Today was a day in the classroom which fed my soul.
Thanks to an identity activity two colleagues facilitated in my classroom, I had the idea to have the students write and share the stories behind an aspect of their identity. For example, I am Caucasian American, but my sister’s in-laws are Mexican, and the church I grew up in was predominantly African-American. So I wrote the story behind my skin color–how it is more than white due to these formative experiences. I think I’ll share that later.
After students wrote their stories on a self-selected aspect of identity, they shared their stories aloud in small groups or the whole group, depending on class size and student comfort-level. In awe, in reverence, in love, I listened to my students. Their vulnerability, their raw voice, their inside-joke chuckle, their dedication to overcome, their successes, their humble apology at a raindrop tear, and their struggles left me speechless. There are a lot of moments which make being a teacher in public education tough…however glistening, goldenrod moments like these make it worth it.
Once we collectively exhaled after sharing our stories, I explained to my kiddos the deeper, intended purpose of community. For this, I referenced one of my favorite books The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien:
I want you to feel what I felt. I want you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth.
I recognize that as an adolescent, it is easy to project the happening-truth: words, actions, wardrobe, social circles, gait, etc. And often in my classroom, in my halls, students are so quick to judge and divide based on those happening-truths. But what my students shared today goes so much deeper than those projections. What lies beneath each and every one of them is the story-truth, the truest parts of themselves. Today my students showed such courage in exposing their deeper story-truths. And I challenged them to ask the questions of each other, to explore and reveal the secret story-truths instead of just relying on happening-truth’s easy assumptions.
Herein lies the rub: the same goes for me, for adults. Behind every offense lies a story. Behind every annoyance lies a deeper truth. Behind every hurt lies an experience. I owe it to my students, to my own heart, to my God to move beyond entitled and arrogant assumptions to seek out the secret story-truths of those around me.
After all, our lives are our stories. And every word lived is worthy.