I didn’t say this because I wasn’t sure I should. I’m a teacher, and I’m also a human being. I know, I know, it’s hard to believe. First I don’t sleep in my classroom… then this.
People from the National Writing Project don’t ask me to be ashamed of spending time writing. They softened my attitude toward writing, and myself. They suggested that the more I wrote, the better I would be able to teach writing to others. In the world of public education, this is heretical. Teachers should be grading papers all weekend– not practicing what they preach, right?
I took writing courses in college. The first one usually sent me back to my dorm for a good cry. The other one bored me to tears.
I still wrote on my own. Journals, fiction, poems. I couldn’t stop myself. But I felt awkward sharing my work, and the process of submitting to journals and magazines was discouraging.
When I started teaching writing to high school students, all I really knew how to do was give assignments and grade them. Nothing in my education classes covered writing instruction. During my first Writing Project class, they didn’t tell us how to teach writing. Instead, we wrote. We met in an old house that had been converted to a meeting space. The first time I was asked to read my piece, I wanted to run upstairs and hide in the claw foot bathtub. I thought I might die. I didn’t.
With practice, sharing what I wrote was not the same as taking off my clothes. I realized that I hadn’t charmed anyone with writing since elementary school. In 3rd grade, I wrote little storybooks for my classmates about the Stuff family. The Stuffs were little blobs whose chapeau looked suspiciously like those of the Berenstain Bear family. I churned out volume after volume for my classmates. My audience was authentic and receptive. It made all the difference.
Because my Writing Project colleagues were so open and supportive, I began to think that maybe I could find an authentic receptive audience for my adult writing, too. They liked my ode to macaroni and cheese, and my serious pieces on teaching. Maybe I could get things published. Maybe people could give me helpful suggestions. Maybe I wasn’t a great writer or a bad one. Maybe, like most people, I was somewhere in between. I observed myself as a writer, noticed what I did and what helped me. I listened to other teachers discuss their writing and how it evolved. I did my own research about methods of teaching writing. I was learning to teach writing, not just assign it.
How could I teach my students those things if I didn’t really believe them myself? How could I encourage them to open up when I was so shut down myself? You can’t teach what you don’t know.
People aren’t multiple choice, and they’re not matching. Writing addresses their unique human needs, providing the opportunity to reflect and explore and connect. National Writing Project colleagues treated me like a human being. They empowered me to be more human with my students, and make writing a more authentic and productive part of my classroom.
The National Writing Project has recently been defunded at the federal level, and many of us who have benefitted from their efforts are disheartened. Taxpayer dollars have been very well spent by this organization, as research has proven, and it deserves continued support.
For more information, see: http://www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/resource/3507
2 thoughts on “The Humanity”
Bill James, who made is name as a fantasy baseball guru, wrote an interesting excerpt about why we as a society are so good at finding and developing talented athletes, but so lousy at finding and developing talented writers.