When I return to school on Monday, my 6th grade writing class will move on to other electives. We finished our semester by writing narratives, and most of them wrote about their own lives. We talked a lot about how you have to have conflict for a good story. Many of them originally thought conflict had to be a big fight, a house burning down, or something violent. We discussed how conflict is sometimes just making a hard decision or being put in a difficult position.
In the end, one girl told a story of how a friend offered her a cigarette. She took the cigarette but threw it away later. She realized her friend wasn’t much of a friend after all. Another student wrote about being dared to walk to a nearby park even though she didn’t have her mother’s permission. While in some places, this wouldn’t be precarious; depending on the time of day and the area, this could be really dangerous in Albuquerque. She described her fear of punishment from her mother, knowing the danger she’d put herself into. One student wrote about memories of his father who was shot in Juarez. His father passed away when my student was in third grade. The last sentence of the story described his tears falling into his father’s casket.
I invited their parents to come to a reading the last day of class, and one girl said, “I can’t have my mom read my story. She’ll be so mad!” If you’re worried about who’s going to read your story, it’s probably a pretty good one.
For some of these students, this might be one of the few chances they get to write about their own lives, about what matters to them. Many of them walk on a very fine line they don’t even realize. On one side, the path will allow them a chance to get more education and hundreds of different options and possibilities. The other side of the line might lead to dead-end jobs, struggles, and tough decisions no one would want to make. Realizing their words could create stories about their own experiences mattered. We discussed the importance of telling our own stories and how published authors do this all the time.
S.E. Hinton was only 16 when she started writing Outsiders. She wrote the book because she saw a fight between two kids from opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. Hinton wrote about her life and what she saw happening around her. She hoped through her words, things could change. Just like Hinton, if the students understand the importance of their words and stories, they too can change not just themselves, but their futures.
Right before the bell rang to dismiss class before the break, I told them I had a message. Throughout the book, Hinton uses the Frost poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” to talk about change and staying true to yourself. We’d analyzed the poem several times as we read, so I wrote: “Stay Gold” on the board. The room filled with “Ahhhhs,” and one student shouted out, “You too, Miss. You too!”
What stories do you have to tell?