Another one of my professional mentors as a future teacher working with at-risk students is Erin Gruwell, whom I was first introduced at age 13, when my Grade 8 class went to see Freedom Writers at my local movie theatre. This movie resonated with me more than almost any film I’ve ever seen, and this past year, I made it my mission to learn as much about Erin and her students as I possibly could. I read the original bestseller, The Freedom Writers Diary, Erin’s personal memoir, AND a book written by a group of Freedom Writers teachers that contains a great deal of reflection, advice, and suggestions for classroom activities. While I will be working with elementary school-aged children, Erin Gruwell is the type of teacher that I aspire to be, and I hope that I can meet her in person someday to thank her for this. I gave a presentation about Erin and her class in my At-Risk children course this past January, and wanted to share it on my blog, along with Erin’s TED talks about the power of education, writing, and role models in changing the lives of young people.
As a becoming teacher, helping children to find resiliency within themselves is something I am incredibly passionate about. In reflecting on my own personal experiences, I would say that I am a very resilient individual, and I attribute a great deal of this to my parents and my upbringing. Growing up with a moderate physical disability, I was relentlessly bullied throughout the majority of my schooling. However, my family (and in particular my mom) helped me to discover the resilient attitude and coping skills that I would need to overcome these circumstances, and I can honestly say that I am a stronger, more empathetic and compassionate person because of these experiences.
Resilience is not an overnight process– it is gradually built up in students over a long period of time. In my opinion, a classic example of this is the story of Erin Gruwell and the Freedom Writers. Erin was working as a high school English teacher in Long Beach, California with a group of students who could definitely be classified as “at-risk.” Many of her students were living in extreme poverty, and grappling with issues such as gang violence, addiction, abuse, and various other familial problems when she met them. Through her innovative, caring approaches to teaching however, Erin was eventually able to bring her students together to create a strong classroom community, and to help her class develop the resilience that they would need to succeed in the face of their challenging circumstances.
The story of Erin and her students was compiled into a bestselling book called The Freedom Writers Diary, which was later translated into a movie. Last year, I had the privilege of attending a video chat session with one of Erin’s former students, where he told us that one of the scenes in the movie was taken almost verbatim from one of his own journal entries in The Freedom Writers Diary. That scene is included below:
**Links to Erin’s TED Talks: