Yoga with my teaching friend & soul sister, Mary, and her students is the only reason I would kiss my daughter while still asleep and slip out of the house so early to head to work. During chivasana, a student read this by Marianne Williamson: I delivered a presentation to my colleagues yesterday after school, a requirement of all teachers that ends with a bonus if approved by administration. In years past, I spoke about differentiation, assessment, being culturally responsive. Not this year. This year, I wanted to share about authenticity: Authenticity in the writing of my students and, hopefully, the authenticity in my own teaching. My last year here–at a school I have taught at for the last six years–would end with me speaking about what spoke to my heart.
I began describing my senior students and my motivation for creating more opportunities for them to write creatively. They came to me at the beginning of the year reading, on average, at an eighth grade level. A week ago, they took the Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI) that tested their lexile again. This time, they averaged, a 10th grade reading level. I linked the growth, at least partially, to the creative writing workshops from Lighthouse added into the curriculum this semester. For many, this was the first time throughout the school year, despite my best efforts, that they lifted their heads off the tables and paid attention, remained engaged, and actively participated throughout the entire class. I felt like the uncool parent of 33 teenagers who was replaced by two hip babysitters. Listen to Ms. Peterson talk about haikus? Lame. Two local rap artists who work on the side as writing teachers? Absolutely. Students, like Giovanni shown here, shared their writing, which many had never done before. They were not asked by the writers. They volunteered and I sat back in amazement; it was inside of them all along. I was in awe of what some of them produced; And when I read one such poem during my presentation, yesterday, I teared up and turned red. Proud of my students and embarassed to be getting emotional in front of my guarded colleagues. We are a school that is “data-driven”, a token term used too frequently. My “data” was partially based on tests and observations, yes. The data that mattered, however, was the feeling of being in the class. And the way my students and I felt during these workshops was proof enough for me.
I am heading to Office Max this weekend to create portfolios of their best pieces. I want them to have something tangible to take with them into the future. Proof of authenticity in their writing, education, and lives.
As I contemplate the role of authenticity, though, I am drawn back to that poem I heard while lying on a yoga mat this morning. My students revealed their light through their writing, which has given me the encouragement and permission to do the same. Being present is also about being authentic, a worthy goal to pursue in every moment–spoken or written.