I stood in front of the first class of the day, a student’s journal in hand. Since I began teaching 6th grade, I’ve had the students write for ten minutes on any subject they want. Some write stories, others write about what’s happening in their life. Some enjoy getting up in front of class and reading and others ask me to read for them. Sharing is completely optional. I read the first line of her journal out loud. I stopped. I read the rest silently making sure it was appropriate to share with the class. It was…but how was I going to get through it? Exhaustion had caught up to me, knocking down my defenses. Tears were already building. I knew what she had written was true because earlier that week I happily approached her and asked about the pins on her back pack. Upon closer examination I realized they were pins of her with her father– RIP with dates underneath. My smile faded. I said I was sorry for her loss and pushed all thoughts of a little girl losing her daddy to the back of my mind. I had to begin teaching.
Three days later she asked me to read about the day she learned of the car accident that took her father’s life. Only one of her classmates had known what happened. The rest sat and listened while I took several deep breaths, trying to get through to the end. Her words painted the scene perfectly in my mind. My heart felt her pain. I explained to the class that it took a lot of courage to share such an experience. I thanked her.
Afterwards, a part of me questioned having students write in their journals. Was I helping them or making it harder by bringing so much emotion into a classroom where there’s already quite a lot of emotions rising and falling with the slightest provocation.
This morning I woke feeling defeated, overwhelmed knowing I had a long to-do list to accomplish and little time. The sun was beginning to peek over the horizon and birds were singing their familiar tune, quite a dichotomy from the way I was feeling. I sat watching the sunrise, journal in hand.
I needed to write. All of my fears, worries, insecurities, flowed filling three pages. And then… the idea that’s been whispering to me for weeks broke through and in an hour a first draft of a picture book was complete. Once I cleared away the fear it made room for creativity to flourish. I closed my journal feeling like myself again. Feeling as though I haven’t steered away from the path, I’m living this chaotic life and learning how to stay true to who I am amidst the responsibilities that can be the burden preventing me from enjoying the beauty of a sunrise or the song of a blue jay.
Teaching middle school students to journal during this time in their lives when they’re trying to figure out where they fit in and who they are will help them not only understand themselves but when they decide to share–understand each other. Understanding leads to tolerance, peace, and friendship which makes for a happy classroom.