Your objective today is to craft your next blog post. Since we are beginning our narrative unit, you will be writing a blog post that tells a story tied to the theme of your blog. If you have a sports themed blog, tell a story about a time when you were playing a sport and something significant happened. You might also search for a story someone has already told, link it to your blog, and talk about why it's important for your readers to read that piece. Again, the focus of this blog post MUST be narrative. You are either telling your own story or finding a story that's already told and write about why that story is important to read.
Below is an example of a narrative piece I wrote three years ago for a teacher's writing workshop at Murray State. In it, I had to tell about a significant moment in my teaching career. I chose to write about a student of mine I had when I was teaching 10th grade in Oklahoma. This student, Whitney, had a profound impact on my life and changed the way I viewed the power of reading in someone's life. I love sharing this story with my students because she is the classic example of someone realizing what reading can do. I see her in many of my current students because she was so adamant about not reading and then finally, we were able to move her thinking. I will never ever forget Whitney and what she did for me. I'd love for you to read her story!
Robin K. Simmons
The loud clicking of the bright yellow high-heeled shoes against the cold linoleum floor signaled her entrance. Florescent green hoop earrings and hot pink necklace gave it away before a word was uttered – Whitney was not absent today. She always adorned bright t-shirts with big writing that screamed for others to notice her. Her hair style varied between tight braids in a zig-zag of a pattern to big, poofy strands that stood up at attention. Her voice echoed across the entire school when she wanted something; she was stubborn as a mule. She sat in class with that hard glare in her eyes that told everyone around her to tread carefully. Every time I spoke, she would smack her gum with purpose and vigor. Other teachers warned me about her before the first day of school. “Whitney will not pick up a pencil and she definitely will not do any work for you. Just stay out of her way,” they advised. They told me she was one of those “I’ll sit here during the school year and do nothing and go to summer school to pass” type of students. From day one, she lived up to that reputation. After weeks of “treading lightly” and watching her waste every minute of her presence in school, I knew I wasn’t going to let her sit in my class and do nothing. Being a younger, soft-spoken, reserved teacher, I couldn’t figure out why she was so stark and I had no idea how to reach this girl. But I knew it had to be done.
At the beginning of the second quarter, students began selecting their own novels to read during our reading workshop. I asked my students to choose their own novels to read. Of course, moments like this are met with all types of reactions – excitement, apprehensiveness, dread, and everything in between. I bet you can predict Whitney’s reaction. As everyone made their way to the library, her bright yellow heels led the way; she strolled in with that normal “Whitney swagger.” Her gaze said everything I needed to know.
As I helped other students find something that might be of interest to them, Whitney was in the forefront of my mind. I needed to find something for her. The media specialist, whose life was her own romance novel, pulled me aside to tell me about a box of new novels that just arrived. I followed her into the back room that smelled of old, musty books and lemon cleaner. She carefully opened the box as struggled to keep her reading glasses on her nose. I knelt to the cold floor to go through them. Many new titles were staring at me – the infamous Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer, Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, and Paper Towns by John Greene, to name a few. With Whitney’s obstinate eyes etched in my brain, I knew none of those would do. I continued to shuffle through the box, and a bright red book with big black letters appeared. This might just be the one, I thought.
This was a novel I knew that might connect with Whitney. This was a book chronicling the life of a teenager who was sexually, physically and emotionally abused by her family and friends. The main character was overweight, insecure, and loud. Every other word in the movie was paired with a cuss word and our high school library debated about even having copies of it on the shelves because of its vulgarity. An instant battle was going on inside of me. Whitney was a rough, young woman who told me, “I ain’t readin’ no books, Mrs. Simmons,” when we first walked through the library door. She made sure her hard eyes added the exclamation point to the end of her sentence. I knew this book would be intense and I also knew my principal might not approve of it, but I decided to give it a shot. There had to be something that could reach her.
Butterflies fluttered in my stomach as I squeezed the book out of the box, stuck between the seventh Harry Potter book and Nicholas Sparks’ The Last Song. Was this a smart move?, I wondered. Would she even open it to the first page? What would others think about her reading this novel? I slowly meandered over to her table where she sat like a brick with her arms crossed. Her eyes rolled over three times as I approached her. She huffed and puffed and made sure everyone in the room heard her. Without saying a word, I softly slid the book in front of her and walked away; I didn’t want to stand in the way of her unpredictable fury if she decided to unleash it. I purposefully started to check on my other students, but I kept peering over to her table to see what she was doing. She hadn’t budged and the book was right where I laid it. The bell rang, students walked out the door, and Whitney was nowhere to be found. Neither was the book.
The following school day started like any other. The clicking of the high heels down the hallway got louder and louder, signaling the start of third period. The cadence of the clicking was faster than the normal stroll with swag. Whitney was on her way and I assumed she was not happy. Her eyes would let me know the second our eyes met. “Mrs. Simmons!” she exclaimed, waving the bright red book in the air like a crazy person. “I read this entire book last night! I read an entire book in one day!” She slammed the book on her desk and looked at me with a different set of eyes than the ones with the hard glare. Her eyes were watery, soft, full of hope, sadness and questions. My eyes of confirmation met hers. I told her how proud I was of her and that not many high school students her age could say they read an entire book in one day. “I’d love to hear what kept you reading,” I told her. I asked her to stick around after third period so we could chat. I could hardly contain my excitement as I started class.
A few days later, my students wrote me letters about the novels they were reading during reading workshop. I always responded to the letters as they provided an opportunity to “talk” with my students one-on-one. Whitney wrote furiously. Her pencil moved faster than anything I’d ever seen. As I tried to work with students around the room, my eyes kept drifting over to her desk. Normally, Whitney would have thrown in the towel by now with a full eye roll. But she didn't do that this time. She filled the page with her thoughts and poured out her heart on the lines. As we went through our normal class routine, Whitney was more attentive than I’d ever seen her. I could see her thinking about what we were discussing in class, which was writing with purpose. While she did not participate verbally, she let me know she was engaged and listening. Seeing her eyes alive was such a wonderful, new experience. I wondered if she felt the same.
After class, Whitney closed her notebook, rushed up to me, and like a linebacker, almost tackled me to the floor with a bear hug. She handed me her journal, looked at me with a grin and walked out. Surprised that she even had the ability to show that kind of emotion toward anyone, I flipped to the page dated for that day and began reading her three-page letter. Whitney’s writing explained everything I’d been wondering about, everything that intrigued me about her, and everything that made her eyes so sad. What I didn’t know until I read that letter was that Whitney had a similar experience as that main character did. I didn’t know that Whitney’s unrelenting demeanor was the result of her being sexually abused as a child. She had never told anyone about it – until now. Reading it re-opened a scary, familiar world to her. Even though the novel revealed her half-healed wounds, she was able to connect with someone who was like her. She now knew she wasn’t the only one who went through this. Someone else knew what she felt. Someone else felt like used, unimportant trash. Not only did she make this significant connection, she accomplished something she never would have thought possible. She read an entire book in one day – and she was proud of it.
That day was an earmark in my teaching career and in my personal life. I realized the importance and the power of caring for my students. I saw the power of words and how the story of a complete stranger can change the life of another person. I realized how lucky I was to grow up like I did – never scared of being sexually abused in my own home. I learned how strong my students are and how many of their own stories go untold because of fear. I learned that teachers can have a profound effect on their students’ lives and students can impact their teachers. Sometimes this effect can change who we are.
WHEN YOU FINISH READING:
Leave a comment and discuss what you see me doing as I write this piece. How do I draw the reader in? What specific spots are slowed down so you feel like you're right there with me? What are your overall thoughts on this story?