What happens when dads walk away?
As a ‘dadless’ daughter, I know kids are left behind to wonder why. Why did he go? Why didn’t he want me? What did I do wrong? Why didn’t he want to be around? What could I have done differently to make him stay?
Or, worse yet, kids left behind think mom pushed dad away, and surely, if mom had done things differently, then dad would’ve stayed. It’s her fault.
As a teacher, I see the fallout, too. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes blatant. Always painful.
Last month, I asked my juniors and seniors to develop a written piece for National Day On Writing (#NDOW). I provided three photos and asked students to choose one (or more) and write about it/them. The piece could be fiction or nonfiction, personal or not, metaphorical or literal.
As always, my kiddos did not disappoint! Heads dropped. Pens and pencils began moving. The room was silent. The feeling, intense.
They wrote with a focused purpose until the bell rang. They came back the next day and insisted we continue without interruption. We revised and edited (this was tougher to get them to do, but required).
By day three, we shared at our own comfort level. If a piece was too personal, a student did not have to share the content, but everyone had to discuss the process with his/her partners. What an amazing three days!
During the writing process, emotions were raw for several students.
One young man, an accomplished football player and struggling student, was stuck during the first day of writing. When I asked him how I could help, he was speechless. I ventured carefully, asking which photo he chose. The dark, stormy one. I wasn’t surprised, based on his expression. Then I suggested he create a bubble map to organize his thoughts. Several students were creating their own that day:
Tears began to fill his dark eyes. He hastily brushed them away. I stepped away, giving him quiet space.
A few minutes later, when I came back around, I noticed a few words on his paper: dad, confused, success, failure. He looked up, met my eyes, and said nothing. I quietly moved on and left him to reflect and write.
By the third day (sharing day), my student had written a brief piece and discussed the process with his partners. His content was his. His process, he was ready to discuss … mostly.
Fast-forward a month, to this past week.
My students have been honing their ability to identify and interpret figurative language and author’s tone in print and non-print text, and assess the impact of each on a reader/viewer.
As I worked with small groups, various students had interesting, funny, and thoughtful ideas, examples, and questions to share. Then came the group with the young writer.
As we finished our small-group discussion and began to clean up before the bell, my young football player-turned-writer said, “Mrs. Kyle, I want to show you something,” as he took out his phone. I get a kick out of this line from students, because I never know what I’m about to see! 😉
As he swiped through his phone and found what he wanted to share with me, he mentioned Will Smith, and said, “I have this video clip that you just reminded me of, when we were talking about tone. Watch all of the emotions Will Smith goes through and how his tone changes.”
With that, he hit play. The video clip was in his SAVED YouTube list.
As we leaned in over his phone at the conference table in our classroom and watched the clip together — his back to his classmates — I could feel fellow students looking on, but no one interrupted. My young writer watched my face for reaction as we watched the clip together. Tears filled my eyes. I looked up and saw they filled his, too.
As the clip ended, he said softly, “This makes me cry every time I watch it.”
I replied quietly, “It made me cry, too. My dad left when I was very little. I always wondered why. Thank you for sharing it with me.”
He nodded. The bell rang. Another end to another powerful lesson from my students.
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