Ten Things I Hope My Students Will Remember

This time of year is always a challenge for me. After all the hours I've spent working with my students, the end is suddenly upon us. I love my job, but what’s hard for me as a writer is only getting to read the opening chapters of my students’ stories. It’s like reading the Amazon preview but I can’t buy the whole book yet. We reach the end of the year together, but they are at the beginning of high school and the beginning of their young lives. They are like the opening week of NaNoWriMo, the faltering start to poems at the beginning of NaPoWriMo, the first few lines and scenes in a book. They are full of promise and expectation.

It’s exhilarating to be young. The future is an exciting and frightening unknown. My students have not yet written what will come, but they are finding their legs in this world and walking along a path unique to them. As they head off into a world that can be both beautiful and tragic, I want them to remember so much. But I know they can hardly remember to take their backpacks on their way out the door, so I better write these things down. Here are 10 things I hope my eighth graders will remember.

1) Keep writing. Maybe it’s a journal, or the beginning of a novel each November, or a few poems when you feel like the world doesn’t understand you. Maybe it’s a blog or a tumblr or tweets, but keep writing. You have a story to tell and the world needs more stories like yours. Your story might just save someone. Writing your story might save you.

2) Keep reading. Ok, for some of you this may be start reading, but hopefully you will read and read often. I hope you will read to learn, to work your brain, and to escape. Read new books and reread favorites. Read books that challenge your thinking and make you see the world differently. Talk with friends about books. Set goals for your reading and plan what books you want to read. Then, keep a list of the books you’ve read so you can say, yes, I did that.

3) Keep questioning. Think critically but not cynically. Think about the validity of your sources whether that source be an author, a teacher, a professor, a friend, a girl/boyfriend. Try to understand where people are coming from, but also decide if you agree with them. Use your critical thinking skills and establish your own independent thoughts.

4) Stay organized. Write down homework and projects and assignments every. single. day.  Clean out your binder, your backpack, your desk, your room, your closet and your mind. Keep the things you really need, but my rule is: if I haven’t used it or worn it in the past two years, it’s gone. Also, leave some space for quiet in your life so you can hear your thoughts. Close your eyes to the screens and sounds of the world and just be.

5) Keep believing. Believe in yourself and your abilities. Believe that if you work hard, you can do anything. Believe in the best version of who you are and strive for competitive greatness which Coach Wooden describes as “performing at your best when your best is required. Your best is required each day.”

6) Keep following your dreams. It is brave to hold on to the dreams of your childhood, but hold on to your dreams and make plans to get you there. If your dream is to make it to the NBA, do something every single day to help you get there. If your dream is to go to UCLA, make a plan to help you get there which might mean extra study sessions, finding a tutor or sacrificing something fun to get that school project done. Find people who can help you and continue to pursue your dream.

7) Be resilient. The world is going to tell you “No.” “You can’t.” People will doubt you and question your commitment and desire. Sometimes even those who support you will not understand or know how to help. Don’t give up. Keep pushing and pressing for what you want until life says, “Yes.”

8) Work hard. Coach Wooden says, “There is no substitute for hard work. None. Worthwhile things come only from hard work.” Some things come easier for some people. When things look easy for others, it’s often because they have spent hours working to make it appear easy. Life is not easy. Take pride in putting in work.

9) Find what you love to do and do it. Pursue it with enthusiasm and joy. 

10) Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself when you make mistakes. Learn from them and keep moving forward. Be kind to those around you. Don’t judge others too harshly because if the struggle is real, everyone is in it. Be kind. 


Happy Mother's Day, Mom!

A poem for you, Mom, on Mother’s Day 2014
after Sandra Cisneros’ “Abuelito Who”

Mom who is far away
and wants me to call everyday
who is pain and worry and naps at noon
whose hair has gone gray
who tells me visit soon
who moves furniture around the room
who is hungry
is chocolate cake
is hamburger and fries
is full of sighs
who tells me never lie
who says question what you believe
who will never, ever leave.