My first year, I had my students do a good bit of personal writing. Throught that, I got to know them pretty well: their troubled home lives, the sound of their voices, their hopes for the future. By the end of the year, I could look at every kid and be confident that I knew him.
It takes a lot of energy to respond to writing like that, and it’s hard to work into the rigid 9th grade curriculum. I haven’t done personal writing at all this semester, and I’m looking around my room with only vague ideas of each kid’s personality and dreams. Sure, I know everyone’s first and last names (can even spell the tricky ones), and I’ve had the occasional eye-opening conversation, but I can’t say I know my kids the same way I did two years ago.
So maybe I’ll start. A new semester starts next Wednesday, an opportunity to dig into fresh ground. We’ve got to handle poetry, and I’m thinking of trying something like McSweeny’s Essays on Favorite Songs to get them struggling with the way a song can impact their lives. It’s better than a find-the-personification worksheet, I think. I also just might learn a few things about these kids with whom I spend every day.