Monday, March 8, 2010

A personal response

Lately instead of writing and editing my own words, I've been helpin my 14 year old son write and edit his. His English homework load has been crazy and I've noticed an interesting trend. Every assignment comes with the question, how can you relate to this story. The teacher wants the students to compare the story to what is happening in their own live regardless of whether it's a short story about a boy who is killed because he's in a gang or a comic about a fifteen year old boy who doesn't understand his parents. They are talking a lot about identity right now and have been watching My So Called Life, which for a boy is pure torture. Even though the themes relate to his life, he doesn't want to say in an essay that he's felt alone or has been bullied or hates his parents, which he doesn't. Sometimes he finds himself making stuff up because he doesn't want the teacher to know personal stuff about him.

I've been pretty closed off most of my life. I only share personal stories with those who are nearest and deariest to me. I find it a little intrusive for a teacher to expect their students to have to share things about their lives that are maybe personal.

I know as writers we need to expose the emotions of our characters and sometimes I struggle with that because I close mine off a lot. Maybe these exercises would be good for me to do.

How about you do you think teachers should be asking for personal stories from their students and how they can relate to bullying, gangs and identity? And do you have an hard time expressing the emotions of your characters or am I the only one.

15 comments:

MeganRebekah said...

Awesome post! I may need to reflect more on this myself...

I'm definitely more closed off in real life. I don't like sharing personal information, and I don't like showing emotions.

And my MC is a teenage girl who is emotionally closed (although with mich better reasons) and has a hard time expressing herself.

As for teachers, I used to teach social studies and would ask kids to reflect on how their lives were similar or different to the cultures we studied. Honestly, I wouldn't have been offended if kids made up stories of how they related, as long as they were being honest with themselves. As long as your son thinks about the topics he's assigned, then he's working on defining himself which is the ultimate goal (not the written assignment). Does that make sense?

Carolyn V. said...

Yeah, I think that is a little intrusive, for whatever reason the teacher is doing it. I wouldn't want to share personal things with a teacher I wasn't close to (which was most of them).

I hope your son makes it through the class and that the teacher somehow realizes that this is not a good thing.

Jody Hedlund said...

Wow! Seems like the teacher should give the children choices about sharing that personally. It's kind of like requiring them to keep a diary and then open it up to the world. Some people are naturally more private and prefer to share with closer friends. I think the teacher should respect the uniquensses we all have in our varying ability to share.

Heidi Willis said...

Wow. I had to think about that one. I can't believe the teacher is having them watch My So Called Life! I loved that show, but my husband still cringes when someone even uses that phrase. And I'm not sure it's completely appropriate to show a class.

Is it possible for you son to relate it to his life without using himself as the example? Such as, I know this friend that was bullied, etc. I guess that wouldn't make it about identity, but the teacher should know that not only do not all kids want to share that kind of stuff, but many don't struggle with the same things others do. I swear my husband has never felt lonely, awkward in a place he doesn't know people, lacking in self-worth, or depressed. And he truly doesn't know how to relate to others that struggle with those things (which is why God gave him a wife and daughter who do... it stretches him. :) )

I'd talk to the teacher. Then just let your son keep making it up. If he can make it up, he's still relating and learning.

arlee bird said...

Have you seen the movie FREEDOM WRITERS? It sounds like the teacher may have been inspired by that story. I can see some benefit it telling stories like that, but I think a lot of it depends on the community from where the kids come. When my kids were in school I wouldn't want them writing personal things, but we lived in a pretty normal environment.

T. Anne said...

This is really tough and borders on therapy in which the teacher is neither skilled or permitted to travel. I would have a talk with the teacher myself.

Susan R. Mills said...

I was thinking exactly what arlee was about Freedom Writers. I've been helping my 12 year old edit a short story about a bully. The teacher did note that she wanted to see more of the characters emotions. I think it would be helpful for my son to think about a time when he felt bullied to get that emotion into the character, but it would be like pulling teeth for him to share that with a teacher.

Janna Qualman said...

Oh, wow. I think there's a very fine line there. For some students the question and technique could be cathartic; for others, damaging. Do they have to read their answers allowed in class? That's where, were I a teacher, I'd be a little hesitant.

But you're right. It's something we, as writers, should really consider. I think it's looking at our own truths, deep and dark and in the corners we hide ourselves, that helps shape our characters most.

Awesome post, Patti.

Janna Qualman said...

Pfft. How 'bout ALOUD. Wow, that was a horrible typo. :)

Southpaw said...

Lots of interesting points here. “My So Called Life”? really? I don’t think teacher should intrude on kids, especially teens. There a lot going on in there and it’s private. They may want them to share but teacher are notorious for “Oh let’s read this on out loud” or “I’ll post this on the board.” Yikes.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Ha! Whenever I wrote for Spanish class I made stuff up. Not because I didn't want to be personal, because I could only write what I knew how to say!

Jessica said...

Ehhh...that does seem kind of strange about the teacher. I wouldn't want to bare all my secrets either. Poor guy. Maybe you should mention something to the teacher? Or make sure it's a voluntary type thing?
I LOVED My so called life when I was in sixth grade. Just loved it. :-) Mostly 'cause of the actor. *grin*

Jessie Oliveros said...

I think he should make up all sorts of terrible things involving elves and trolls and hidden cities. And if the teacher calls you, tell her those things are real for your family. Very, very real.

And if she doesn't leave your child alone, tell her you will have her killed by a sea creature.

Tina Lynn said...

Maybe a bit, but as long as she doesn't share them with the class it should be fine. I remember having the same types of assignments. I was never uncomfortable. If the teacher would have read them out loud, I would have been mortified. But I felt safe.

Dara said...

I think it's a little intrusive and I'd probably only share a little.

I do have a hard time sometimes expressing character emotions--I think my issue is that I can sometimes go a little overboard with certain characters and make them seem childish (which is part of this particular character's personality but I don't want to make her unlikeable or unrelatable)

If I have secondaray characters I tend to have an issue with really showing their personality too.