An Exhibit of Self

In my classroom at East Jackson High School the back wall is covered in writing and works of art produced by my students. They were told to use the piece of paper to express themselves and represent themselves however they desired. They wrote descriptions and quotes that represented them and drew images and designs that added an element of every student in the classroom to the very walls that surrounded them.


This is a piece done by a twelfth grade girl in my women's literature class. It was not assigned, but rather designed and executed without the limitations of a school assignment. She chose to express herself with various phrases and lines that she wrote. This exhibition is an example of writing that goes beyond the expected paragraphs, essays, or even poems that we expect in our classrooms.

"I made peace with that violin."

This piece, along with one later in this presentation, was left on my desk unexpectedly on the day that our school was grieving the loss of a well-loved student. The boy who wrote this needed to channel his grief through writing, but not only that, he needed it to be read and appreciated. He chose to write about another time that he coped with a loss of a loved one. This was not something he was asked to do, however, he knew that I would appreciate reading it. He allowed me to enter in to a private experience in his life, opening the door for an amazing conversation between us.

This is an excerpt from a poem that my student wrote in response to a novel we read in class. He brought this by my room nonchalantly at the end of day and completely blew me away. He wrote this out of a desire to interact with the text. The line below is beautiful and haunting.

You're trapped, chained by Demons of lust for a woman who is now only memory and dust.

Having the creations of the students on display in the classroom at all times allows them to feel that they are a part of what goes on within those walls. The walls no longer confine them, but they express them. This has been an incredible source of confidence for my students.

A Grief Synopsis

My student wrote this about his grief and the process of grieving in response to the tragedy that the school experienced. He also alluded to the novel we read as a class which pertains to grief. This writing was exemplary of the places a student can go when they know they will not be graded or assessed. The freedom in that produces the most amazing work.

The passion and limitless self-expression that I find when my students write outside of classroom settings seems to be unmatched within class assignments. These pictures represent a few of the ungraded and unassigned pieces that my students created and kindly shared with me. I was astounded by the expansive realm of thoughts and opinions that they so desperately desire to share. The question that haunts me is how to encourage this caliber of self-expression in the classroom. How can I, a teacher who is confined to the demand of grades and standards, create a classroom space that allows the complete self of my students to be wholly present and wholly shared through the medium of writing?

"My place in the world is where I stand leaving marked out mistakes on my paper because my place in the world is built on imperfection and that is perfect."

-Deanna Negru, 12th grade

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