This morning I worked with a group of teachers who are getting ready to teach a personal essay unit of study to their fourth graders. We were writing our own essays in preparation--what better way to prepare, than to go ahead and try it out for yourself.
As I was working, all I could think about was the fact that I couldn't go with Little L. to her four-year well visit at the doctor's today. I knew she was going to get a bunch of shots, and I worried about her all morning long. Knowing that my husband, B. has an irrational fear of needles didn't help!
So when I started to give examples for my own essay, I ditched my original safe plan. I've gotten in the habit of using the same old examples over and over. Usually I do, "Dogs make the best pets," or "Sometimes being alone is a good thing." But today, I ditched my usual examples and went with what was really on my mind.
Here are my "boxes and bullets" (thesis statement and supports) from my own essay that I used as a demonstration text for the teachers I was working with:
It's hard to be a working mom.
- It's hard to be a working mom because sometimes you have to miss out on important things at home.
- It's hard to be a working mom because you sometimes you have to miss out on important things at work.
- It's hard to be a working mom because you constantly wonder if you are doing the right thing.
When I shared my example with the group, I started to feel a little uncomfortable. The whole working mom thing is such a hot-button topic lately in magazines and on social media. It felt very negative. Nobody said anything or questioned my opinion, but I kept thinking and thinking about it all day long. Then I realized why my essay plan was on my mind. I actually love my job… LOVE it… and it was bugging me that my plan for my essay didn't account for this. Yes, being a working mom is hard, incredibly hard, for all the above reasons and more, but there's more to it than that.
So, I'm revising my essay now, to redeem myself for earlier:
It's important for me to be a working mom.
- It's important for me to be a working mom because I love my work and it helps lots of people.
- It's important for me to be a working mom because, let's face it, we have bills to pay.
- It's important for me to be a working mom because it's setting an example for my daughter.
In fact, right now, as she sleeps, I'm working… and I'm okay with that. In fact, I'm better than okay with it.
I hope that lots of kids have a similar experience as a result of the personal essay unit. I hope that they too start out thinking about their own lives in one way, and then have that moment like I did. A moment when they say, "Hey, wait a second…" and they too are able to see their own issues or ideas in a new way.
Choosing a thesis statement that was close to my heart helped me think deeply about an issue in my life that eats away at me every day, and helped me make sense of it in a way that I would not have otherwise. I've always believed that we learn alongside our students, especially when we practice our own writing. But to get the most out of it, we've got to be willing to think deeply about our own lives and to tackle questions and ideas that aren't so easy to figure out.