Are you ready to become a teacher-writer?

March 18th, 2010

We’re thrilled to have a guest blogger this week!  Stacey Shubitz of the excellent Two Writing Teachers blog and co-author of an upcoming Stenhouse book, explains her inspiration for writing at an early age, how she used her own writer’s notebook to set an example for her students, and how to work writing into your daily routine.

Carol Snook, my first grade teacher, encouraged me to write and publish lots of small books.  Every time I published one of those construction paper masterpieces, she placed them on one of the rotating book racks in our classroom library so my peers could read my writing.

I kept in touch with Carol mostly by letters.  From 1984 – 1988, we only wrote each other letters in the summertime since I saw her around school during the school year.  When I transferred to a new school in 1988, we began sending letters all year long, with one or two in-person visits per year.  By 1995, we took our letters online when I started college, sending e-mails back and forth.  I always looked forward to getting mail from Carol since her letters were interesting and thoughtful.

Carol passed away in 2002, but her memory lives on for she was the person who inspired me to become both a teacher and a writer.

Not everyone had a first grade teacher who made them passionate about writing.  In fact, many teachers I know do not like to write because they never enjoyed writing when they were in school.  As a result, they don’t write very much as adults. The problem with having an aversion to writing when one is a teacher of writing is that it’s hard to understand the difficulties and obstacles students face when one is not writing on their own.

I’ve come to believe that teachers of writing must be writers themselves.  Perhaps it’s because I like to write.  Or, maybe it’s due to the fact I’m not willing to ask students to do what I’m not willing to do.  However, I’m not alone in this belief.  Don Murray said, “You should write too, under the same conditions – on the board or in your notebook – and share your writing first.  It’s a matter of ethics.  You are going to be seeing their work; it’s only fair that they see yours.”

When I was a classroom teacher, I used to keep my writer’s notebook out so my students could snoop around.  By leafing through my notebook, my students were able to sense my commitment to writing since I wrote daily.  They discovered I wrote about a variety of topics.  It was possible for them to view my struggles as a writer since there were words or sentences crossed-out, as well as notes in the margins.  It was clear, to every student in my class, that I was doing the kind of writing I was expecting them to do.

Engaging in the same type of writing work as my students did, month-after-month, provided me with richer demonstrations during my minilessons.  Since I was the living, breathing, adult writer in the classroom, I was able to show them my work in progress, talk about my writing process, and help them understand how I worked through struggles.  My writing wasn’t always wonderful.  It didn’t have to be.  What mattered was that it was present for my students to see.

While I dream of spending long days writing at a lakefront cottage, that’s not my reality.  I write wherever and whenever I can.  It often means writing early in the morning or right before bedtime.  Sometimes I write when I’m a passenger in a car or when I’m sitting in a waiting room at a doctor’s office.  Finding ten uninterrupted minutes in a day to write can often be challenging, but it’s a luxury I’ve grown accustomed to and don’t intend to give up.

I write about the ordinary moments of my daily life I want to capture.  I write about things like folding laundry with my husband and shopping in a crowded supermarket before a snowstorm.  I live life with a heightened sense of awareness so I can recapture these moments with clarity when I write.  Most of the days of my life aren’t extraordinary, but they are worth capturing because my life’s journey is unique and worth preserving.

In Creating Writers: Linking Writing Assessment and Instruction, 2nd Edition, Vicki Spandel and Richard J. Stiggins draw attention to the fact that writing about everyday life can be rewarding.  After all, one of the most popular sitcoms of all time, “Seinfeld,” was a show about nothing.  Spandel and Stiggens note:

The wisdom of “Seinfeld” is this: little topics work best.  Don’t write about world peace; write about how you handled having your parents discover you threw away the watch they gave you for your birthday.  Don’t write about the hazards of global pollution; write about falling into the river on a boating expedition and wondering whether the water you couldn’t help swallowing would kill you (174).

Are you a teacher of writing, but not a teacher-writer?  Are you ready to become a teacher-writer?  Schedule a time to write, just like you’d pencil-in an appointment.  Buy yourself a writer’s notebook and pen that feels comfortable, or go online and set up a blog if you prefer writing on your computer.  Get started by thinking about the little pieces of your life that hold meaning or value to you.  Once you do schedule time to write, use writing tools that work for you, and write about the tiniest moments of your life you will realize that you, too, are a writer.


Stacey Shubitz with Carol Snook (10th grade, 1993)

Entry Filed under: Classroom practice,Writing

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mrs. V  |  March 18th, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    I can hardly wait for this book to come out! I love Two Writing Teachers’ site, and I knew they had a book in the works but didn’t really know any details other than that it would be about writer’s workshop. Now that I saw the description link, I am even more excited that it will have a focus on sharing/celebration, an area where I need to improve.

    I love Stacey’s idea of having her notebook out for students to snoop around. I had not thought of that and will have to start doing that.

  • 2. Day 19 of 31: SOLSC &laqu&hellip  |  March 18th, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    […] challenge!  Give yourself a pat on the back for participating in the Challenge today.  Click here to read a post I wrote on the Stenhouse Blog about teacher-writers.  I hope it will affirm all of […]

  • 3. Kevin Hodgson  |  March 19th, 2010 at 4:34 am

    I think the mantra of “write whenever I can” is an important one, and also, finding a community to write in and with. Sure, some writing is solitary, but the digital world has opened up so many possibilities for us and our students to become part of rich writing experiences.

  • 4. Annie Campbell  |  March 19th, 2010 at 6:35 am

    Writing everyday has made me a better writer AND a better teacher. I stay in tune with the process (do I really finish everything I start???) and am more celebratory as I catch the moments that make our work so meaningful. I am a big fan of the Two Writing Teachers (Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres) site and am so looking forward to this Stenhouse book.

  • 5. Betty Gilgoff  |  March 19th, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    Stacey, what a wonderfully inspiring post. You’re so right in that as teachers we need to model what we are asking our students to do. I appreciate your suggestions too about writing about everyday life. How very true, after all we have to write what we know.

    Your post has inspired me to keep working at my writing right at a time when I’ve need a bit of a push. I’ll definitely be watching for your book.

  • 6. Carol Baldwin  |  September 4th, 2010 at 8:33 am

    Writing alongside your students helps both of you. You can empathize with their struggles to say it “right” and they see that you are an authentic, “real” writer, just like themselves. I encourage teachers to show their students how much they revise. That helps students see that the process of writing/revising is ongling, ongoing, and ongoing.

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