A few days ago, one of my eighth grade students gave me a white three-ring binder containing the first five chapters of a book she is writing. She asked me to look over it and make comments. This young lady was in my Young Authors class a few months ago, and I was reminded then of what I had noticed last year. She is a good writer,and she enjoys writing. She’s in a creative writing club that meets each Tuesday after school. I’m pretty sure she’s going to enter the local Young Authors competition in a couple of months.
When she asked me to look over her story, I agreed. And then I got distracted. I have had a lot of grading to do lately, a few figurative fires to extinguish in my classes, the dread of two etymology tests I need to revise from last year, plus I feel really behind in my lesson planning. So I looked over the first couple of pages during one class while my students were working on something else. And I meant to take it home with me, but I left it sitting on my desk at school.
This afternoon, though, I purposefully slid the thin binder– the one containing my student’s heart and soul and creativity — into the bag I knew I would take home with me. And this evening, with a pencil in my hand, I read it.
I circled spelling mistakes. I marked run-on sentences. I added or struck out commas. More importantly, I asked questions. “Why is this character in this place? How did she get here? If she doesn’t trust this man, why is she telling him so much about her history? How did she become such good friends with this other character? Why does the king want her to leave this place, and why is it so important to his son that she stay?” I pointed out inconsistencies in her story and places where I was confused.
But mostly, I enjoyed her writing. She has a marvelous vocabulary when she writes, and she likes to try out new words. (She doesn’t always use words correctly, but I love that she’s trying them!) And I thought to myself, some day, this girl very well might publish a book. And it will be a book I would enjoy reading.
I am so impressed by some of my students. I may have focused my mind on Language Arts throughout high school and college, and I may be in my eighth year of teaching the subject. But if I am honest, I know that some of my students are better with words than I am. I have age and experience on my side, so I have a larger vocabulary, a better grasp of grammar and punctuation, and the skill to identify figurative language and literary devices. But some of them have style and grace in language that I can only hope to master some day. They have imagination to create story lines that intrigue the reader. They need help filling in gaps in the exposition, or adding detail to explain a situation, or polishing a character. But they have the raw talent.
This is the joy in being a teacher.
It’s not being the smartest person in the room. It’s not even planning fantastic lessons (though when they go well, or when I see the students really grasp a new concept or master a new skill, that’s pretty wonderful, too.) It’s getting to see the God-given ability that a student has, and being allowed to nurture it. It’s being permitted by that student to be a part of her growth. It’s when a student trusts enough to hand over twenty typed, single-spaced pages trusting that you will take her work seriously and give her feedback that will be not only useful, but kind and encouraging as well.
At first, I thought of looking over this story as a task to be accomplished. But as I read it, I realized it was a privilege. I was being invited into this student’s heart. She trusted me with something very personal. That’s serious business.
That’s the business of teaching.