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Encourage children to share their passion

When the 6 a.m. spinning instructor/assistant principal asked her captive cycling class for volunteers to present their occupations during her middle school's Career Day, I hesitantly agreed. Or perhaps I was getting tired on the bike and the distraction was just what I needed. Either way, for the next few moments I began to daydream about how much fun it would be to share my personal story in front of students who were much older than I was used to.

I've always enjoyed teaching elementary-age children about writing, but why wouldn't older students be fun as well? I could explain how I went from a closet writer to being published and all of the fun that came with that. My real goal has always been to teach children to find their passion in life and then find a career that suited that passion. Then I'd explain how most adults get that order reversed.

I practiced at home for a few weeks, trying to figure out what would mean the most to the students and in what order I'd present my ideas. I was actually getting excited with this newfound experience. How much different could it be teaching children in sixth, seventh and eighth grade, as opposed to the younger ones?

After spending 35-minute sessions with the three sets of 18 students that February morning, one common thought repeatedly crossed my mind on my way home: "Who sucked the life out of these children since elementary school?" As one group left and the next group entered, I was certain nothing I said that morning was going to make much of a difference to any of these kids.

Where I normally would be encouraged by the smiling faces of younger children hanging on my every word, I couldn't help but think I was speaking in front of a group of teens who were checking their watches to see if lunch was coming soon -- and it was only 9 a.m. Although I appreciate any opportunity to share my passion as a writer, I didn't get my hopes up that I had made a difference to anyone that day.

Two weeks later, the school forwarded six letters from those 50 students. One, in particular, was very interesting. She told me she thought it was really cool how I started sharing my writing and eventually got my stories published in The Buffalo News. It inspired her to make recordings of herself playing the flute. She could post her writing online because "How will I know if people would actually be interested in what I have to contribute to the world if I didn't share my passion?"

She went on by telling me I was doing a great thing, teaching my passion. It took me only five minutes to return a letter to that student and tell her to share her passion for the simple reward of sharing herself. I told her, "Don't do it for any external reward or benefits. When you do it that way, that commitment alone will find the audience who believes in you. It simply takes a little courage and belief in yourself."

After my spinning instructor promised to deliver my message to the student, I realized I wasn't really only talking to her. I was talking to myself. I was sharing something I believed in for the sheer reason of hopefully making a difference.

How could I have misjudged what I clearly thought was indifference? It made me think a whole different way about things. And now I share this story with you.

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Jim Schneegold, who lives in Cheektowaga, enjoys teaching children about writing.