My students are currently writing editorials to enter into the fourth annual New York Times editorial contest. Today, I modeled some specific writing skills and showed them my own work in progress, focusing on how to incorporate evidence from research into an argument and appropriately cite it. Earlier this week, we talked about potential vs. intended audience and what types of evidence would work best to support their claim while simultaneously addressing the needs of their audience. It’s a real-life skill at which they excel, although those abilities don’t always automatically transfer to an academic or writing purpose.

During the work time, I made a deliberate effort to touch base with as many as possible to discuss their current status. I had some very interesting conversations, and I’m looking forward to reading their papers and learning from them! Some have the generic, big controversial topics: abortion, gun control, the death penalty, legalizing marijuana, and such.  Most, however, opted to take me up on the opportunity to select a topic that was of their choice and that mattered to them personally. It just needed to be complex enough to argue and be something that could be supported through research.

The topics they came up with are so diverse! They include: the inequity of a red tax (taxation of feminine hygiene products), cow’s milk is not good for human consumption, students middle school age and older should be able to choose whether or not to medicate for ADHD, the pressure of Asian schooling is too intense, price gouging by the pharmaceutical industry endangers lives, organized drag racing at the local level needs support, we need to eliminate requirements for binary gender identification, we don’t really have racial and gender equity in sports– but we should, and so many more!

I have an amazing group of kids! When given freedom and flexibility in class– opportunities to steer their own ship on the sea of learning– many exceed both my expectations and my imagination.

We ended up talking about more than their topics today. A few students brought up the atmosphere of our class, and while expressing deep satisfaction with their progress this year, they identified some of what they believe has led to it. 

During our conversations, some showed me what a huge difference there is between crafting a structured environment that supports gaining independence and expecting them to be independent in every way just because they’re old enough to operate a car. Basically, a handful of them explained they feel okay about taking risks in my room and are confident about their ultimate success in my class because there is reliable support available. I am still trying to wrap my head around one comment- “You teach. It’s what I like about this class. You don’t just expect me to read something and learn it on my own. You teach me how to understand stuff, and then it actually works. I feel like I can do things right in here because you teach me. Most people don’t do that anymore. I am supposed to just know it or figure it out, I guess.”

(For those of you who are unaware, it’s rather unusual for teenagers to be highly complimentary of what goes on in a class, particularly when it is unsolicited and occurs on a day when your lesson involves punctuation.)

It made me stop and think.

A lot.

I love days like today. 

They remind me why I work so hard, but more importantly- they remind me that it’s worth it.