A healthy student is a successful student. Hungry, sick, depressed, manic, and otherwise unbalanced students are much less likely to succeed academically, and in turn professionally and civically, than their healthy counterparts. While my area of expertise is in teaching English, I focus on the whole student and it is obvious that their personal welfare supersedes their academics. To address this, I use English as a tool for self-discovery, world understanding, and personal and social change.
When I read with my students, the focus is often on empathy through understanding author/audience dynamics and understanding character. Second to empathy is theme, which is often identical to the author’s message. If they had trouble before, students can connect to authors who may be from different places or time periods through their ideas and the universal truths they include. Style and narrative structure can be taught through this same lens. Not only do students get a stronger sense of other minds through this paradigm, they also get a stronger sense of themselves in how they relate to what is offered through the reading. In turn, they may realize aspects of themselves or their surroundings that they want to change for the better. Here is where we get to writing.
Writing is an even more opportune avenue towards self-discovery and social change than reading. What I focus on in writing is writing dangerously: taking the time to feel one’s deepest pain and joy and writing from there. I don’t just teach personal writing in this way, but also informative, analytical and persuasive writing. All good writing comes first from the heart and second from the mental exercise of framing, researching if necessary, organizing, and stylizing. In my class, we start with the personal and let ourselves really live on the edge by reading our work aloud to each other and posting on public sites. Once we are able to access and share this depth of selfhood, we are able to learn how to write strong essays, articles, speeches, and narratives that come from the same place of passion.
When it comes to physical health, I have much less control. However, the connection between psychological distress and physical illness is often strong; the two are in a constant feedback loop. My curriculum addresses this and I bring in articles directly related to health when they are relevant to the core readings. In the past, I’ve brought in informational pieces and personal narratives about food choice, eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, and safe sex. I do not go so far as to kidding myself into thinking that helping a student stay healthy is a solo act. I value my contact with guardians and want to make more time for this in coming years. Maintaining open communication with other teachers as well as the counselor, nurse, and principal can also create a sense of community for the student and be instrumental in keeping a student healthy.
When it comes down to it, I see my job as a teacher as multi-disciplinary. I believe I have a responsibility as a social worker, a mentor, an advocate, an activist, and a bit of a dissident in addition to my responsibility as a teacher of English. This comes from my particular view on education as well as from a moral, emotional, and ideological standpoint. Politics is necessarily tied up in this as well, but if I include the politics of education and my practice, this would become more of a dissertation than an essay. So I’ll stop here.