One of the challenges I face as a teacher is the fact that my students don't have the same life experiences as some of their peers in other schools here in our county. I teach in a school where 90% of our students live in poverty. Most of these kids don't get fancy birthday parties, vacations to the beach or mountains, they don't go to sports -themed summer camps or have private tutors. As educators we teach the whole child and that means doing whatever it takes to help these children overcome some of the obstacles they face due to being born into poverty. The lack of life experiences is very evident when it comes to their writing. They don't have a lot of background and life experiences to draw on when they are brainstorming ideas to write about. What we try to do is help them take the small moment (a trip to Wal-Mart, an afternoon playing basketball in the neighborhood, a trip to the park) and write about what they do know.
We teach them grammar and punctuation, how to to use an eyeopener, and when they can think of nothing else to write about to end it with "As you can see!"
And on days like today, we celebrate their ability to communicate, to be a storyteller, to tell their story in written form. Today was Writers Guild day and even though this is the second time we have done this, this year, I still get choked up listening to the writing of our students being read aloud at an assembly of their peers and parents. Each teacher on every grade level from kindergarten through 5th grade selects a piece of writing-- one that stands out above the others. Parents are secretly notified so they can attend the assembly, but are encouraged not to tell their child that he or she is being honored so it is a big surprise. Once the writing is read aloud (and by this time the child recognizes their story), the student comes forward, is presented a Writers Guild sash, a certificate and a journal to encourage them to keep writing. The applause from their peers is deafening. There are hugs, high-fives, cheers and tears. It is one of the greatest things I have had the privilege to be a part of as a teacher. And for one moment, we are able to stop and honor these children and celebrate...their story!