I have always considered myself lucky to teach middle school language arts at Harbor Day School. I am continually impressed with the level of expertise and experience that goes into student writing. Although the work is never perfect, it is inspiring, and I always find that I learn something about my students, and their view of the world.
English 8 recently completed an argumentative essay/speech for class. Students conducted extensive research for two weeks into topics of their choosing. They then took a finite position supporting one side of a relevant social issue. The issues themselves were impressive, ranging from gun control, pollution, recycling, single-use plastics, pro-life vs. pro-choice, overfishing, ocean health, and the greenhouse gas effects. After they handed the papers in, I charged the students to trim their papers down to two-minute presentations to be presented in front of the class.
In truth, the overall quality of the work was outstanding. It is so refreshing to see young teenagers invest themselves so sincerely in social issues that many adults don’t even acknowledge. Because they are Harbor Day students, their commitment to clear writing, and sound, supported arguments was obvious from the beginning. We are lucky to have so many young, committed world citizens in our community.
Still, the best part of the whole project was how much the students supported one another, even if they didn’t always agree with each other’s perspectives. One telling moment was listening to the feedback given from a pro-choice supporter to a pro-life supporter about her argument. Despite the differing opinions, the students came together and assisted each other to create the best papers and speeches they could.
This phenomenon was heartwarming, considering the contentious times in which we live. When we see Hollywood personalities, and adults in general so deeply divided by ideology and belief, it is comforting to see children come together and encourage and respect one another even if they don’t agree.
I have always valued what I learn from the students more than what I teach them. What I garnered from our eighth graders last month will stick with me for some time. It warms my heart to know that our students are so conscientious, kind, compassionate, motivated, and empathetic. It made me realize as an adult, we could all learn a lesson from our children. As Whitney Houston sang, they “are our future.”
About the Author:
Mr. Kerr is the language arts department chair and an English and literature teacher for grades 6 and 8. Mr. Kerr graduated from Pitzer College with a bachelor's degree in English. While there, he was a sportswriter for the student newspaper, The Other Side, and became editor of that publication his senior year. Mr. Kerr also played soccer for Pomona-Pitzer for three years. After college, he interned at the Telluride Times Journal in Telluride, Colorado before attending graduate school at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. After receiving a master's degree in science and journalism, Justin worked for the Kansas City Business Journal, the Oregonian and the Portland Tribune as well as having a short-lived radio show. During this time, he was head of boys’ soccer at Oregon Episcopal School, where he was also a frequent substitute teacher. In 2011, Justin joined the Middle School at OES, teaching seventh and eighth grade English as well as contemporary issues and participating in the school’s residential program. Mr. Kerr’s soccer teams won state titles in 2005-2007, 2009, 2012, and 2013.