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Teacher to Teacher: On Being a Writer and Establishing a Writing Identity

by Lynne R. Dorfman

Writing, like life itself, is a voyage of discovery.

                                           Henry Miller

In the beginning…It’s important to begin to know who we are as writers!  As we return to classrooms at summer’s end, think about your own writing identity as teacher writers. Writing to help us discover our identity as writers. The writing community needs a teacher who is willing to take risks and write in front of their students. The core belief we must articulate to our students, our colleagues, and to ourselves is that we are teachers of writers who write. Spandel tells us, “Almost nothing does more to sustain a culture of writing than a teacher who writes with students, thereby underscoring the importance of writing and allowing students to see the process – one writer’s version of it – as it unfolds.” (The Rights of Every Writer. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. 42-43).

We must commit to a writerly life to provide the high-quality support our students need to move forward as writers. Writing for our students allows us to make our thinking visible – to explain the thinking behind the choices that we make. When we write ourselves, we engage in the same struggles as our students, so we are better problem solvers and better at conferring and feedback. When students see teachers as fellow writers. They are more open to suggestions and more open to explain their thinking in greater detail. The conference is not teacher to student but writer to writer. According to Regie Routman: “Take the plunge: They will appreciate your risk taking, and you will have a much clearer idea of what you are actually asking them to do.” (Writing Essentials: Raising Expectations and Result While Simplifying Teaching. 2005, 25).

When we write our own stories, poems, and memoirs and share them with our students, we learn to enjoy writing, and at the same time, we become more real to our students. Modeling must begin by sharing ourselves and what our interests are. We write to capture our lives, and that’s what our students need to see, how who we are translates into what we write. In Mentor Texts: Teaching Writing Through Children’s Literature (2017), co-author and PAWLP fellow Rose Cappelli and I explain that writing is not a spectator sport – you must jump in and play the game! We believe, “To treat our students like genuine authors, respect their abilities, and understand their struggles, we need to write so that we can call ourselves ‘author.’”

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