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Where are you from?

September 2, 2016

A couple of years ago a friend of mine, and a colleague…more a colleague, I guess, but I like her…decided that we would like to teach a learning community together.  She teaches Sociology, and she “gets” my students. She understands that they have a steep hill to climb when they come to college.  She wanted to pair my Reading class with her Diversity class–sounded good to me.  Long story short, we didn’t do the paperwork.  I didn’t really know about the paperwork, actually.  So, we were denied.  We were still talking about it when I was slotted to teach the course that could be paired with her Diversity course, so I decided to pilot some new books and use the theme:  Diversity.  I taught it last spring.  It was a fun class.  I was uncomfortable sometimes, but some topics will never be easy to talk about, and learning how to have uncomfortable conversations is a skill everyone needs to practice…including me.

And then the summer happened.

So much violence.  So much hate.  So much blame. So much fear.

Everything I read from higher ed was about diversity.  Everything on Facebook was about racism, or the police, or…or…or…name your group/cause.  The politics that were racing around were not helping anything, either.  I began to rethink my theme.  Everything seemed to be such a hot topic.  Everything was divisive.  That is not how I wanted my classroom to feel.  To be.

But.  But, but, but…isn’t it my responsibility to teach students how to function in our society?  Isn’t that EVERY teacher’s job?  I know my methods are narrowly focused on READING, but still.  I let this marinate in my head during the summer.  I didn’t want to give up the books I read last semester.  And I wanted to make some sort of difference.  I wanted to help students confront being uncomfortable without being divisive.

Therefore, I decided to change the name of my course.  I would call it “Living in a Pluralistic Society.”  I felt good about that change.  Academic language.  No automatic groan because–more diversity.  Then I thought some more…and changed society to Community.  I wanted to stress belonging…  And then I thought BELONGING!  That is perfect:  Belonging in a Pluralistic Community.  Ta-da!

I also thought that I needed to begin the semester in a place that was comfortable.  To make sure everyone felt like they belonged in our classroom, to make our classroom a community, before we approached any subjects that were uncomfortable.  The best place to begin:  Identity.  Who were my students?

We began with an image assignment.  Ten images that represent who you are.  We shared.  Then they had to revise these images down to five or less.  We talked about the difference between what someone likes and who someone is.  It was a wonderful discussion.

Next, we read the poem “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon.  We talked about her choices that she made as a writer.  Why did she come from “clothespins?”  What did she mean by “He restoreth my soul…and ten verses I can say myself?”  Then I sent them home to use the same pattern as George Ella Lyon.

We shared our poems yesterday.

Now they have to pick one line that fits their idea of themselves the best and one image that might (or might not) depict their line.  I will piece together our class poem this weekend, if everyone posts to the discussion board.  I am so excited about this!

We also had a terrific discussion about “belonging.”  How it feels.  What it looks like.  And how it feels when you don’t belong.  What are some things that make you feel like you don’t belong.  They were all so thoughtful, and sincere.  It has been a great place to start.

Here is my poem.  I was deliberately thinking about my audience:  my students.  And my context:  belonging in a pluralistic community.  And my own identity:  heritage, faith, culture, etc.  I wanted to push some boundaries, and take some risks.  And yes it was scary.  But they were so great, it gives me hope.


Where I’m From


 I am from chocolate chip cookies made from scratch

still warm with a side of milk.

I am from dressed up Sunday mornings

turning into Sunday mornings in my PJs.

I am from the swimming pool in the back yard

blue with helicopters floating on the surface.

I am from entitlement and privilege.


I am from sleep-overs and junk food,

talking too much, and flirting with boys

I am from being loved to loving freely.

I am from use your manners and respect your elders.


I am from “them” to “us.”

I am from doggy-kisses in the morning,

from General Hospital and playing cards.


I am from kissing in the family room

long after dark

I am from spoiled rotten to spoiling rotten.

I am from just playing

to just working.


I am from “clean your room” to “this house is cluttered”

From “calm down” to “chill out.”


I am from rocking chairs and lovies

“let me kiss it” to “say you’re sorry”

from “ask me anything” to “be kind to your brother.”

I am from Love matters most

and Love wins.


What would your “Where I’m From” be like?  I would love for you to share!

  1. September 3, 2016 5:24 am

    I love love love your ideas, and your poem. What a great exercise in opening your mind, being honest with yourself and learning how to find the things that matters.

    • September 3, 2016 5:40 am

      Hi Liz! Thank you for the kind words. I hope that you write your own poem! I would love to read it! xoxoxo

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