Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Coauthoring My Life

Going into reading this piece with the assignment to “Make a list of ten vocabulary words or concepts from this chapter that you did not know, didn’t understand, or feel are essential to the major concepts of the text,” I was expecting the reading to be challenging and difficult for me to understand.  Once I started reading, I realized that I understood most of what I was reading.  I am currently taking Human Development, so I recognized a lot of the terms such as scaffolding and zone of proximal development from that class.  There were other words and themes that came up that I was a little unsure of, but upon further reading, I was able to gain a pretty good understanding of their meaning from the context of the reading.  Finally, there were some words that I did not fully understand, or felt that I could understand the reading better if I looked up the definitions.  One word I had never heard before was “maligned” which I learned from Google’s dictionary is defined as “to speak about (someone) in a spitefully critical manner.”  I also wanted more clarification about who exactly is defined as an adolescent and what is considered to be adolescence.  When I searched “adolescent” on Google, the first definition given was “(of a young person) in the process of developing from a child into an adult,” which seemed very vague and open to interpretation.  Searching for the definition of “adolescence” on Google clarified this, as it is defined as “the period following the onset of puberty during which a young person develops from a child into an adult.”

When thinking about my own life story and who helped to coauthor my story with me, one rather lengthy quote from the reading stuck out to me:
“During adolescence, coauthoring possibilities become more complex as the venues for accessing life experiences grow more varied and the implications for selecting and interpreting organizing themes take on exceeding weight.  In the educational realm, for example, the meaning of “school” often becomes dramatically revised.  During childhood, school largely is used to build academic and life skills that have strong personal meaning for the present.  If a third-grade student succeeds or fails, those outcomes have important implications for status among one’s peers and can bring either favor or negative consequences at home.  But implications for “one’s future” with the exception of concern about passing into the fourth grade, tend to be vaguely felt or understood.  By early adolescence, however, students clearly associate their school performance with possibilities for the future.  And by middle high school--tenth or eleventh grade--school performance is strongly associated with life opportunities and plans for early adulthood.  During adolescence, then, the theme of education is critical to one’s developing life story, in whatever form that theme takes” (7).
Looking back to my elementary school years, I was always very successful.  I never got less than 100% on a spelling test, my homework was done by the end of my car ride home from school, and I always received the highest grades on my report cards.  This trend continued through middle school, and going into high school, I was sure that I would get straight A’s with no trouble.  This idea was quickly shut down in my freshman year science class.  My teacher treated us all like high schoolers right away.  She had a way that she was going to teach, and you either got it or you didn’t.  I did very poorly on my first few exams, but looking back, the material we were learning would not make or break my success in life.  However, as a young, nervous high schooler, I remember talking to my teacher one day after school because I was so distraught about doing poorly on my tests.  She asked me what I wanted to do when I graduated (keep in mind that I am not even 15 years old yet).  I told her that I wanted to go to nursing school.  I distinctly remember her looking at me and saying “Good luck with that.  If you think my tests are hard, you will never survive nursing school.”  
Luckily, during my junior year of high school (one of the more important in developing my life story, as discussed in the reading) I had the opportunity to have a man whom I would consider the best teacher in our school for English.  I consider myself lucky because he definitely played one of the biggest roles in coauthoring my story with me throughout the second half of my high school career, and even the beginning of my college career.  He was there to support me through my worries, talk through college options, and listen to me stress about what college I would get into on a daily basis.  The difference with him was that he cared about more than just how I was doing in his class.  He cared about me as a person.  On one occasion after I spent the morning freaking out (probably crying) about something in his classroom, he sent my mom an email saying, “I worry about her stress level” and later sat me down to talk about his concerns.  When I was concerned about getting into a specific college, he sent them an additional email after his original letter of recommendation without being asked.  He went above and beyond his job description of “English teacher,” and was very transparent in sharing with me his own personal struggles.  He did not do this for any benefit of his own, but rather “saw himself in me” and felt as though he would be able to connect with me better if he did this.  The dialogues I had with him were some of the most important things I learned in high school.  Even after I graduated, we still kept in frequent communication; and he never stopped helping me.  To this day, he knows more about me than some of my closest friends; and I am forever grateful for his help in coauthoring my life story with me.  

For anyone who hasn’t read or seen Freedom Writers, I highly recommend it.  Erin Gruwell is an amazing teacher who I think truly embodies the idea of coauthoring with adolescents. In her TEDTalk  Becoming a Catalyst for Change: Erin Gruwell at TEDxChapmanU, “Erin shares how she chose to become a teacher who believed in change, who believed her students could decide their own future instead of becoming another victim of gang-related violence or teen pregnancy. She walks the audience through her and her students' journey to chronicle their own stories, mirroring some of the most iconic figures in history.”


  1. I really liked that you shared those experiences you had with two different teachers, and showed how much of a positive impact an educator or youth worker can have on someone when they take a genuine interest in their well being and believe in them. The TEDtalk was a really nice addition as well. It reminded me of my Foundations in Education course, during which we talked about how if you have high standards for students and support them while providing them the resources they need, they will be successful. It is so important to recognize the strengths and potential of all the youth that we work with. Great post!

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Val. :)

  3. The experience you shared was great. It was great to see how a teacher in your past made a difference in your life then and now.

  4. Hi Val,

    Just wanted to say great post! You were very insightful and I loved your personal example. I also agree that the movie Freedom Writers is a great example for an adult, not just a teacher, helping to co-author youths lives.


  5. Hey Val!

    One thing I fairly enjoyed about your blog is revealing your elementary. When I was younger I was a trouble maker, however I always thought school was important. I too got 100's and would always do my homework a.s.a.p. I was also discouraged once in high school during chemistry. We got through it though! And I too found a teacher who really inspired me and definitely co-authored my life story.

  6. Freedom Writers is an amazing movie and one of my favorites! It really relates to how the teacher was a little intimidated at first to reach out to the kids, being new to that environment.

  7. Val,

    It was great to hear that your teacher made such an impact in your life and helped you co author your life. I also had great relationships with some of my high school teachers. Btw. Freedom Writers is such a great movie!!