This last Friday was my last day of teaching my fifth-grade creative writing class after a full year of doing so. My class is not only moving from one grade to another but graduating from elementary school to middle school. I am incredibly excited for them (and slightly nervous because I'm sure they will be too). However, what I am most proud of them accomplishing in a year is the book of short stories they produced through their hard work and imagination.
I have been writing for as long as I can remember. My mom tells me that the first story-writing class I was placed in was at the age of three. I'm pretty sure that I wrote some story of some sorts. However, I am glad to say that my writing has both improved in terms of creativity and legibility.
What I had experienced, under the encouraging supervision of my own fourth- and fifth-grade teacher changed my life. Writing stopped becoming a means to an end or a bore. I always enjoyed telling stories, but I never just enjoyed the act of piecing words together in a sentence or listening to flow and rhythm. The joy I experienced from those two years of practiced journaling was lost a little after I began high school.
I was still a pretty good writer, but I never challenged myself beyond the boundaries of getting good grades in my classes. Until I came to UCLA. Especially, after I began teaching my own students.
Through the UCLA Writer's Den, I was able to teach my own fifth-grade class after volunteering with one the year before. I didn't remember that enthusiasm for just telling stories—not even writing full-fledged novels—until I walked into what would become my weekly classroom. The most amazing part of it all was that no one was afraid.
Of course, they doubted themselves from time to time. The most heartbreaking question that my volunteers or I ever received was "Am I doing this right?" or "Is this correct?" Not because I wanted them to be skillful writers without the need of any assistance at their age and expertise, but because I wanted them to take up that class space without wondering if someone will judge them or tell them what they're writing was wrong.
However, once they began writing, they wrote about everything and anything that they could think of. They wrote some of the goriest, funniest, and most heartwarming stories from that class than I have written myself since I was a kid.
And the best part was seeing their struggle and determination to write amazing stories that they would contribute towards the book that we were making and publishing.
After the book was sent to the publishers a couple weeks ago, I have been asked nothing other than if the books are available to read yet. Parents who came to their student story-reading at UCLA were proud and excited to see the hardbound books their children made.
For myself, I truly believe I have become a better writer and teacher because of these students and their weekly hijinks and hard work. I am so proud and fortunate to have been given the class that I was. I also find a kind of bittersweet joy in the fact that we'll both be graduating from our levels of education at the same time.
I can't wait to hear from them, and see what they accomplish later in life. I mostly hope that I will keep in mind the experience I have had from the last year of teaching. I hope it will fuel my writing and my creative mind for the rest of my life.