I’m in the midst of grading autoethnographies, and I’m taking this very short break from grading to reflect on one specific paper. (After I finish with them, I intend on returning to the assignment to gauge its efficacy and my efficacy in teaching it.)

The point of autoethnography, at least in the context of the larger scope of instruction that I’m thinking in, is to try and take a critical look at the cultural influences that one faces and how they help shape our sense of identity and self. Taking a look at self and culture, in my opinion, is a great way to have students look at culture when it is most accessible to them. (I hope I am vindicated in this regard.) I hoped that students would really reflect back on times where they felt like an outsider or were stereotyped or experienced some sort of conflict between cultures that helped them become the person they are.

One student seems to have grasped this quite well, and the paper she produced is, well, incredible. In a broad sense, the paper is organized using a Wizard of Oz motif: friends are couched in terms like “Scarecrow” (the one who has no brain), “Tin Man” (no heart), and so forth. The struggles that this student went through are the metaphorical yellow brick road, except that the destination is much darker than a simple confrontation with a man behind a screen. It is a struggle that I can barely fathom enduring as a high school student, and it is richly and beautifully told. It’s not a perfect paper, but it is profound in its honesty and its rhetorical effect.

I keep talking about inspiration: I want to be that teacher who inspires his students to great things. But there is something equally significant, in my opinion, about being inspired as a teacher, to have a student do something that impacts you in the way that you hope you impact them.

Yes, there was a student who got this assignment. That is a victory in itself, but to have an assignment turn into something more than what I intended is a far greater joy.