This post is by Joe Stephens
In my other life I’m a teacher, as you can tell from many of my posts. I enjoy that job because I love being around young people. Some of the experiences I’ve had with them over the years will live with me forever and I have many lifelong friends among my former students.
Some lessons and activities I’ve done a time or two, while others have happened every year without fail because they just work so well that they
become tradition. One of the most memorable activities we do every year is the Gift of Words presentation right before Christmas break. I can’t take credit for it. Like much of what I learned about teaching AP English, I got this from Dan and Becky Daniel, my mentors.
It’s really a multi-faceted activity, but the heart of it is asking the students to share gifts of words with others. The idea is that, in these modern times, we tend to think of a gift as something we buy for someone, but one of the greatest gifts we could ever give someone we love is the gift of words from our hearts. So my kids write a sonnet to a loved one as well as a letter. Then, in class on the last couple of days before break, they share a gift of words that they’ve received. Sometimes it’s a letter or sonnet from another student or former student. Other times it’s a passage from their favorite book or an acceptance letter from their dream college.
Sometimes the presentations are lighthearted, but once in a while the event takes a more emotional turn. Some of the most poignant ones have been letters written to the students by loved ones who have since passed away. That the kids feel comfortable enough in my classroom to share something so personal and sad is a gift I don’t take for granted.
We end the time with the exchange of traditional English Christmas crackers, which are small gift-wrapped cylinders (think toilet paper or paper towel roll) filled with small little trinkets and candy, as well as a brief greeting for the new year, since this is the last time we’ll see each other until the next year.
Aside from the goodbye PowerPoint presentation I give on the last day of school, it’s the time I’m most likely to cry. I’m a big crybaby and I think it’s important that my students–especially the boys–see that it’s okay for a man to cry. And, bar none, it’s my favorite thing that we do together the entire year. The kids have great fun and so do I. But it’s a lot more than fun. It’s meaningful. And that’s more important.
Joe Stephens is a teacher at Parkersburg High School. He is also the author of Harsh Prey, Kisses and Lies, and the recently released In the Shadow, all of which are available in paperback and Kindle formats. The paperback may be purchased from Createspace, Amazon, and most online booksellers. In the real world, you may purchase from J & M Used Book Store in Parkersburg and from the author’s trunk.
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