Saturday, December 10, 2011

How My Students Rekindled My Love of Writing

This fall, two seniors approached me with the idea of starting a new writing club.  When I asked exactly what they were thinking, they explained they just wanted a "quiet place to write." How could I say no to that? Two graduating seniors who I didn't even have in class anymore asking me to give them a quiet space to write? How could I not give a room of their own to students who really just love writing so much that they want me to help them find a way to make time for it? Obviously it had to happen. We decided to make it a society rather than a club; it sounds fancier and seemed to fit us well.

We started having lunch together on Fridays, and we made a small list of students who we thought might be interested (it's not an exclusive group, but we wanted to seek out people who we thought would be passionate about our vision). Our goal was to make this something they (and I) would enjoy, not something they felt was yet another obligation to fulfill. The way it works is simple; we are in my room every Friday for whomever needs it. We don't take attendance, and students can come for five minutes or the whole period. If they don't want to come, they don't have to. If they only want to pop by once all year, that's great, too. We joked that it's kind of like the Room of Requirement in the Harry Potter series, and thus our society's name was born. 

Once I started thinking about it, I might have become more excited than the kids. I realized that I didn't have a quiet room of my own to write either, which is why I haven't been exactly prolific over the past few years. I always say I want to write a book about teaching, and I go on and on about how I want to blog more, but I just don't. Room of Requirement (or ROR, as we affectionally call it) has given me that. 

The ironic thing is that we don't usually get any actual writing done at our ROR lunches. We tend to end up just chatting, laughing, venting, and sometimes sharing the work we've been doing on our own time. We did put together a collaborative poem for our school's open mic night, which was a great experience for me (and I think for them, too). But even most of the collabopoem took place at home in a Google Doc. Despite the fact that our lunches are less than productive in terms of actual time writing, we have noticed that we have been writing more on our own time. I wrote a piece for Project PLN, as well as my piece of the collabopoem and another poem of my own for open mic night. The kids have been bringing more and more work to our lunches so they can share with us and get constructive feedback. We only have one rule: NO DISCLAIMERS. We don't allow anyone to put him/herself down, especially when it comes to the words on the page. No one is permitted to feel like his/her words are any less valuable than anyone else's. It is a safe place.

At first I felt guilty that we weren't buckling down to actually write when we meet; I felt that it was my responsibility to keep the group "on task," whatever that means. However, I have gradually started to let that go. First of all, no one seems to care except me, and besides, it doesn't seem to be about that. It is about having a safe place to talk about writing, share our fears, laugh about things we find ridiculous, and learn who we are and why we write.  The kids have remarked that they start looking forward to ROR toward the middle of the week, and I have realized that I do the same. We missed two meetings in a row this past month because of Thanksgiving and a class trip, and I know that I for one missed ROR, and some of the students said that they did as well. 

Obviously this experience has reminded me of why I love teaching; I know how important it is to provide outlets for students who need it, and I love to see kids get inspired. I like to think that ROR will continue to mean something to them long after they graduate. But what surprised me most about being a part of this society is the fact that it has rekindled my own love and passion for writing. I hadn't realized how little I was writing for myself over the past few years, and since we started ROR, I find myself doing so more and more. It has helped me fall back in love with the excitement of finding just the right word or phrase. It has made me remember the sense of accomplishment from finishing a piece after struggling through it. But most of all (and perhaps most importantly), it has reminded me of simply how good it makes me feel when I write. Even if no one ever sees my composition, it's there for me, and sometimes that's all I need. I have my students to thank for that.

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