This week’s guest post is written by my friend Jennifer, who in addition to being an English and French teacher in the public school system, a mom, and an all around spectacular person, is also a published poet.
In the thirteen years I have taught in our county’s high school, I have witnessed community both floundering and flourishing. One of the most meaningful of those moments happened in an English class I was teaching.
It was a class of seniors, ready from Day 1 to graduate. This class was during our school’s lunch block, making it an extra long period. The students would be with me for their hour-long class, but they would also stay with me for an extra 25-minute period beyond lunch. For most classes, that becomes a study hall time. From the beginning of the year, that was my plan. They could use the extra time to do homework, to read what they wanted, or to write what they wanted. However, it turned out to be a time useful in many more ways than I could have envisioned.
The class of 25 had six exchange students from six different countries. Some native speakers asked to help the exchange students during that time. I agreed, of course. The next day we talked about where people were the year before. Only 12 of the students had actually been at our high school the year before, an unusual statistic for our school. Students started sharing where they had been—Utah, New Mexico, Indiana, Michigan.
Pretty soon, I noticed that everyone started talking to everyone else, not always a common experience for teenagers. Well, silence during study hall time was rendered a bygone pretty quickly. Students shared a lot with each other. Sometimes I joined in conversations. Other times, I just observed, pleased to watch them really share and really listen.
They recognized that they were a special group and commented on it often. This point was driven home for us at the end of the year. In June, right before graduation, a boy asked if he could share a letter he had written. He was very smart, exceptionally talented, and quite insecure. He was still learning to admit his worth. Every day, all year, he had worn a long, black coat. He stood up—all eyes and ears attuned—took off that trench coat and hung it on a hook on the wall. He began his letter and explained that he knew that he wore that coat to hide himself. It represented his insecurity, and he recognized that. He pointed to it on the wall and said, “This class has let me take off the coat. This class has let me be myself.”
By this point, I think everyone was crying and hugging. I will never forget that moment or that community. Several of those students visit me often and keep up with each other regularly. Some of the exchange students have even returned to the United States to visit other members of that class. For me, that class represents community at its best—a place where we are free to be individuals together.