I've Learned To Become A Better Writer After Teaching My Students

I've Learned To Become A Better Writer After Teaching My Students

My students have inspired me throughout my year of teaching them.
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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.

Cover Image Credit: Pexels

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10 Things I Learned From Growing Up In A Town Smaller Than A College Campus

A town straight out of a country song.

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With a population of just over 1,000, my hometown has given me so much in my 19 years of life. It's taught me things I would've never learned anywhere else (whether that be good or bad).

1. You know everyone and everyone knows you

This is so true, especially if you're a part of a big family. You're not only somehow related to everyone, but everyone knows which family you belong to. I can't go anywhere in town without at least one person recognizing me (which isn't a bad thing). If you were in the newspaper, there's a slight chance that multiple people will tell you as soon as they see you.

2. High school sports (especially football) are no joke 

As someone who cheered for four years, there's truly nothing like home football games. The sound of the crowd roaring behind you, the tunnel at the beginning of the games, and the sunsets gleaming onto the field. My senior year the football team almost went to state for the first time in 22 years. It was a HUGE deal for the community. The football players were like local celebrities and it was such an exciting time for everyone. There truly isn't anything better the spirit that surrounds small-town sports.

3. High school homecoming is a big deal for everyone

Unlike larger schools, basketball and football homecomings in my small town were like one big reunion for everyone. We have an elaborate theme for each homecoming and the Stu-co spent all day decorating it. The gym and sidelines were usually packed with people coming home to see old friends, to find out which candidate gets crowned queen, and to cheer on the athletes.

4. You live about an hour from just about everything

When I tell my college friends that I live an hour from the nearest Target, they think I'm joking. I'm being completely serious. If you needed some new clothes and shoes for school you had to make a whole day out of it. You also tried to schedule all of your doctors' appointments around the same time so you didn't have to make so many trips. An idea of a family outing meant going to a nice restaurant in "the big city" and seeing the newest movie. Something fun to do with my friends meant driving 30 minutes to get coffee, Sonic, or even just fooling around in Walmart. If we were really desperate, we even cruised the backroads listening to our favorite music.

5. You have so much respect for farmers and agriculture

I come from a family of farmers and my good friends in high school were daughters of cattle and dairy farmers. The farmers in my town are some of the kindest, smartest and most hardworking people I will probably ever meet. Seeing agriculture work in and out of my town has caused me to have so much respect for farmers and the industry. I've been caught behind a tractor and learned the hard way to not stop close to a stop-sign if a semi is turning my way. Yet I truly wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

6. High school relationships can get a little tricky

Dating in a high school of 100-something people was pretty hard. They were either related to you, taken, or like a brother to you. If you did find someone to talk to, there's a 90% chance that they've also talked to one of your friends. Most of the drama in my high school was an effect of someone dating someone else's ex.

7. You know everyone you graduated with

You don't just know them, you really know them. You know their full names, what their families do for a living, and who showed up at their kids' sporting events and who didn't. When you graduate with only 30-something other kids, it's hard not to know everyone on a super personal level.

8. When times get tough, people are always there for you

When a family of the community suddenly lost a loved one, the community immediately wrapped their arms around them and comforted them. Whether it was bringing meals to the grieving family, selling memorial T-shirts and bracelets, housing benefit dinners, or just being there for the family. If you were going through something heavy, someone always had your back.

9. You feel so loved coming home from college

I remember sitting in a lecture hall half the size of my hometown on the first day of classes and feeling overwhelmed. I thought, "How is anybody supposed to make friends at a college of 35,000 people?"

The first night home from college, I was welcomed home with open arms by everyone. I was reunited with former teachers, coaches, classmates, old friends and adults of the community. As much as I love college, it was so nice coming home to a place where everyone knows me.

10.  You couldn't of asked for a better upbringing

As much as I was ready to move to a bigger place after high school, growing up in a small town was the best thing I could ask for. It gave me a sense of community, support, and love that I wouldn't have been able to get elsewhere. My town sent me to college with enough support and encouragement to last a lifetime.

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We All Need Self-Reflection

"Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom." -Aristotle

Cailin
Cailin
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What even is self-reflection? This is a good place to start, seeing how there are many misunderstandings about what self-reflection really is and the purpose it serves us.

First, think about the word reflection, often you immediately imagine a mirror. When you look into a mirror, you see a true, realistic image of yourself. Self-reflection is when we take a step back to think (as unbiased as possible) about our actions, beliefs, motives, position, and goals. We think deeply and introspectively. We analyze ourselves in detail and reflect on how we feel that we're doing.

Living a fast pace, busy life means that you likely haven't put much thought into self-awareness. The reality is that you also may be nervous or unaware of how to get started. Without self-reflection, we eventually become overtired, overwhelmed, and very stressed. We push our stress to the side to deal with later. We keep pushing forward when we experience failure, instead of stopping to think about why we failed, and how we can succeed next time.

How can you begin to self-reflect? There are countless possibilities. A good way to start is by thinking of specific subjects you would like to reflect on. Then, set aside some time during your day to think deeply and honestly about these topics. Write down your goals, thoughts, and questions that you want to explore. Consider both, the things you are successful at and the things you need to work on.

Ask yourself questions like: What am I thankful for? What is bringing me happiness? What is/isn't working? What are my passions? What are my goals/what am I doing now to work towards them? What have I been avoiding to think about? Do I support my friends/do my friends support me? What can I improve? What should I step back from? How do I generally feel today/why? Keeping a journal of your goals/attitudes/ideas can enhance your ability to self-reflect.

Why is self-reflection important? It allows us to break our daily cycles. We often get caught up in our busy lifestyles and leave absolutely no time for ourselves. Self-reflection gives us a chance to assess how we're doing, set goals, develop stronger confidence, and learn more about ourselves. It can improve our critical thinking skills, strengthen relationships, enhance our emotional intelligence, and allow us to better manage those rising stress levels.

There is no "correct" way to self-reflect, but the fact is that it is important. Start small.

Cailin
Cailin

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