Monday, September 26, 2016

Finding your voice - Letter to students

Completing assignments that require expression and/or analysis of Op Ed pieces can be challenging

 September 2016

Dear Social Studies and Language Arts Students,

First of all, thank you for taking the time to read my open letter to Donald Trump. I am grateful that I am part of the conversation about the election for President of the United States. I realize that some of you may not agree with the stand I have taken in opposition to Mr. Trump and I respect that fact. There is enough room for all of our ideas. I believe that to my core.

I wrote the letter to Mr. Trump because I felt compelled to share my experience. I was challenged teaching my American Government students about the election process and American values (i.e. diversity, individual rights, equality and the common good) as we were simultaneously witnessing Mr. Trump’s questionable behavior. His actions were contradicting the lessons we were studying and I felt that unique angle would appeal to readers. Racism and bigotry are deal breakers for me and Mr. Trump’s divisiveness sinks to dangerous levels in my opinion. It goes beyond political ideology and party loyalty and my goal as a writer was to share my experience with the stakes for my students as a central theme. The main idea that engages readers is called a hook or peg. The future for my students with Mr. Trump’s candidacy for president was my hook.  

Navigating a professional way to teach and talk about Mr. Trump with students is new territory. In fact, I think that is why my letter attracted readers - nearly every angle about Mr. Trump had been covered to that point. My story was coming from a new perspective and I crafted a letter that reflected both the criticisms of Mr. Trump raised in class and my optimism about the future. Finding the appropriate tone was extremely challenging.  

As a teacher, I am mindful that my professional integrity is critical in order for me to encourage students to find their voice in our democracy. When it comes to political ideology and politics I think students need a safe space to engage in meaningful and difficult conversations. Some of Mr. Trump’s repulsive behavior in debates or in TV interviews for instance was contradicting the expectations we have for behavior in my classroom. When students recognized this fact it moved me to start thinking about how I could share my Trump teaching experiences with a larger audience.  By writing the letter then my disdain for Donald Trump would also become public information subject to criticism. As I said before though, racism and bigotry are deal breakers for me and from my vantage point publishing the open letter to Donald Trump was worth any risk it might entail. Every person has the right to responsibly express themselves and being criticized for that expression comes with the territory. 

My letter stands on its own and I am proud of it. Finding my voice in the process of drafting the letter was rewarding. Protecting my credibility required me to take a disciplined approach in regard to establishing the truth. One error and I would have been spending time explaining rather than having conversations about my experiences as a teacher and the point of the letter. 

I researched extensively and the process was arduous. The letter you read reached its final version after more than three weeks of work. I spent several hours editing and drafting various versions of the letter and I was making changes constantly. Two people helped me edit and eventually I cut about 400 words from my original draft and committed to several style changes. My advice to you: get tough editors on your side.  

I have written other published pieces, but I really struggled finding a rhythm in my letter to Mr. Trump. Eventually, I felt I nailed it. With other pieces I have written, I had to just leave them alone and call it good, but my letter to Trump was different. I had to love it.

Words have power. 

Stories matter. 

Your story and the way you experience the world deserves an audience.

My open letter to Mr. Trump is a small part of my story and the impact of being able to share my ideas has given me confidence. My students remind me all the time that when our stories live in places where they can be shared then our voice is multiplied. Publishing that letter has been one of the most fulfilling learning experiences of my life. I am practicing what I preach to my students - “Live with passion, get educated about what is important and elevate your voice!”

As it turns out, the most rewarding aspect of putting myself out there has been all of the opportunities I continue to have learning from other people. Understanding new perspectives is always useful. 

I am very curious so the writing process really fills my desire to keep learning. Finding ways to engage people takes creativity. Putting your ideas out there for public consumption opens you up to learning opportunities. People will tell you what they think so be ready. Whether my audience is critical or positive, if my writing engages a reader enough that they choose to voice their own ideas then it is a win. Writing has helped me grow as a teacher. My students see me taking a risk in much the same way I ask them to in class.  Progress is accelerated through shared ideas.

I think adults would be well served to step back and learn the art of listening from young people. My writing has improved as I continue to evolve as a listener. My students have helped me find my voice and for that I am grateful beyond measure. 

If I can ever be helpful to you, please reach out. I would love to see your writing and with your permission, share your ideas with my students in Michigan.


Mr. Gregory
Nick Gregory
Social Studies Teacher

PS   You can connect with me on Twitter (@CivicsEngaged) or Instagram (NickGregoryPhoto) – I would love to hear from you.

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