Last week, we all played hooky. Three of my colleagues and 19 of our students piled into three big white vans and zoomed up the 99 highway for an hour to the 35th Fresno State Young Writers' Conference.
It was such a cool day.
Clad in purple and black and donning our literary flag (a huge white flag with a hawk holding papers and pens in her talons) we skipped through campus to the Student Satellite Center to see if we had any winners. We did.
Six of the 18 awards went to our young scholars at Mission Oak. The kids were on cloud 9 as they opened up the literary magazine, The Spectrum, that houses all of the winners’ works. Seeing their name attached to their art in an actual book was so powerful. Some had to stop and reread their entire short story while others took pictures of it and tweeted their words for all to see. A handful walked a few steps away to call Mom, Dad, and Grandma. “Yah, me. I think I get money, too! I love you!”
After the awards ceremony, we had lunch in the university food court (a thrill for the high schoolers, nostalgic for us teachers-who knew Panda could taste so good?). For further inspiration, after lunch we then all split off to our break-out sessions on poetry, fiction, and non-fiction.
Why was this experience so powerful? Because we took a risk. We offered an opportunity for students to share their writing with a larger audience, to take it out of the confining brick and mortar walls of the English classroom and to share it with the world. This empowers them and, in turn, empowers us as educators. What they are doing at school has a larger impact and, therefore, the relevancy is there.
Now, as the teacher, it takes a TON of work to orchestrate a field trip: securing funding, board approval, registration fees, a contest to pick the kids, booking judges for their writing, renting vans, scheduling a sub (sub plans!), securing chaperones, and waking up at 5:00am to pick up students...just to name a few! HOWEVER, now that I’m finished whining, the reward of seeing your students succeed and be validated for their work publicly is priceless.
Of course, the physical field trip can be replaced with virtual contests online. There are hundreds of competitions and institutions that run contests for student work in all subject matters. You just need to hunt for them.
Playing hooky for a day felt good. It invigorated all of us by not only breaking up our routine but by celebrating and elevating student work. Find ways to get your kids out there. Take some risks...it gives your classroom work deeper meaning and makes you all feel alive!