Before Spring Break, Sophie, one of the 8th graders asked me if I had liked the play she had helped write in 7th grade. “Refresh my memory,” I said, and she responded with a twinkle in her eye, “Cross-dressing old man?” It all came rushing back to me. “Oh, yes,” I said. I remember your play was really solid when you took it from my class to the Theatre 7 class, and then it still went through several revisions. In fact, I knew about a lot of the revisions, and I was still surprised during the performance! But it was solid all the way through. People loved it.” And then, with a sideways glance at the 7th grader who was sitting right there, “People always look forward to the 7th grade plays.” Sophie said, “That’s right! All the former 7th graders come,” and I added, “And not just former 7th graders. People who were never in the middle school tell me they look forward to the 7th grade plays.” “It’s a rite of passage for 7th grade,” Sophie commented as the younger girl took it all in.
It takes an incredible amount of courage to put your voice out there not only as the performer of a play but also as the author, especially when you are actually a co-author with up to four other people who are just as creative and passionate as you are and have equally strong opinions about every word. That day was going to be the first time the Humanities 7 class read their scripts to Julia and Kim, who will be co-directing the plays this spring, and that, too, takes a great deal of courage. Julia and Kim were both excited to learn about all the possibilities that the plays provided, and they also both had a number of insightful suggestions.
I was worried how the students might have taken the suggestions, whether they would show up in class that morning nervous and upset. I worried, as so often happens, for nothing. They clearly had taken the advice to heart as valuable and helpful and something that would ultimately strengthen their scripts.
I was never worried about the first part of class. As we were wrapping up the script-writing unit, it was time to agree on our final two student-designed units of the year. The girls had looked over the multitudes of questions they had written on eight large sheets of paper back in the fall, and emailed me the questions from those sheets that they might be interested in studying, along with any new questions that may have occurred to them in the process. That final list of 61 questions would somehow have to be shaped into two units that enabled every girl in the class to be able to find a topic about which she felt passionate for each unit. I decided to ask them to write their top two questions from the list on the white board, search for themes uniting those questions, and bring those themes together. It worked marvelously. They found seven themes running through their 28 questions, and almost instantly connected five of those themes together before quickly agreeing that the other two also fit together. Almost like magic, the themes for our units had appeared.
“Before I send you off to work on your scripts,” I told them, “I just have to let you know what I’m thinking. I hope you can imagine what it’s like to be a teacher and be faced with a task that you aren’t sure you could ever do, and know that you work with students who are capable of (I pointed to the white board) all this, of coming together to find, all on your own, the solution to how to organize all of this into something meaningful. That I am able to trust in you all to accomplish that is an absolutely phenomenal thing, and I hope you all know it.” One of the girls said, “You just made me cry. (Other girls nodded, and I interjected, “Me too.”) I hope when I graduate, that’s what someone says about me.” I am sure someone will.
I know, I know, all my classes are special, once and for always. They all inspire me. They all move me deeply. Today, though, it was these kids.
I am truly blessed.