"I have to find someone to take my baby," I heard a teenage girl say as I was standing at my door for hall duty. I looked and saw a teenage girl just barely starting to show signs of pregnancy holding the hand of a boy who looked barely old enough to drive a car. I don't teach this student. I have never actually noticed her before, and I don't know her name. She is certainly not alone at my school as a teenager who is pregnant and taking classes, but there was something about what she said that struck me. High school is hard enough as it is. This girl's biggest concern is weightier than passing a geometry quiz or memorizing a few lines from Shakespeare.
Like today when I asked my
students to tell me who they will be most excited to tell when they get their
first job and one wrote, "my stepdad because I will prove him wrong and
show him that I can support myself and live independently." Last week, I
asked my students to tell me an example of a time they showed responsibility.
One wrote, "I was responsible after my dad died last year. I help my mom
around the house and take care of my brother and sister."
This week one of my tough boys came to my room raging with anger. I had seen him angry before, but not like this. Before class started I was able to talk to him in the hall to try to find out what was going on. When he started talking, his voice cracked and tears started rolling down his face. To help him save face, I told him he didn’t have to tell me what happened. He could skip the journal prompt and instead write about what was upsetting him.
When he finished, he called me over to his desk to read his journal. Normally, I read them after school, but he was too eager for me to read it to wait until then. As he wiped tears from his face, I read his journal. Someone had made fun of him for the way he walks. I know this wasn't the first time he has had people say things about it, but something about this time was too much for him to hide. He is probably the main reason I took the anti-bullying training to heart during in-service.
Textbooks can tell you all the positive academic aspects of using a journal, but I have learned to use journal assignments to go beyond syntax and grammar and get to know my students. Now, I don't take it personally when my student is teased gets red-faced angry in class when I ask him to do something. He is probably venting on me what he wants to say to the kids picking on him. When a student is struggling to stay awake in class, I remember that she was probably up late helping her mom with duties around the house. And when another student seems bitter and angry, I remember he is just trying to prove wrong everyone who ever doubted him.
I don't lower my
expectations for my students. I still have consequences for misbehavior in
class, but I do give behavior consequences with compassion as a result of the
How do you use a daily journal in your class? Do you have other ways of getting to know your students?