I love the beginning of the school year, especially the beginning of the college academic year. I primarily teach freshmen through Freshmen Writing courses and I see in them (and their writing) that promise of a fresh start college often brings. Shows like MTV’s If You Really Knew Me (which I highly recommend) and stories about bullying throw into sharp focus the pressures teens are facing. I’m not saying that teens are facing anything generations of teens and pre-teens have faced before; read the middle stories in The Little House on the Prairie series to see that kids have been cruel to one another far longer than texting and social media brought it to a whole new level.
Between the pressures at school and the pressures at home, college often represents an escape, a chance to start again. Delete your old Facebook account and start a new one. Experiment in ways you never could in the fishbowl of high school, under the glare of your parents. I decided when I was 14 that I was going away to university, first on a swimming scholarship, then by whatever means necessary. I knew if I could just survive high school, I could go off to this far (enough) away fantasy land and remake myself.
I have seen students go on and become something different and something wonderful. And I have seen students unable to fully extricate themselves from their former lives and dropping out as a result. I have worked with many non-traditional students who have humbled me with their strength and courage, sharing with me the obstacles they had to (and continue to) overcome in order to become a successful college student, in order to be able to discover and express who they are and who they want to be. I see it as my job to help these students succeed in their journeys. One of the ways is to help them connect with themselves through their writing.
This is one of the reasons why I’ve kept so much of my informal writing from high school and my undergraduate days: notes between myself and my friends, unsent letters to boys, my stories and poetry, and most importantly my diaries. Sometimes these writings are found inside of notebooks, in between half-remembered class notes, written during times when I should have been paying attention. They remind me of what it was like at that age, and what writing was like. How shallow my own arguments were, how cliche the stories and images. I remember so I can go easier on my students, so when I am tempted to say, I was NEVER like that when I was a freshmen, I can look and say, yes, yes I was.
And I also keep them for my own children. My writing, no matter how childish, was still practice. And it was therapy. So when my kids are feeling completely alone, overwhelmed and misunderstood, they can look at it and see that someone else went through something similar and survived. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll be encouraged to write and express themselves as well.
As a mother and a teacher, I know the power of writing and it’s something I want to share.
For all the freshmen out there hoping to make the fresh start, good luck. And write it all down for yourself. You’ll be glad you did.