I’m spending the next ten weeks in middle school, and I’ll just be honest: I’m in it for the stories.
Admittedly, the stint is a required element in my masters program, but I’m not sure if that reason would be enough, all by itself, to keep me heading out the door each morning before I’m typically out of bed.
See, I am a writer to the core. Although I plan to gather data, teach lessons, and complete all the requisite paperwork required for my sheepskin, I’ve stumbled upon a far more compelling reason to head into the classroom everyday: it’s a goldmine of material, particularly for a writer of YA fiction.
Although I was aware, in a general sort of way, that I could view the whole experience as an opportunity to go deep undercover on a writing research assignment, I didn’t quite realize the wealth of material to which I’ll be exposed until I was tasked with filing some student essays a few days ago.
I hadn’t even officially started my rotation yet (today is my first official day) but was logging some general get-to-know-you hours at the school when I was handed several hundred essays that needed to be placed in student folders. Regular readers know that clerical tasks aren’t exactly my strong suit, so I cheered my lagging spirits by perusing the essays as I filed them.
These kids may not be stellar writers, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have stories to tell. These were no shallow sentences riddled with crushes, BFF drama, txt lingo, or any other stereotypical middle school affectations. On the contrary, their writings told tales of the extraordinary responsibilities some of them shoulder as young adults in single parent homes; of caring for siblings, and pangs of guilt when things go wrong. They wrote of death and loss and fear and gunshots.
But the news wasn’t all grim. They confessed to a litany of minor crimes with a honesty I found thoroughly heartwarming and utterly hilarious. Who could resist reading the tell-all of a kid who lopped off a sibling’s locks, Delilah-style, by cover of night? This was good stuff—material I could never invent sipping coffee at my keyboard.
So I’m diving straight into middle school, pen poised over a little writer’s notebook. I’m going to take it all in, write it all down, and let it all settle. By the time I return to my keyboard, I expect the whole experience to have distilled into a deep well of intermingled tales, events, and details. Over time, these individual stories will inform greater stories of growing, and searching, and finding one’s way. Which makes me kind of excited at the prospect of being part of the tale.