Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Students as Teachers

Gabrielle took charge of the classroom.  She handed out small pieces of paper from a sandwich-sized Ziplock baggie.  She asked twenty-four of her peers to anonymously write down an insecurity on the paper.  Without hesitating, students wrote.  Then, following her directions, they fold the paper in quarters and submitted them to the box she designated.

Next, Gabrielle told students to grab an insecurity from the box and to make sure it was not their own.  Quickly and quietly all selected and were directed to write a letter of advice to the insecurity.  Students wrote with great focus and with much to say.  

When the ten minutes were up, Gabrielle called students one-by-one to read their advice.  The insecurities did not vary much and all could relate:  Seven of the twenty-five had issues with the perception of being fat, six had issues with the way they perceive their looks, one each feared being a failure, feared being alone, compared oneself to a boyfriend's ex-girlfriend, feared that life has no purpose and the advice was what each and every student needed to hear.

Jaleesa  wrote this:
“My Eyes”
What is wrong with your eyes? I see nothing wrong with them. They are actually very beautiful. The color that you have makes your eyes twinkle. I can tell when you are happy, nervous, or scared because your eyes always tell a story. Your eyes are special. They stand out like no other. You are a very mysterious person, but when I look into your eyes I know you have a kind heart. Please do not dislike your beautiful unique eyes because they are what make you “you” and you are a beautiful person. Embrace them.

Jocelyn wrote this:
Your Depression will lose

Who ever you are, I need you to know that you can conquer your depression. You can fight it! Whatever it is that is overshadowing you and making you feel the way you feel, please, know that there is someone out there that wants to talk to you and listen to every word you have to say. I don’t know if you do talk about your depression, but if you do and do not talk to anyone, you will just build up more weight on your shoulders. Let me tell you that I can understand how hard that can be; to find someone who you can trust and be honest to, but don’t give up. Find someone, let them know how you feel because letting out all your emotions will take some weight off. Please, I beg that you do this! Please!
I don’t want to say that I know how it feels to go through depression because I’m writing about you. Not about me, but I know what depression feels like. I wish I didn’t. HONESTLY I wish I didn’t. Depression is such a terrible state to be in! I hate it! With all my heart I do. I don’t know how bad your depression is but please, find what can free you from this. ASAP! There is someone out there that wants to support you and care for you. I am writing this in a serious matter. From my heart. I don’t know who you are but please don’t take this the wrong way. I love you. Whoever you are, I love you. Everyone is loved and needs to be loved. Love is what can help you escape from this. Love conquers everything. I believe it. To believe it, you need to love yourself and I hope that you do.
I’m sorry that you are going through what you are going through. Depression is hard to get through and I know you can fight it. I need you to believe that. I believe that you can do it.
Find something or someone that makes you happy and smile and laugh. One true meaningful smile can help with your depression. If drawing makes you happy; draw. If singing makes you happy; sing. If exercising blows off some steam or clears your mind; workout! Find your freedom. Find what helps you not ‘just make it through the day’, find what can free your from this forever.
If you need to speak, I am here. Please, do not hesitate. I mean it.

This timely exercise, generated by a student, had a carryover effect.  I tried the same exercise with my freshman English class, and with some guidance about taking the exercise seriously and maturely,the same results occurred.  Students opened up and their peers came through with good advice.It is a reminder that students with a say in their classrooms can create lessons that resonate with their peers in a much more profound way than any teacher could develop.

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