Connect with pain: Part 3 on writing successful compositions

college student writingIn my last post, I asserted that if you write bored, your writing will be boring, and the poor bored grader will grade accordingly. Thus the rule: Don’t be bored writing.

It remains to find a trick to become extremely interested in your writing. One good way is to write from pain, to relate the subject in some way to your own pain.

I had a student who slept during class to mask his intimidation, but when he debated the Dream Act, which helps immigrants, he felt passionately about it. He was an immigrant. He argued well. He related to the subject.

You must think before you write. But think about what? Think about how it relates to your won pain (no matter how obliquely). Imagine yourself in the shoes of whoever is suffering in the case. Argue from his/her perspective.

Though not so easy, this tactic really does wonders for writing.

Here’s part 4 of the series.

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Appalling lack of interest

um yeahThere are these Chinese students who are coming to the U.S. and enrolling in a private school. They are brilliant kids, top in their nation. They are paying high dollar to learn English by immersion. But the private school won’t cut them any slack. The teachers won’t give them a grace period, comprehend their on a learning curve, or even give them any extra help. Nope, just throw them into the shark tank and see if they can survive.

What idiots! Never mind that the Chinese kids are saving your school from going bankrupt. The criminal unhelpfulness displays a teaching system that is completely corrosive.

We are teacher! We are supposed to help students! Whatever level they come, we should help them attain higher levels, as high as they can go! We cannot just mechanically dictate according to the syllabus and be completely out of touch of the realities of our students. Such unconcernedness reveals a teaching system that has drifted from its moorings. Such teachers have no principles.

Send me your struggling students! I will teach them. Because this is more than just a paycheck. This is human lives being changed forever. If you don’t understand that, find a new job.

If you don’t care anymore, please do us all a favor and quit.

Scarlet Letter A+

Scarlet Letter

My students really got into Nathanael Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter. So what grade did I give them? An A+, of course. But a bright red one.

The reason I love teaching literature is because it makes people into better persons. By analyzing the mistakes of others, we can eschew pratfalls. By witnessing acts of heroism, we can emulate.

teach Scarlet Letter

A cursory reading of the Scarlett gives the anti-puritanical crowd plenty ammunition.

But if we dig deeper, we find unexpected richness. The story was more than just a social critique. We find a resilient Hester Prynne who turned her humiliation into eventual public admiration. We learn to overcome adversity. We learn we can change into better people, no matter how bad we are.

teach Nathanael Hawthorne

We find a bitter, diabolical, jilted Roger Chillingworth, who’s quest for revenge makes him far more evil than the vilified adulterers. They fell in love and got carried away. He deliberately plotted his life’s course towards evil. If there ever were a manual on how to become a Hitler, it’s Chillingworth, whose very name evokes the lack of human warmth. Talk about a lesson in moving on. Yeah, Chillingworth turns his life into the poisoned purpose of tormenting another.

Then there’s Dimmesdale, the secret partner, who cowardly dodges the shaming that Hester cannot. We can sling a lot of mud at Dimmesdale. But who voluntarily divulges their worst skeletons??? No, Dimmesdale deserves compassion. But he’s also a lesson in the value of (dare I say?) confession. He only escapes the clutches of his evil tormentor (Chillingworth) by courageously taking his place next to Hester on the scaffold in the town square.

The $6 million student

value of studentThe kids couldn’t believe we didn’t sell the school building and just close the school. The real estate agent said it would fetch $6 million. Keeping the small private school open couldn’t possibly be worth so much money, they marveled.

Then I started class. “Each and every one of you kids is individually worth more than $6 million,” I told them. That seemed to score points with the usually cantankerous kids. But it’s much more; it’s a reality.

We have to teach truly believing that those students are the most important thing around. Then we’ll have successful and vibrant education.

Believe relentlessly in your students

teachers foster self-esteemI have a student who’s been historically a goofball. He frequently misses class, sometimes sleeps in class, likes to skip homework and works hard just to get a C.

Yet there have been moments when he has joined class discussion — and I was impressed by great intelligence. I see in his fun-loving attitude an emotional healthiness (he won’t be suffering from high blood pressure). He could be a good lawyer because he’s quick to analyze and think of his feet.

Juan (they always call that no-name example “Johnny”) comes weighted down by “at-home problems.” The psychological chaos from his disintegrated/disintegrating family interferes with his ability to learn. He needs to find at school what his parents are coming up short in giving: love. He needs to find someone who believes in him.

Sometimes its not the lesson plan. Maybe your student won’t be Harvard-accepted. Still, a teacher is called to make a life-long impact in the lives of his students. And he must looks past the sting of open rebellion.

A teacher must believe in her students RELENTLESSLY. She must believe in them because nobody else does. She must continue to believe in them because if not they’re going to fall into drugs or cut their wrists. Our society is a society of rejection, and a teacher fills the roll of accepting students. No matter how bad is your student, you must look for that glimmer of hope, that spark of talent. No one in this world is without some gift. It is the teacher’s job to ferret it out, to bring it to the attention of the student, to cause they student to believe in himself.

This is even more important than fulfilling academic standards.

Education is not about the pay

inspirational teacherI’m all for paying what their worth. But if you are called to education, it must be that moment of sheer pleasure of seeing the student go from ignorance to understanding. That has got to be one of the greatest satisfactions on the planet.

Yes, yes, yes. I hear you shouting me down. Incommensurate pay is every bit a part of our sagging educational system. Yes, when we pay teachers like entrepreneurs, will have our best and our brightest preparing our future. Ok, already, I’m on your side.

But I keep insisting, foolishly, that you didn’t get into this because of the pay. There was some magical illusion drawing you, some immaterial joy called HELPING PEOPLE. Not everyone is called to make the mega bucks. Some feel it in their heart and soul to give of themselves and see others rise above as a result.

Personally, turnaround cases are what keep me here. To see kids who would have gotten lost in gangs or drugs get turned on to academics, to see they CAN DO IT, to see them graduate, brings tears to my eyes and determination to my heart to keep going. How about you?