Of course I couldn’t write about all of my touchstone moments. I experienced some in my APUSH (US History) class my junior year of high school, or my APGOPO (Government and Politics) class in senior year. I even experienced a few (or rather more than a few) in my journalism class my junior and senior year. Even in college, I have had a few moments where the light bulb goes off and I have an “ah-hah” moment.
But, I can see now that each time that I had a touchstone moment there was one thing in common: I felt safe. I felt secure. I could voice my opinion, I could write about what interested me, and I could share my thoughts openly with my teachers, and with my students. It’s not like I got along with everyone equally, but the environment that my teachers set up allowed me to express myself. And I could have fun. Surprising, right? Fun, at school, you say?
Yes. I could have fun. I could learn about the war of 1812 and have a mini debate with students in class because I could offer a “penny for my thought” (a technique on of my teachers in high school used for class discussions – you had two pennies. If you wanted to speak, you would throw it into the bowl on the ground. You could also ask only one question, and if you used the pennies and your question your discussion was adequate, granted that you said something substantial. It limited the crazy students who always talk, aka me, from hogging all of the discussion). I could challenge my teacher about US politics and how we use the electoral college and how it doesn’t make sense, but then does. I could talk with my math teachers about district issues. I could joke in class. I could hang out with my teachers at lunch and get more help. I could enjoy myself.
And I really did.
Back to my first touchstone moment, mentioned here, my teacher encouraged us to write about whatever we were interested in. Sometimes she would grant a prompt: music, the color red, writing – really, all abstract. But we could also write about other things. I tended to write about my day, like a journal, and write furiously about issues at home, or stupid kids that say stupid things, and sometimes I would write weird fantasies. I still have the books, and it is wild reading what 12 year old me thought was relevant. Kinda strange, huh? What I thought was relevant 7+ years ago isn’t really relevant to the me today.
But, either way, I felt safe in these environments, which has made me realize that I want to have that when I teach – whether in a traditional classroom, or just with friends, or at church. Security is, sadly, hard to come by and students really just need a place to let go.