Over the last few weeks student writing has been featured in the Sidney Daily News: “Reflections Series.” Many brave student writers committed to revision sessions and writing conferences to polish their essays for a larger readership than just me, their English teacher. Watching them carefully think through what details to develop and what sections to omit certainly helped them grow as writers. It was satisfying to watch them slow down and consider how each of their sentences might be perceived by readers. One student even commented that “it would be helpful if people spent this much time considering how their words would be perceived before they posted them on social media.” Making the choice to put their stories out into the world helped to establish the importance of the power of voice. Putting in the hard work of thoughtfully crafting a message made them better understand the responsibility of using their voice.
The students have enjoyed an incredible amount of positive feedback from the community relative to the weekly essays. We have even received beautiful letters and emails of encouragement. Each time I receive a letter at Sidney High School, I read it aloud to the class and I can see them begin to understand not only the value of voice, but the value of community.
As the series comes to an end, I thought it would be fitting to highlight some of the thoughts and themes in student writing this year. We write a lot during senior year. There are journals and daily responses and multi draft essays. I read well over a thousand pages each year of student thinking and responding. As each school year unfolds I am reminded of the incredible gift it is that students share so much of themselves in their writing. I carry each of their stories with me. They have shaped the way I see the world and have often renewed my purpose.
Some of the observations I have made about the class of 2022 from their collective writing might be points that are helpful for all of us to remember.
So much of what students count as the most important lessons learned in high school have little to do with any particular class, curriculum, or sport and so much more to do with what they discovered about themselves as they maneuvered through the challenge and responded to it.
There are students who carry an incredible amount of pain with them each day and I would never know it if I didn’t read their essays. Every student is carrying something and they typically never acknowledge the burden to those around them, but they are often brave enough to experiment with writing to sort it out.
Small moments matter. Showing up at a concert, a baseball game, to lunch, to go fishing- all of these were themes that students wrote about as they affectionately recalled a time when an adult in their life showed up and it mattered. It mattered enough for an eighteen year old to write about it as a pivotal moment that shaped them.
Forgiveness and gratitude can change anything. Young people write consistently about what they learned from forgiving someone or being forgiven. They also write willingly about what they are grateful for and it is more often than not things that money can’t buy.
Family and community are at the center of what shapes us. Family is often not just the people we are related to, but the people who choose to sit next to us each day. The people who show up on good days and bad days. There are the people that students write about. They also write about their community – it might be the choir, the football team, the marching band, the academia team- they write about how they learned the value of belonging to something and how the pride that comes with that is life shaping.
As we prepare to send the class of 2022 into the world I am reminded of the lessons they taught me through their writing this year. The hope outweighs the pain. Gratitude can cure almost anything. Forgiveness is a medicine we all need. Showing up for the small moments matters. We are born into families and there are families that we find along the way. Community has the power to shape us all for the better.
Once again, it seems I have likely learned more from my students than they have learned from me. I do hope that they leave my classroom remembering that the time we shared together mattered. I hope they remember that they are strong enough to endure setbacks and that failure is a great motivator. I hope they don’t look to the world to dictate what is normal, they know better than that. I hope that they keep reading, keep thinking, and keep growing. I hope they remember that it matters less what the world thinks of them and more what they think of themselves. I hope they remember that there is power in being proud of where they came from.
Sara Olding is a teacher, writer, and mother. She lives in Sidney with her husband Bryan and their children Grace, Genevieve and CJ Olding. She continues to work and study with the Ohio Writing Project through Miami University.