Essay and life questions

One of the things I love most about teaching is the learning experience I get from students. Dealing with college students now is another brand new teaching experience that is unlike teaching kids and early teens. They are less embarrassed from making mistakes, braver in sharing opinions, bolder in making assumptions and presenting arguments about an issue, and most importantly, more open to thinking critically.

Last week, I let them read an excerpt from Rob Sheffield’s Love is a Mix Tape and asked a few questions afterwards, and I received an array of interesting answers. Reading about love, music, and attraction from seventeen-year-olds put my faith back in kids today.

“If you were to make a mix tape for someone, what type of songs would you put and why?”

There were the usual answers: for their boyfriends and girlfriends, for crushes and first loves, their families and friends. Some answers stood out, not because the writing is particularly striking, but because you could almost see their soul bared in paper, feel their heart breaking right in front of you and taste their bitter past.

“The other half would be songs I wish he would hear, should he ever decide to listen to it.”

“…songs that would make someone cry and smile at the same time. I would choose those songs and when she listens to them, she would feel sadness and happiness. She would know true love through music.”

I wonder about what they were thinking while writing, if they were aware that they were telling me much more about themselves than they wanted. I wonder if they are as honest to their friends as they were with their teacher. Do they consciously decide to be honest when answering essay questions than when someone just asks them point blank?

I asked another question.

“Would you be attracted to someone based solely on music you both liked? Why or why not?”

Again, remarkable thoughts.

“…it made me realize that music is not just an entertainment, but also a meaningful thing to relate to everything in this world…”

“What kind of person wouldn’t want to be with someone who has the same interests as him/her?”

Maybe it’s my natural curiosity to know why people are the way they are that I love reading my students’ answers. But it’s definitely my being an introvert that I’m not as comfortable or confident in asking too-personal questions to some people in my life, even though sometimes I’m itching to know why they act a certain way or do things that make me cringe.

I find it amazing what some of these kids were willing to share to someone they’ve known for a week. They say actions speak louder than words, but I find that if you ask the right question, words could tell you a lot about people, too.

Suppose it were that easy every time you make a conversation? I wish you could ask people in your life the way you ask students essay questions. Perhaps they’d be as open and more honest with their answers, too.

“Do you like me? Explain your answer.”

“How did we fuck up each other so much? Enumerate your reasons.”

“Do you think it’s wise to leave everything behind and start all over somewhere where no one knows you? Why or why not?”

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