Tuesday’s writing assignment in my second grade classroom was to write about someone the students considered to be a hero in their lives – someone who has been important to them, has inspired them. We brainstormed ideas of who this person could be, did a “turn and talk to your partner” conversation. Then we shared out our thoughts so those who were struggling to come up with a person to write about would have some guidance.
I consider modeling to be an important part of teaching as well and as such I had written a brief piece highlighting my dad as a hero in my life. I pointed out my topic sentence and the supporting details. I gave a couple examples and then wrapped up my short piece with a nice closing statement.
A student raised his hand. I called on him.
student: Mrs. M, why did you write ‘was’. My writing regarding my dad was in the past tense as his has been dead for three years.
me: I wrote that my dad was funny, smart, kind and supportive because he is gone now, he died several years ago. I was surprised that I could talk about it without tearing up, although my voice did waver.
The students got their Writer’s Workshop offices (these consist of two of those manila folders stapled together so they could stand up forming a tri fold, upon which I attached various writing related items and then laminated the whole thing. They put up their offices to minimize distractions and provide them with their own space for quite writing), I turned on the nature sounds CD we listen to while writing, and they wrote.
After about twenty minutes, where they write and I conference with students about their writing goals, I was about to call them back whole group for a few Writer’s Workshop shares, when a student raised her hand. She is a rather quiet girl with a shy smile that she instinctually hides behind her hands. She wanted to read to me her writing.
Her hero was also her dad, but her words were not mine. She wrote about how her dad could tell great jokes and played games with her. She continued, telling how her dad made her laugh and how nice and kind he was. I knew from conversations throughout the year that her dad was not in her life but I did not know any more than that. And so I gently asked – maybe I should not have. But she began to speak.
Her dad is in Mexico. She does not get to see him. She does not get to visit him. She does not get to talk to him on the phone. And she misses him something fierce. She stopped talking.
She bend her head down onto her desk and tucked it into her arms. Her little eight year old body shook as she cried quietly. I stood there feeling completely inadequate and out of my depth. I placed my hand on her back and thanked her for sharing her beautiful writing. I told her to take as much time as she needed and that when she felt able, she could join the rest of the class.
It was a big and more complicated topic that I had anticipated. But it is important and it will be a topic that I will use again next year. But I hope by then that I will be better equip to handle the largeness and emotion of it.