But today, I am caught off guard. Despite having a challenging Monday, our class is a community and trust is begin to coalesce. This begins to show up in free writes, where students will write for an audience of their classmates and their teachers.
One girl writes a letter to her dad in prison. A few lines into it, I tear up. She lays it out in a list, all the things he is missing - specific details of the last two years. It isn't particularly emotional and yet that's part of what makes it so hard to read.
A boy writes about how he needs to pack up tonight, because they did an immigration raid at his dad's work and his dad was deported. He describes the pain of the moment he heard the news and the fear of adjusting, yet again, to a new culture and place and classmates.
Another boy writes about how different it feels to go to school once he understands the language. He writes eloquently about feeling like he belongs to two places and to two minds and to two languages. "When you belong in two places, you feel like you always belong and you never belong at the same time."
I relate the activity to a few writing standards, just in case someone asks why each student is writing about something different. But that's not it entirely. I want them to fall in love with writing. I want them to find their voice. And even more than that, I want to get to know them as people, so that when I have a difficult day (like Monday) I can remember that I never know the whole story.
John Spencer is a teacher, author, keynote speaker, and incessant doodler. He is the co-author of Wendell the World's Worst Wizard and the co-founder of Write About, a new social publishing platform due out this Fall. He is passionate about helping students find their voice as they grow into stronger writers and deeper thinkers.