A little over a year ago, I took some students with me to meet Erin Gruwell and some of the original Freedom Writers after we had just finished reading The Freedom Writers Diary. They were inspired... and so was I. I had first heard about the FWD when I was in college doing my Bachelor's in English in the credential prep program at CSUN. I saw that there was definitely something different about how that woman taught, and I knew I wanted to teach like that. Maybe not the same lessons, or even in exactly the same style, but with the same...I don't know what one would call it really, maybe.... gusto?
Anyhow, Erin Gruwell herself does a perfectly good job describing what made her experience different in a book she wrote, Teach From the Heart, which she gave me personally on the night I took my students to meet her. She even signed it. :-)
The title of the book really says it all... teach from the heart. It almost doesn't even matter what you teach or how you teach it, but you are bound to make a difference when you teach from the heart. When you teach from the heart, you teach each and every one of them like you would teach your own kids. If they don't "get it," you don't think... "Oh well, let's move on," because you know they need to get it. You rejoice with the student who is proud of her persuasive speech because... well... because she even spoke at all, even if her presentation confused the heck out of everyone. You rejoice because you know its a little victory and because it lifts your heart to see her smile. That's what happens when you teach from the heart.
You know what else happens when you teach from your heart? It breaks.
Teaching, like parenting, is so full of back-to-back highs and lows. One minute I am cringing at the huge number of students who totally missed the boat on the main point of my unit, the next I am brainstorming awesome ideas with my English colleagues, then I am talking about taking a super exciting trip to New York with my drama students, and then I am crying the whole way home at the huge disappointments that can come with loving these wonderfully imperfect children like my own.
But there is always a silver lining. The speeches we have been doing this unit have been about this quote from Robert F. Kennedy...