Knowing Just What To Say

Ever meet one of those people who always knows just what to say?  They would annoy you if it weren't for the fact that they were undeniably kind, good people who just empathized with virtually every person in every situation.  It's almost uncanny at times, the way they're able to help people think, grieve, or understand -- with exactly the right words.

I'm lucky enough to work for one of those people; my principal is especially gifted in matters of advice, comfort and people management.  I keep hoping that some of it will rub off on me, but it rarely does.  I find it so difficult to arouse students' intellectual curiosity, to make them want to know more and dig deeper.  (How do you make them care?  I've been here before.)

Today, I gave my Creative Writing class a journal prompt: "What is the most important question you'll ever ask?"  Just about everyone answered with some form of "Why?" Which is fine if you're churning out an SAT essay in 25 minutes, but not what I was looking for.  I sighed, about to chalk it up to my personal inability to motivate them, when something stopped me.

"Okay," I said, "Those are all great essay answers.  But you don't really believe them."  They looked up from their computer screens, quiet, unable to contradict me on that point.

"What's the most important question for you?  What matters to you?"  I barely changed the wording of the question, but something clicked.  They were silent, still.  "Write that down," I directed, and this time their fingers flew.  When I called time, they read wonders: one a focused piece about the importance of living a truly Christian life, not just an empty shell of one; another, an introspective musing on the dangers and desires of her future; a third, a hilarious piece about the importance of sports teams in choosing her friends.

My triumph lasted a full five minutes, until I asked for the homework assignments and no one had them.  BUT!  I had done it -- I had known just what to say.