This summer I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Freedom Writer Teacher’s Institute with Erin Gruwell and her students in Long Beach, CA. One of the activities we were asked to do was to use a graphic with the shape of a head on it to describe one of our most struggling students. On the inside of the empty head, we were asked to use words to describe the student’s thoughts and feelings, and on the outside we wrote words to describe the external factors in this student’s life. Below is a letter that I wrote to my “empty head” and it is a symbol of not only the challenges we’re up against, but of the painful reality that we don’t ever have enough time to reach all of our kids…
I really wish you came to school more often. Remember that conversation we had while I was sitting at my desk and you were standing over me asking what work you had to do to be able to pass for the semester? You ended up doing all that work in just two days from the in-house suspension room! Even though it ended up being a “D” on your report card, you were happy to have passed despite all the absences. I know you really want to do well and you really want to be successful, why else would you ask me how I can afford to wear Ferragamos on a teacher salary? I mean, what eighth grader even knows what Ferragamos are?! I know that you deal drugs so that you can build an image for yourself, but I want you to know that with your determination, confidence, charm, and desire, you could do so much more than just “look” successful. I know you were listening to me when I told you that clean money is better than dirty money and I hope you always remember that conversation, because I can’t seem to get it out of my mind.