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If you doubt the value of personal narratives in the writing classroom, you need to listen to what this student has to say

April 15, 2013

As most teachers know, every class has its own personality. That is certainly true for me, as I feature the texts and voices of the students in my writing classroom. They are the primary text.

The group I’ve taught this semester every Tuesday and Thursday at 8:00 A.M. is very special, and one of the reasons is a 31-year-old father and auto parts store manager who decided to come back to school. Early in the semester, he wrote a beautiful piece about his deceased grandfather. I asked him if he wanted to share it with his classmates. He was willing, but couldn’t do it without breaking down, so he handed it to a classmate and had them read it. That piece of writing, along with some others from that exceptional group, helped set the tone going forward. Game on.

Below is an email I received last week from Justin. With his permission, I’m passing it on to you. My goal, as always, is to make the case for the value of the personal narrative in the writing classroom.

Mr. Graham,

I just wanted to let you know how appreciative I am of you.  Through my experiences in life people are quick to let you know your shortcomings and failures, but for some reason we hold back when it comes to praise.  When I walked to class on the first morning of my college career I didn’t quite know what to expect.  I imagined that these entry level classes I was required to take would be a complete waste of my time.  My perception was sorely mistaken.  You have taken a class that would have had absolutely no meaning and made it very personal.  Thanks to your guidance on our personal narratives you turned what would have been a mundane string of meaningless words and sentences into a tribute to the greatest man I have ever known.  Thanks to you I was flooded with memories of my Grandfather that I had nearly forgotten.  There is no amount of words that I could use to let you know how much those memories and that paper means to me.   Thank you for your passion, your praise, and your guidance.  Your class has been one that I will never forget.

Justin Nowotny


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One Comment
  1. That is wonderful! It brought to mind a quote that my high school English teacher had on his chalkboard one day (he wrote a new quote everyday…..)

    “Perhaps once in a hundred years a person may be ruined by excessive praise, but surely once every minute someone dies inside for lack of it.”

    Cecil G. Osborne

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