Write Teach What You Know

by / Monday, 28 September 2015 / Published in News
Teach What You Know

We are halfway through the first quarter and I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a break. With all of the changes in Common Core and state testing, not to mention local budget concerns and teacher morale, this is on record for being one of the most stressful years of teaching in my twelve year career.Is there something called the twelve year itch? Is that a thing? I know that this will pass, and even though I feel exhausted and overwhelmed at the end of each day, I still wake up every morning excited to see what the day will bring. So I know I’m not completely done for quite yet.

One major source of stress for me this year is a particular senior English course. The students are bright and the course has the potential for being fun, but there is something that doesn’t jive in the classroom. They don’t get my jokes, they don’t understand my cultural references, they sit stone faced as I share with them my own writing! Are they not impressed?!

While I’ve never really been the “cool” teacher, I have always been able to establish a rapport with my students. In the past there might be one or two who find my personality and tactics appalling, but they’re not loud enough to change the climate in the classroom. For my 4th period class, this was not the case. They seem to all find me rather appalling.Thus far, there was nothing I could do to break them. They were seniors, they didn’t want to be here, and there was absolutely nothing in my bag of tricks to make them feel differently.

And you know what? They are right.

I can do cartwheels and handstands, bring in guest speakers, take a field trip, nothing I do will make them appreciative of the writer’s craft. Nothing I will do will ever make them feel like real writers and understand the power of their own words. It won’t be me.

In this particular class we are required to write five different types of essays each semester. We focus heavily on model texts and the writer’s craft, and I write the same kind of essay with my students to demonstrate the thought process and the evolution of a single composition. After our first finished draft is complete, we get into our workshop groups and share our essays with one another. Workshop procedure dictates that the writer will read his/her own essay aloud to the group while the others follow along.

Writers Workshop Rules

Writers Workshop Rules

Writers Workshop Rules[/caption]

I’m not gonna lie - I love the hum of the workshop groups plugging away. It’s a subtle sound that has the power to engender something really beautiful in the end - especially if done well.

While I was enjoying the hum today, it happened. One group - made up of two young ladies and two young men - had stopped reading. Then I heard sobbing. One young lady could not continue her essay because it brought a flood of tears to her eyes. Even more astounding was that the other young lady was crying, too! The young men, I admit, were a little shocked, but they were respectful and acknowledged that if they were alone they, too, would probably be crying. In this moment, something really beautiful happened and I totally acknowledged it. I thanked them for sharing such intimate moments from their lives, but I also let them take in the fact that their words evoked real emotion in their readers.

So today I’m really glad I didn’t just phone it in. I’m really glad that I stuck to my guns and my own understanding of what writing is all about. I don’t know if this group of students will ever “get me” or even really like me, but today they all saw what it meant to be a real writer. They saw a story they were telling rise from the pages and make other people think and care. There’s nothing I can do to make that happen. This was a result of their own craft. Today they experienced the actual joy of writing. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring.

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