Blogstitute 2017: Writing Teachers Must Write

July 18th, 2017

Ackerman & McDonough 2016 2In today’s Summer Blogstitute post, Jennifer McDonough and Kristin Ackerman, authors of Conferring with Young Writers, make the argument for why writing teachers must also be students and practitioners of the craft they teach.

 

Writing Teachers Must Write
Jennifer McDonough and Kristin Ackerman

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 few to no existing classes on teaching young children to write offered to teachers in college programs. Reading, math? Yes! Writing? Nope.

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 your 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 Toward 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 ever 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 “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.”

—Maya Angelou

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.

Entry Filed under: Blogstitute

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Matthew Forrest Lowe  |  July 20th, 2017 at 6:02 am

    Yes! This! I don’t teach writing as such, but in teaching other subjects I find I have to do so much remedial writing-teaching that would be inauthentic if I were not also writing. Right now, I’m facing the challenges of moving and parenting, so it’s even more difficult than usual to make time to write; the best I can do, beyond continuing to journal my ideas, is to schedule a point shortly after the move when I will make myself write more consistently, and to share that deadline for accountability. Hope to find time to read your new book as well!

  • 2. Tracy  |  July 20th, 2017 at 12:31 pm

    One of the most valuable things I’ve ever done as a teacher was to join Kate Messner’s Teachers Write in the summer. I think all teachers, no matter what the subject, should practice and develop their own writing.

  • 3. Christie Wyman  |  July 20th, 2017 at 3:22 pm

    I love sitting down with my Kindergarteners and writing alongside them. They get a kick out of it, too! I took a big leap in March and joined the annual Slice of Life Challenge on https://twowritingteachers.org/. I thought I would push myself through a month of writing and that would be the end of it. To my surprise, I’ve sliced every Tuesday since and began writing and sharing poetry with Poetry Friday (http://kidlitosphere.org/poetry-friday/) every Friday since April. Woo hoo! When I struggle for an hour over one silly word or wonder whether I’ve got too many commas going, I’m struggling right along with them — even if they aren’t with me.

  • 4. Stacey Shubitz  |  July 28th, 2017 at 8:23 am

    Fabulous post!

    I truly believe that being a teacher who writes is the best way to become a better teacher of writing. It doesn’t matter how many professional books you read or conferences you attend. If you’re not writing, then you’re not able to talk writer-to-writer with your students.

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