Léna is also a Regional Manager for Writopia Lab whose mission is to foster joy, literacy, and critical thinking in kids and teens from all backgrounds through creative writing.

"Well, the question is, what do you want to believe? Do you want to live in a world where things are possible, or in one where they aren't?" Cin, Edges.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Why I Love (the teaching part of) My Job

Barnard College, New York CityImage via Wikipedia

Today I am starting my second week working with two amazing teens in Westchester, and they happen to be sisters. It is a privilege working with them, as both are tremendously dedicated and understand the effort it takes to write a clean narrative, and are motivated to improve. The younger will be starting tenth grade next week and has a future as a novelist. She wrote a dramatic fiction piece last week, and as I prodded her with questions and suggestions for the layering of her piece, she created a masterful, multi-dimensional short story. This week, she is tackling a different subject, a different tone, a different voice, and I am in awe.

There is something profoundly healing about working with teenagers and their parents. First, their parents are investing in their child's inner life - they are placing importance on stoking the creative fire inherent in all of us. Second, it's the kids themselves who inspire me by their willingness to leap into "story" and take risks.

Her older sister is working on her college applications, specifically applying early decision to Barnard, both mine and her mother's alma mater. She is incredibly bright, focused and down-to-earth: a perfect Barnard candidate. What is so moving to me is that her parents are providing the best support for her. Colleges are even more competitive than they were twenty five years ago, when I was seventeen. There are just that many more people applying.

Barnard was the only college that I applied to, and I was on my own for the application process. My parents moved to San Francisco the summer that I was a Senior in college - my dad had got an incredible job offer - to be the Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. How could he say no? I did not want to switch schools, so I moved into a young women's boarding house in the Village and finished my Senior year in NYC while living there. I was in heaven, on my own at seventeen.

Except as an adult, now I know how much teens need guidance, even when they think they don't want or need it.

So this is healing - working with this high school Senior and her mother, seeing how much they love and support each other, that they are willing to be a TEAM. I am proud to be part of it and a witness - we ALL need support and help. The seventeen-year-old has her own voice and style, and college essays are about highlighting the candidate in the most concise way possible. I ask hundreds of questions and take copious notes in order to understand, to excavate the objectives - much as I do to develop fiction pieces as well. Indeed, some students have remarked that it is like therapy, in that they are giving themselves the space and time to develop their unique perspective.

Go Team, and get thee thy student to Barnard!
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