Thursday, February 10, 2011


This afternoon, we met our classes (grades 3-5) for my Writer in the Community class with (my favorite) Professor Aimee Bender.  Based on experiences with grade-schoolers, I wasn't too sure what to expect.  When I volunteered for an after-school program in high school, I was once asked if I was a new student.  The kids usually like to compare their heights to me, or they ask me how to spell my name.

I always thought I would pursue creative writing to become a writer, not a teacher.  But after today's experience, I feel like the gears are shifting.  We spent an hour with the kids in the school's Cafetorium.  After introducing ourselves to everyone in the room (the kids oooh'd and ahhh'd and waved hello from their seats), Aimee led the lesson.  She instructed the kids to write down 5 animals and 5 appliances, then smoosh two of the words together to create a new word like how cafeteria + auditorium = Cafetorium.  Throughout the process, my classmates and I weaved in and out of the rows to help brainstorm and give feedback.  Some of the kids were very eager and excited to meet us and share their work. One boy waved at me and asked, "Where's Scooby Doo?"  Two little girls showed me all of their Hello Kitty gear (pencils, notebooks, wallets, t-shirts), but in order to help them re-focus on the lesson, I told them that my favorite appliance is my Hello Kitty toaster which leaves an imprint of Hello Kitty's face on the bread.  I encouraged them to think of something similar with the list of animals they had written.

Another boy named Caleb let his imagination loose but had trouble writing it down.  He told me he had created a wonderful automonkey (automobile + monkey).  From there I asked, "Does it eat bananas?" "Yeah!"  His eyes widened.  "So it uses bananas for fuel.  Is it hairy?"  "A little bit."  "Does it smell?"  "It smells like cow dung!"  I continued to ask questions, and before I knew it, Caleb was off and running.  His automonkey could swim like a submarine and travel the world in 5 seconds.  He even connected it with another invention, the catopolis (cat + metropolis?).  In fact, the Catopolis was a place that the automonkey could travel to.  It was full of poles with cat heads, and it was covered with lava but if you dug deep enough, you would find diamonds and steel and jewels.  I told him to write down these details before he forgot, and I moved on to another little girl who seemed to be staring blankly off into space.

"What is your invention?" I asked.  She gave me a shy smile and held her notebook close to her chest.  "There's nothing to be embarrassed about," I reassured her.  She showed me the list of her words, but she had not taken the step to combine two words into one.  As she looked at her list, she seemed uninspired so I asked her, "What is your favorite animal?" "A penguin!"  She gave a little hop in her seat.  I scanned her list of appliances, and my eyes settled on the word laptop.  "Perfect!  How about a penguin laptop...a lapguin?"  Her face lit up as she giggled at my silly word.  At that moment, Aimee told the kids to wrap up their writing so that a few of them could read theirs aloud.  I told my new friend to keep working as I took my seat at the front of the room.

Aimee called on three students to share their inventions.  The kids raised their hands, feisty for attention.  Some leaned forward in their chairs, agony written all over their faces and screamed, "Oooo!  Me!  Me!"  The first boy became timid when he stood in front of everyone and almost started to erase his writing.  The second girl had created a vivid advertisement for her tigabed (tiger + bed).  And lastly, Aimee's eyes settled on my lapguin friend whose named turned out to be Kaitlin.  She stood next to Aimee with her sheet of paper and proudly presented the "laptopenguin" which had a penguin keyboard and penguin screen and penguin icons.  I watched from my seat behind her, pride filling my heart like a mother watching her daughter.  When Kaitlin sat back down, she leaned over to the boy next to her and pointed me out to him, probably saying something to the effect of "See that girl?  She helped me."  I flashed her two thumbs-up, and when we helped put away the chairs, I told her that I loved her invention.  She beamed at me.  Aimee later told me that Kaitlin had actually improvised the majority of her description; she only had about 3 sentences on her paper, but her presentation was full of much more detail than anything she had written down.  And to my delight, Kaitlin is in the 3rd grade class that I'll be teaching for the rest of the semester.

The kids projected an energy and zeal for learning that both overwhelmed me with happiness and disheartened me with guilt.  Here was a room of about a hundred 8-11 year olds.  They raised their hand the moment they heard a question being posed.  For the most part, they wanted to write and share their writing.  But in ten years, these children would be us, the college students who would rather skip class or go on Facebook than listen to their professor.  What happened to that zest for knowledge?  Why did it have to fade?

In the upcoming weeks, I'll be interacting with these kids on a much more personal level.  I'll read their stories and learn about their most precious memories and secret desires.  And I hope that I can continue to nudge my students towards inspiration, to teach them that writing is not something to be embarrassed or scared or even ashamed about.  And in return, I know that they'll teach me a thing or two about creativity and rediscovering the excitement of the learning process.


  1. there should be a "like" button
    so i can click it haha

  2. :)
    You'd be the best teacher. And I'd so want to be in your class.
    You write so amazingly well that i'm sometimes jealous.


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