The first assignment I gave all my beginning writing students was a brief essay answering these four questions: How do you feel about writing? Why are you in school? What do you hope to accomplish with your life? Is there anything else I should know?
These questions help me get to know my students (as much as they want to be known) and get a feel for the mindset of the class. Are these people who enjoy this subject or not, you know? Anyway, I've asked these questions to basically every class I have ever instructed. This semester a patterned answer has cropped up in the "Why are you in school? What do you want to do with your life?" sections. A large percent of students at some point used the phrase "be somebody." I have never gotten this response before, but now, teaching community college in downtown Chicago it's all over the place. "I am in college so I can be somebody." "After I graduate I want to get a good job and be somebody." "People have told me I won't ever be somebody."
The phrase is so foreign to me first because it is so vague. What does that even mean? I couldn't tell anyone how to be somebody. Aren't we all somebody? How can we be it more? I had to realize not everyone feels like they are a somebody. I mean, they are. If you breathe, you're a body, and you are a body--a somebody. I am excited by the drive of these students who felt less than and are taking active steps to be more than. At the same time I want to tell them it's a fruitless road--the one where a diploma means being. Sort of a Dorothy was wearing the ruby slippers the whole time thing. Considering this helps me keep in check what my version of "be somebody" is and just how stupid it is.