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.
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.’”
What We Can Do to Become Teachers of Writers Who Write and Help Our Students Develop Their Writing Identities:
Read professional books such as The Writing Life by Annie Dillard, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing, Escaping Into the Open: The Art of Writing True by Elizabeth Berg, and Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott, On Writing by Stephen King.
Read professional books on the teaching of writing.
Keep a writer’s notebook.
Include your writing efforts in hallway and bulletin board displays.
Model during mini-lessons with your writing.
If you need to feel more comfortable, try out your mini-lesson after school before you teach it.
Use heart maps, hand maps, neighborhood maps, and memory chains to find topics.
Create lists such as expert lists or gem words or smells and sounds of Christmas.
Share snippets from your writer’s notebooks with your students.
Experiment with different formats and genres. Encourage your students to do the same.
Share your processes, your struggles, your successes.
Share books you are reading. Writers are readers!
Think about your writing identity. Write about it.
Study craft and imitate craft moves in your writer’s notebook.
Revisit your own notebooks often to find common threads.
Make a list of mentor authors you would like to study and imitate.
Understand your process — Will drawing, dancing, listening to music, or taking a walk
help to engage you in the act of writing?
Look for your fingerprints as a writer in your pieces across genres.
Write daily or as often as possible.
Being a writer is something we work on every day! Write with and for your students. Write for yourself. Write to give the gift of writing to someone in your life who is special. Write!
Lynne R. Dorfman is a PAWLP fellow who loves to write! Currently, she is working on a study guide with co-author Stacey Shubitz for their forthcoming book, Welcome to Writing Workshop, for Stenhouse Publishers. Lynne loves to draw and paint with water colors. She is getting back to sketching, inspired by sketch notebooks and Paula Bourque. She cannot wait for a short but much anticipated Maine vacation with her husband Ralph, her sister, and brother-in-law. Waterfalls to climb, lobster to eat, majestic lakes, and a boat tour to visit lighthouses. The Corgis will have to stay home!