January 11 – I have so many ideas I would like to write for this blog, but sometimes, or maybe I should say, often, we are so busy getting things done that we absolutely have to get done, that I don’t seem to have the time to do all I would like. Now, does that mean that I need to try harder to remember the details, or is it just because I “can’t get to work” as I always reminded the school kids that they should write as quickly as they could in our daily writing lesson?
Just the other day as I was going through some of the myriad boxes of school materials I have up in our attic, I came across a whole notebook of writings that I did while the room was so quiet you could hear the “proverbial pin drop.” After the first half hour given over to Scripture and prayer, and record taking in our one-room church school, all of us settled down in peace and quietness, with not even one word spoken. All of us knew that was the rule, so nobody even tried to do anything but write.
Writing about home and family, school problems, happiness, problems some might be facing. Whatever came to mind made a good topic. Some of those kids would write their deep feelings, sharing what they would never tell any of their schoolmates. Others would just about always write of their favorite part of school, usually story time, various sports, or secrets they trusted me to keep to myself. Unless the student asked if he could share his writing with the others, I would never even think of demanding that he do that. I tried to write pages that would make the kids chuckle or be happy for the school day or have little hidden bits of advice or how to get along in the classroom.
When the students were first told of the writing lesson, some questioned me, saying, “But I never had to write anything in other English classes. I don’t even have any idea of how to do it,” and with a frown on his face, said, “and I just don’t want to try!” Most of those students agreed completely! “Why do we have to do this in YOUR class? What’s so important about learning to write?”
That was the first reaction of most of the students through the years, and the result was just about the same every year as well. Some, who were not able to come up with even a few sentences in the beginning, were way above grade level at the end. And guess what? They were also asking if they could read their lines to the class! Sometimes the best writers would not volunteer to read, but only if they had written about something very personal. And because of this, I would occasionally choose not to read some of my writings, even if they would smile and say, “Please read yours, too!”
Several months later, as the students were enjoying both the writing and the reading, I came up with the idea of making booklets filled with their compositions. I asked them to choose their special writings and told them of my plan. Each student could choose five or so of their writings to be put into a big book to keep in the school library. Then, we would work together so that each one could have his entire book put together so he could take it home to show his parents and friends and could keep it forever. I can still see the look of wonder, surprise, and happiness on their faces, as this notice sank in, especially when each could keep his own book!
Through the years, this lesson has been a favorite, something to be proud of, and something to show his talent. (A little note here. Through the years, as I have kept in touch with former students, who moved to Texas, California, Washington, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, South Carolina, Tennessee, and maybe others, I have found that those books always come up in our conversation through the telephone, or e-mail.
I’d like to share some of the writing here now, but I would have to climb the pull-down stairs in the garage to get to the attic where so many boxes of memorabilia lie on the floor. Awhile back, when I needed something else from the attic, I came across one of my books, but since I hadn’t thought of writing this blog, I didn’t bother to bring it down the stairs. Too bad! I think you would enjoy the work of those students.
As I think back to those days of long ago, when I first began teaching in Pittsburgh before leaving for Africa, and then elsewhere in Pennsylvania when we came back, I wonder how any of the teachers of that time got along without all of the modern equipment. No computers, no copiers, not much in the way of typewriters, and just about any good equipment that today’s teachers and kids as well take for granted. All of the writings had to be done by hand (and that in CURSIVE I might add!)
These days I don’t even know what many teachers and kids are talking about when I hear them as they never give a thought as to how they will preserve their writing. Surely, not in a handmade book that made my students so proud of their accomplishments. But as the years go by, and today’s kids get into the years of high school, they will find a lot of new items too. But as the tools continue to change, I hope that the writing skills will grow as well, with students saving at least some of their daily thoughts, no matter where they are preserved! – CHRIS
NOTE: All of the pictures for today’s blog are from the internet – I take no credit for them!