It always bothered me, that old cliché about school being about “The Three R’s” — reading, writing and ‘rithmatic. It bothered me because two of the three are not really R’s. Now I am about to spew a similar inaccuracy and offer three R’s of my own – reading, writing and relationships. At least two out of the three of mine are truly R’s. Not to discount arithmetic at all, but I have come to understand my three R’s as a powerful equation adding up to true growth and change, not only in the lives of my students, but most profoundly in my own life.
When I was in college I discovered the power of literature and writing. I read Toni Morrison, Mary Shelley, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, William Wordsworth, John Donne, William Shakespeare. Whether the writer was dead or alive their words were alive to me. Words became a passion for me. I read and wrote, wrote and read. I learned through writing and literature that my world was too small. I needed more experiences, more diverse relationships in order to grow.
I moved to the city. I became a teacher. I became a student. None of my students come from the same background as me. I am an Anglo, born in the city and transplanted to the suburbs at age three to avoid mandatory busing. My students are Latina, Latino, Filipina, Filipino, they are African American and African and Chinese and Korean. They are the words I had only read before. Now I hear their stories straight from their mouths and pens. And their stories change me more profoundly than my college reading and writing experiences.
Now I get to exercise my passion for reading, writing and transformation with a wonderful, eclectic group of young people, young women and men who have incredible life experiences to share. In my AP Literature class I have three teen moms and one pregnant teen, all who will be attending university in the fall. I have students who have alcohol and drug addicted parents. I have students who work 25 hours a week and attend school. I have students with a whole array of experiences, traditions and cultures to share. We read literature with those universal themes and my classroom becomes its own universe. I have learned about the intimate struggles of the group of students I have had the privilege to teach, and I have humbly shared my experiences too. I have shared my family and they have shared theirs. I have shared my struggles and they have shared theirs. I have shared my hopes and dreams and they have shared theirs. The ushers of our conversations have been Toni Morrison, Mary Shelley, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, William Wordsworth, John Donne, William Shakespeare, but the real power is in the relationship that I have developed with my students through reading and writing together.
I can only say a humble thank you to my students for helping me to become and continue becoming who I am through the power of reading, writing and relationships.
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