Sunday, September 20, 2009

Voices from students’ journals

Another gorgeous sunset off the pier outside my front door

Maybe I’m not here to teach English. Maybe I’m here on a rescue mission. Many of these youth are in pretty tough situations, and it can make all the difference to feel heard, noticed, cared about. It’s also giving these youth the powerful tool of writing for self-expression – a simple tool with power to heal.

Journal-writing at the beginning of every class is a lifesaver, for them and for me. It gives them an outlet for their unique lives and stories and feelings; it gives me a window into their hearts. More practically, it gives me a couple of minutes of peace and quiet at the beginning of class to try to figure out who’s who, so I can fill in the right boxes on the attendance sheet. Sure, I’ve created my chart of assigned seats, but some playful youth like to switch seats and see if I notice, or they just want to sit near their friends, or choose a seat where the glare of the tropical sun bouncing off the next building doesn’t make it so hard to see the board. “Hey, guys, have pity, willya? Back to your assigned seats.” See Marci in five classes of about 30 sophomores or juniors each, trying to match 150 new faces in varying shades of brown to their musical names: Barijur, Jabdor, Kotwon, Janner, Jenniko, Beonin, Arobina, Keyoko, and Junior. There’s always Junior. I have at least one in almost every class.

Listen to the voices of these youth:

“My name is ___________. I like it because I’m taking the name of my father. And to remember his name because he’s not beside my family. And sometimes when I’m saying my own name I remembered the time he putted me on his back. When I was little, I remember the time my father has gone to a school of college. And he didn’t come back and I’m so mad because I do not see his face now. And I still remember the times he has put me on his back and took me to where I wanted to go. And we always played on those grass outside my house. But I want to see him now.”

These are rough drafts, written quickly in the 5 minutes at the start of class as the students are settling in, with multiple distractions: tardy students banging their way into class, others retrieving notebooks loaned to friends, or borrowing pencils. Besides, many of these students’ only exposure to English is only an hour a day, five times a week – the time they’re in my class.  I could have worked with them to polish the English – but forgive the grammar and look into the heart.

“Sometime my brother was go and drunk with her friend. And I was say to my father why is my brother drunk. Father’s say because he older than you.” (My response: “I hope you’ll behave responsibly around alcohol when you’re older. That’s important – REALLY important.”)

Here’s another: “When I was 11 years my grandfather passed away. Later my grandma also passed away because she had a lung cancer. I really miss my grandparent. Sometime I had bad feeling. Someday I really want to killed my self.” My response: “PLEASE take good care of yourself and never hurt yourself. You’re important! And the world needs you.” This particular student has missed the last ten school days straight. I saw her 4 days during the first week of school, and haven’t seen her since. I suspect I would have heard from the other students if anything had happened to her, but I wonder if she read my note in her notebook.

Two of the largest problems here – alcohol abuse and suicide – surface in the first three weeks of school, appearing in journals written by students to their almost-a-stranger English teacher.

And this final excerpt from a student journal: “Ms. Marci, THANKS for helping us to study from your own smarter.”


  1. Ohhhh! I also wonder if you're there to teach ENGLISH? I wish I could put Will, Mohammad, Walaa and others on a bag and fly there for some music and Playback Theatre with those kids...

  2. Oh Marci, how heartbreaking. Love from a teacher can be a huge unfluence on children. How blessed you are to have them, and for them to have you. You're awesome!