I finished this school week with a sense of satisfaction... feeling a little like a fat cat after finishing off a delicious meal. It's always this way after my students finish a big project. Although for me, the project is a long way from being finished. In fact, it awaits my attention now. All 90 tasty tidbits of writing that I will consume over this weekend and possibly next week, too.
The tidbits are actually memoirs my students have been writing this past week. And while some may be more like appetizers, I know that I have some five-course meals somewhere in the stack ready to be consumed. Regardless of the outcome, I am so proud of the effort put forth by my students. Only a handful gave half-hearted attempts and resisted efforts to revise. All of the others dove in, working diligently to not only produce their first drafts but to thoughtfully revise their work based on my suggestions.
Memoirs are a little tricky with 8th-graders. Some have already experienced more sadness and heartbreak than many adults have experienced. Issues of abandonment and loss are often the norm, whether their experiences have been based on the death of a parent, or the fact that a parent left home and never returned. Runaway parents, I suppose.... who are free to remain runaways even though their children suffer the consequences.
A few memoirs bring tears to my eyes, and there's always one or two that truly unleash my tears. I look at my students in a new light when I've finished reading their stories. Now I know why one may not smile, why one doesn't see the need for school, and why others are, well... like they are.
I always caution students who choose to write about the sad parts of life; I remind them that their stories can be about any event or person that has made an impact on them. For some, however, the happy parts are just not there. For them, the sad parts are their stories. But these stories are not just an assignment to be turned in. These stories give them a voice and a chance to be heard in a world that is not always listening.