From the outside I didn't look like a student who had given up on school. If anything, I looked engaged. I raised my hand in class. I completely my work. I earned mostly A's and a few B's.
But I wasn't engaged.
I don't blame my teachers, either. They tried their hardest working within the system that existed. The truth is I had amazing teachers who taught me most of the necessary skills I needed. I still have fond memories of certain lessons and field trips and novel discussions.
No, the real problem is that I didn't fit in with the system. I wanted to draw pictures and write stories and make things instead of filling out packets and doing reading comprehension questions. By middle school, I had resigned myself to the reality that I would have to limit creativity to the one quarter a year when I got to take an art class. So I tuned out and carved out a world of my own in my mind.
However, in eighth grade, I had two teachers, Mrs. Smoot and Mr. Darrow, who were both my coaches in the National History Day competition. That year, in the midst of the hardest year of my education (dealing with bullying and having a friend commit suicide) I felt known. I felt valued. I felt trusted. But the truth is that I felt known, valued and trusted by other teachers throughout the years.
What made this different had more to do with the learning. It was also the first time that I felt empowered to do creative work for a real audience. I had never experienced project-based learning and suddenly I had the tools to breakdown tasks, organize ideas, and plan something out. I had never experienced true research and suddenly I was getting a chance to interview former Negro League baseball players. I was a shy kid who was suddenly interviewing strangers. I hated the sound of my own voice and yet I was now speaking in front of a large crowd.
I don't think I realized it until later, but this was the year that I saw firsthand the power of creativity in learning. It wasn't always easy. I remember being in tears over the fact that things weren't turning out right. I remember moments when I wanted to abandon the project altogether. But it was creative -- and that was something that had never been true for me in school before. Creativity had always been something I kept on the side -- something that I had hid on the back of math packets. For the first time ever, my creative work was affirmed and even celebrated.
As I look back at my eleven years of teaching, my hope is that I have been able to do the same with students. I hope I have carved out spaces where creativity can thrive.