As you may have guessed from the wholly stupid title, I’m having the worst trouble trying to write this blog entry. I want desperately to recap my Young Writers seminar from Tuesday, but the more I try to write about writers and writing the more I sound like somebody who would be kicked off the school newspaper for sheer writerly ineptitude.
I love writing. I love almost anything to do with writing. I never feel more at ease than when I’m writing or discussing writing with other writers. That’s why it was a total slice of heaven to participate in this group. 48 middle schoolers from Williamson County met at the Franklin Ag Expo to talk about their writing. I got to meet with 18 of them in groups of six; each student read his or her work aloud and we all complimented and constructively criticised the papers.
Going into it I was nervous about the “constructive criticism” part. Writing is such a personal exercise, and middle-schoolers are at a vulnerable age. I went into the day deciding that we’d first go around the circle with everyone saying something they liked about the piece. I then asked if anyone had anything they would “add or change to make the piece stronger.” In groups that hadn’t yet built up the trust level to enable heavy editing and criticism I figured that was the most reasonable way to approach it. At the end of the day I was amused by several students who said they thought the “writers were too nice and didn’t criticise them enough so their work wouldn’t get better.”
I am rarely called “too nice” by anyone. Rarely. Almost never. Don’t get me wrong; I’m nice. But I’m also your classic INTJ. If there’s a way to fix something–even that which isn’t broken–I feel compelled to suggest it.
Really though, most of the work was excellent. There was only one piece which felt at all substandard to me. But the young person who presented it was so enthusastic about both the work and the process that I felt any harsher criticism about the work–especially in front of that young person’s peers–would be more devastating than constructive.
I found all of the pieces fascinating from a psychological perspective. There was a lot of wish-fulfillment…family homes turned into mansions, little girls owned ponies and flew to Paris to live for years. Depressed fathers who made their daughters sad were killed by the Nazis(!).
I saved one paper for nm to read, now that I think of it. One student wrote about the Holocaust, and in quite vivid detail. It even has a poem in conclusion.
The more I think about it the more I think I would enjoy being a middle school english teacher. If I could get out of bed every day at 6:00am. Since that’ll never happen, I suppose I’ll just hope they ask me back next year. One day a year getting up that early shouldn’t be too bad.
Funny bits throughout the day:
- I got there early, and so I volunteered to pitch in with some of the set-up work. I got designated to make the coffee and followed the coordinator around the building looking for a sink. When she couldn’t find the kitchen she suggested to me that I fill the coffee pots in the bathroom. Those of you who know me realise that just about gave me a heart attack. I expected to find out that there would then be a clown for morning assembly. None of you will be surprised to hear that I filled both coffee urns from the water fountains.
- Each table had a colour and a symbol in order to make it “funner”, I guess. There were 7 tables–instead of being numbered 1-7 or labelled A-whatever the 7th letter of the alphabet is I’m not gonna sing the song to myself to count it out, we were purple ferns or red stars or, in my case, brown paws. I was already wearing my James Thurber Dog reading a book shirt, so I figured I’d go with the paw print. It reminded me of my sister and “Brian’s Table.” (inside joke…)
- Each table also had a basket filled with souvenier writing utensils. I think somebody’s husband is a doctor or pharmaceutical rep, because all of them were advertising a drug. I’m sure there were parents all over Williamson County on Tuesday night who were wondering why their 11 and 12 year old daughters brought home Ortho Tricyclen pens.