Chuck's column: A product of our pastIn English 10 A, we teach our students how to write a reflective essay. The concept of reflection for the sophomore brain is sometimes overwhelming.
By: Chuck Brooks, Rosemount Town Pages
In English 10 A, we teach our students how to write a reflective essay. The concept of reflection for the sophomore brain is sometimes overwhelming. I use the example of a “time-out” from their younger days. I ask them what the purpose was behind being given a “time-out.” They are quick to share it was the parents’ way of saying, “Go and think about what you just did and why you shouldn’t ever do it again.”
Once we cross that hurdle, there’s the issue of what topic will they choose. It’s always a challenge for anyone who writes. For some reason, kids don’t feel they have anything to say. I try to point out to them they’ve lived 15-16 years and yes, they DO have something to say. I was pointing out each and every one of them was a product of their past. I told them they just didn’t pop out and their character and future was etched in stone. I explained it had to develop over time. I tried to help them see that various incidents in their lives, various people in their lives, various relationships and situations in their lives, all helped to shape the person they presently were. Then it dawned on me.
Students love when we teachers share a story from our personal lives. They think we’ve lost our way and have taken the wrong fork in the road. I’m ok with that. I proceeded to share something with them I hoped would help them understand “reflection.” Oh, and one more tidbit about reflection. If the reflection doesn’t have a “point” to it, then it’s nothing more than a glorified journal entry.
So I told them about how I was raised. My maternal grandmother moved in with us before I was born. Her husband had died young and so my mother invited her into our home; our grandmother raised my two older brothers, me, my sister and our twin brothers so my parents could work and support their family.
In my neighborhood, there seemed to be an abundance of elderly women, or they seemed elderly to me at the time. There was Mrs. Sheskey. She was the crankiest. Then there was Emily. She could no longer stand erect because of arthritis. She literally stood hunched over, like a 90 degree angle. She was so very pleasant, however. Then Mrs. Brenner. She’d call my mother to send me down to get pears from her tree because she knew I loved pears. Then Mrs. Wollenburg. I shoveled her sidewalk and driveway for years. Not to forget my grandmother, with whom I grew very close over the years she lived with us. And my Aunt Kate. She had a stroke when she was younger and she lived with the left half of her body paralyzed. I’d sit on the porch with her when we’d go to her town and she and I would count the cars going by the house. She screeched when she talked and I was in awe of her strength.
Most of all, there was Rose Karl. Her husband had died young. They had no children. She lived next door to us. She grew kohlrabi in her garden for me because she knew I loved it. When she admitted herself to a nursing home for her own personal safety, I would visit her every weekend for years. Eventually, she’d make a friend and the three of us would play Euchre or Dirty Clubs if both women were feeling up to it. When I was 18, Mrs. Karl died. She was 104. Sound mind, but failing body. I still think of her often.
I hope I can inspire topic choices in the minds of my students by sharing personal stories when appropriate. Moreso, I hope THEY can look back and remember people who helped them move into and through early adulthood with as little turbulence as possible. We truly are a product of our past and the people we meet. I hope today makes for a better tomorrow for the kids. I know I’m grateful for my early years and the people in them.