What an amazingly cohesive unit we 16 have become in such a short period of time. Meeting the actual Freedom Writers and getting to know them is a tremendous experience.
Friday and Saturday, we’ve been going through activities to help engage and enlighten our students. There are things being said and done that truly hit my head and heart with massive impact. Not only is this experience rejuvenating, it’s challenging as well. I am being reminded of why I became an educator. I am reviving the passion for using English and literature to reach my students and help them to learn to shape their lives and take them in new directions.
I feel like I’m another version of the other Freedom Teachers I’ve met. We are in sync. We are starving to reach our children, to feast on their success.
We dug deeper today and experienced things we want our students to experience.
In one activity, a role play, we looked at what it might be for a class to play out a talk show using the characters in one of the Freedom Writers Diary entries. I was chosen to play the Freedom Writer. It was a tough job. This FW was a witness of a gang murder, the murder was done “for” the FW. The FW had to decide whether they wanted to lie and protect a fellow gang member or tell the truth and sentence an innocent man from a rival gang to life in prison.
Something in me connected with those students I see sitting in conferences or discipline situations – those students who are forced to listen as they are talked at or about and then asked what they think. I got angrier and angrier as I put myself in this FW’s place. Trying to find something to say that would make everything ok, that would take weight off my shoulders and get someone to listen, to see me.
It was a dark place that I have seldom gone to.
A powerful experience, it woke me up to the need for more advocacy of our students than admonition of our students. To think that they have the answers to how to turn themselves around but are merely choosing not too is foolish. It is the type of ignorance good teachers got into this profession to erase.
I talk to my students constantly about perspective and why they think other people might be doing things. Not enough do we put ourselves, really put ourselves, in their position. We know their lives are frightening in many cases, but then we convince ourselves that we understand that and know what is right.
Easily, I sound say I want to do what Erin Gruwell did. I would be proud and honored to have that kind of success. I must fight against the powerful draw of statements. Her path was hers. Mine is my own. I can take strength from what she has experienced, I can adopt and adapt her methods, I can open my heart and my life completely to my students, but I must remember my path is my own.
If the greatness my students accomplish is different, then that is fantastic. We are each meant to follow our own passion and though it will have the same shine, it may not take the same shape.