Any teacher will tell you that one of the greatest rewards in the profession is when students come back to visit you long after they have left your class. Usually they are thrilled to recount their academic and personal successes, and I am just as pleased to see what wonderful young adults they have become.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to support a former student as she branched out from the roots I gave her. Two years ago, this young lady participated in NaNoWriMo, when she was in my fifth grade class. Last year, although she was not in my class, she participated on her own. This year she moved on to the middle school. New seventh graders are often overwhelmed by six teachers instead of one, by changing classrooms every fifty minutes, and by the influx of new faces as six elementary schools converge. Not this girl.
Determined to participate in NaNoWriMo again this year, she decided to start a club at the middle school. She convinced three teachers to be the club’s advisers and made up fliers to pass out to students. Yesterday was her kickoff event after school. I dropped by to tell her how proud I was of her and to encourage the students who had signed away their lives to write a novel in November.
It is difficult to communicate how excited I was to hear of this young lady’s efforts. To walk into that library and see her directing a room full of eighth graders at laptops nearly burst my heart with pride. In a second room, an equally large group of seventh graders was busy, too. I greeted the teachers, gave the awesome young leader a hug, and connected with a handful of former students. I left an autographed copy of my novel for them to give away as a prize.
Now I have attended theatrical events and sporting events that former students have invited me to. I have marveled at their singing voice, their acting ability, their speed and agility. Yesterday, however, was the first time I have ever seen exactly how powerful it can be to turn a student on to writing. Because of this one student’s experience in my class two years ago, something like fifty middle schoolers are now, on their own time, writing a novel for NaNoWriMo. If that doesn’t validate what I do as a teacher, nothing does.
In hardback: Wonder by R. J. Palacio
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