Embracing Difference Empowers Individuality
Although all of my previous posts have dealt with the lessons I learned and taught inside my classroom, some of the most profound moments have come when my students walk out of these doors to create the next chapter of their lives.
Today I received an email from a former student simply entitled “Thank You.” When I saw who the sender was, I couldn’t help but smile.
Here was a girl who nearly everyone had written off in high school, even her parents. When she first walked into my classroom, she carried the stigmas of being not smart enough, not pretty enough, not good enough. Through her essays and journal writings, I got the sense that her confidence and self-worth had been constricted and strangled by many strands of these thick and heavy “nots”. Ironically, and thankfully, the strongest strand that weaved its way throughout all of her writing was that of hope.
The semester that she was my student just so happened to be the one that I chose to teach from Jean Auel’s, The Clan of the Cave Bear. Themes of Love and Power and Feminine Strength filled the classroom everyday, and I found that this seventeen year old student related to the traits of individuality, perseverance and honor exuded by the main character in the story.
As her peers, parents, and even other teachers continued to label her as academically and socially unmanageable, I hung on to that glimmer and spark which still shone bright in her eyes just behind her veil of insecurity and self-doubt. Along with honest and supportive feedback regarding her coursework, praise for her efforts and pride for her accomplishments were all she heard from me on a daily basis. Over the course of the term, her writing became more insightful and her discussions more expressive. She was beginning to shed the heavy burdens of self-deprecation to reveal her true identity which had been forced to hide in the shadows for so many years. She was growing up, and embracing her positive changes.
When she graduated, I held on to the hope that she would have the strength to maintain out in the real world, for she would be surrounded once again by those who would rather ignore her than try to get to know her.
A year after she walked out of my classroom door for the last time, I received her email and was reminded once again that instead of shunning those deemed different, we should nurture and empower their individuality. For these will be the ones who shine the brightest in our lives.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jeff Winston writes our monthly column, Teaching Teens: Lessons I’ve Learned in the High School Classroom, illustrating the life lessons that he taught, and just as often learned, both in and out of the classroom. Jeff has lived in Easthampton since 2007, after moving up from Philadelphia with his wife, Alli, and their 3 dogs, Murphy, Zoey and Maggie. Jeff has a private tutoring business, Tap Your Truth, specific to enhancing writing and study skills, focusing on empowering individuals through their own written and spoken words. Jeff writes a blog called Better Out Than In…, a place to read creative expressions of his life’s experiences, samples of his student’s work, and tidbits that will enable readers to gain insight into their own lives.