Writing Teachers Must Write
By Kristin Ackerman and Jennifer McDonough
Let’s begin with the dirty little secret that nobody wants to talk about… most teachers of writing are not writing. Yep, we said it…out loud… it’s true! Now, in their defense, these teachers have a lot of reasons that they do not write and several are very legitimate reasons.
To name a few…
- Teachers are busy. Many are juggling multiple subjects and multiple classes.
- Our schools are constantly adopting new programs so we often feel bogged down by all of the new things we need to learn.
- We are drowning in grading, parent emails, faculty meetings, fire drill procedures etc.
- Testing, testing, testing…need we say more.
- There are little to no existing classes on teaching young children to write offered to teachers in college programs. Reading, math? Yes! Writing?
As two teachers who are in the trenches we completely understand that it is not only challenging to make time to write but most of you reading this will have no idea where to even start to get the training and background on how to learn yourself. Here are a few tips on how to make time to write, where to find mentors and why it will benefit your teaching.
- Delegate drafting days in class. Sit with your students and write as if you were another student in the room.
- Set aside one planning block a week for writing so that you are prepared to teach authentically.
- Think about you’re drafts during the rare times that you have a few moments to yourself. When you go for a walk or when you’re getting ready for work. That thinking time is crucial for generating ideas. We like to jot our ideas down in a little mini notebook that we keep in our purses so that when we have time to write we can refer to our notebook to remember our ideas.
- Get involved with other writing teachers and meet for coffee or wine to share different ways that you are squeezing in time to write and what you’re learning.
- Find every professional resource you can on how to help kids become better writers. There are so many great professional texts out there to get you started.
- Read, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott or Writing Towards Home by Georgia Heard to inspire you to begin your own writing journey.
- Start a personal journal of thoughts and ideas.
- Create a personal or professional blog to try out your writing for others. Audience is everything and will keep you accountable but also give you purpose.
Now for the why. It would be crazy to think about teaching someone how to play tennis without having ever picked up a racquet. We would never entertain teaching someone how to fly a plane when all we have even done is boarded one and gave a cheery hello to the flight attendants. These things seem a bit crazy, yet every day teachers are being asked to teach something in which they have had little to no training or experience. When we present across the country and ask teachers to raise their hands if they had any classes in college on how to teach young children how to write, we maybe get one hand raised. The rest just give us that look of relief that someone actually acknowledged the problem and it isn’t their fault or shortcoming. Having said all of this, we understand but still cannot excuse ourselves from being the best writing teachers we can be. There are so many important reasons why we need to make time to learn the art of skill of writing.
- We stand by the statement that “Those who do the most work do the most learning” If you want to feel comfortable coaching writers you have to write.
- Teaching authentically demands that you are familiar with your subject.
- We know that the most important factor impacting student learning is the teacher. So, if we want to impact our students we need to be prepared.
- Conferring with writers is easy when we have walked in their shoes. Instead of glaring at the kid who has a blank sheet of paper we can look at them with empathy and say, “I know just how it feels to stare at a sea of white and wonder what to write about. Can I show you a few strategies that have helped me to generate ideas?”
Our final why ends with a quote from Maya Angelou, her words remind us that through literacy instruction we are calling on the one thing that we all have in common to connect and learn, our humanity.
“This is the value of the teacher, who looks at a face and says there’s something behind that and I want to reach that person, I want to influence that person, I want to encourage that person, I want to enrich, I want to call out that person who is behind that face, behind that color, behind that language, behind that tradition, behind that culture. I believe you can do it. I know what was done for me.”
So, let’s be the kind of teachers that make time to write so that we can reach, influence, encourage and enrich the students in our classrooms.
Kristin has been teaching and conferring with writers for over twelve years. As a literacy coach, teacher, presenter, consultant and writer she is passionate about reading and writing. Kristin has taught in Title 1 schools in both Florida and Georgia as well as an independent school in Florida.
Jen McDonough is a first-grade teacher and literacy coach at the Benjamin School in North Palm Beach, Florida. She has taught first grade and kindergarten for ten years and has been a part of literacy training for teachers for more than three years.