I asked my students how they wanted to be remembered by the end of 7th grade. What did they wish that everyone knew, what everyone would think of when their name was spoken. I asked them to reflect and then write a speech. Just a minute. No pressure. No judgment. Just their own beliefs about themselves. I thought it would be easy. A quick little assignment as we kicked off our quarter long exploration of public speaking. I was wrong.
The past two days my students have bared their souls. Put their strengths and challenges out for the world to see. Looked at their classmates with a leveled head and asked them to take care of what they had to say. To not judge. To not snicker. To not comment, but just embrace. To see them how they want to be seen and I have been amazed.
Their courage to say who they believe they are.
Their audacity to tell us that they don’t care about school or what others think.
Their purpose of enlightening others who think they may be a freak, a weirdo, someone who doesn’t care, who doesn’t pay attention.
What my students have done takes guts. They sat poised with their secrets written down and delivered them with a calm face. Delivered them sometimes with shaky voices and other times with steely gazes. They did it, because I asked them to, and boy did I learn a lot in the process.
Below, a few of my students have graciously agreed to share their truths. I have removed their names to protect their privacy.
One student writes:
When I walk out of OMS on the last day of my eighth grade year I want to be known as a good student not “that one girl with ADHD”. My ADHD shouldn’t define who I am. I am the only person, thing or disorder that can do that. One day I told my class a story about how when I was in first grade that’s when the doctors figured out that I had ADHD. After that class two boys came up to me and one of them said to me “I didn’t know that you have ADHD” I nodded with a light laugh. The other boy had said to me “Yeah, I didn’t know that you were ADHD either.” I looked at him confused and said “I’m not.” That boy then continued to ask questions such as “But that’s what you just said” I smiled again and said to him with a straight face “I said that I have ADHD. I am a human being not a disorder”. I have ADHD but I am ADHD . Living with ADHD does have some challenges. But my ADHD shall not define me. I will not let it. It is just something that I live with daily. On the last day of my eighth year at OMS when I walk out of the doors i want to be known as a good student not ‘ that one girl with ADHD’.
I want to be remembered as the girl who is everyone’s friend. If I leave, I want people to remember me as not just another student that went to OMS, but as a human who existed as a joyful child. I want to be known as not an average kid with school always on my mind but as a Muslim who had different thoughts, religion, dreams, and even feelings. I want my remembrance to not just be a memory of name but a memory of feelings. I am the only Muslim in this school, with love in my mind and bravery in my heart. I don’t want to be labeled as normal. I am proud of who I am and not afraid to meet new people. A girl who has opinions but still respected the presence of other human beings. A girl who cared what people told her and put meaning into the words said to her every day. To end off, I want my memory to have meaning of where I stood today telling people how important a human life can actually be.
I don’t want to be remembered, because being in 7th grade is a small portion of life and when I move away 7th grade wont matter. I don’t want to be remembered by the little pieces that get you where you are. Those help but they are just like a speck of paint on a large canvas. personally, I really don’t care about 7th grade, it’s just another school year to do better than the next and that’s how live our lives, doing the same thing every day. I think there are bigger things in life to be remembered by. I don’t see a point of having a legacy in 7th grade, because I like to move on and don’t talk to any of my old teachers from that year. I think going out of your way to be remembered is not what I want to do. Honestly, I have o give a craps left for a 7th grade legacy. Also, I don’t care what my teachers think. Some of them can’t even teach well. That’s why I don’t care if I have a legacy in 7th grade.
We think we know our students through the relationships we build. We think through our careful observations we can discuss the strengths and weaknesses of a child and then help them grow. We ask the students to describe themselves at the beginning of the year but then often forget to re-ask the question. How are they now? How have they grown? How do they worry? What do they care about?
We think we know so we forget to ask, but I am telling you; ask them how they want to be remembered. Have them speak their truths and open your mind to their reality. My students once again amazed me, and I am not even sure they know. In their honesty, I found new hope for how my students will change the world.
PS: Hat-tip to Josh Stumpenhorst for the prompt
I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark, who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade. Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press. Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.