On writing and teaching

I love teaching and I love writing about it, but it’s a challenging duality. The biggest challenge is directing my creativity. My mind is constantly chasing the next creative endeavor. When I am really in the groove with teaching, my creativity is always in relation to my classroom, my students, and sometimes my teaching team or a school-wide project.

Any of those ideas can become material for writing but writing itself needs some space of its own. Like Virginia Woolf argued in A room of one’s own, a woman cannot be expected to write while she’s cooking and taking care of children in a confined space. Her writing will suffer. I always hated that point, thinking it was narrowminded but there was some truth to it. One needs mental space to bring the ideas out of the working memory and onto the paper. Space to focus on putting the words together. That process requires as much brain power as creating materials for a lesson or a new seating plan. It is difficult to occupy both of those thought spaces at once.

The work of teaching never ends. Does writing about teaching help me teach better? And should that matter? Teachers need to be able to articulate what they are doing in the classroom, why, and how it’s working. The National Board Certification process is based on this kind of reflection. So yes, writing promotes reflection, which has value for my teaching.

Also, as a professional in the still semi-profession that is teaching, it’s important to me to be a part of a dialogue about the work we do and the policies that comment on and affect aspects of teaching. I wish this last part wasn’t true. I’m stubborn and don’t like to admit that we teachers are usually seen as second class professionals without valuable ideas and valid career goals. The act of participating in dialogue about teaching does make us more professional but the fact that we must insert our voices into an environment that is so often hostile toward teachers gives the conversation a bitter tinge—as well as the overwhelming feeling that this conversation too, never ends.

Finally, as an English teacher, the opportunity to write professionally for a real audience allows me to speak from experience when I teach writing. There are so many benefits to this. One pretty tangible one is that I have lots of firsthand experience with all steps of the writing process, especially revision, which can be hard for kids to understand. My writing experience has really helped me to be able to teach students to write nonfiction beyond the five-paragraph essay and to articulate my reasons for this choice.

 

[Image credit: emich.edu]

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