Thursday, March 25, 2010

on teaching writing

I’m looking forward to teaching writing. In fact, I predict it'll be one of the things I love the most about teaching young children, because writing has great meaning in my own life.

Before I became a teacher, I was a writer. If I met someone new, I would tell them, “I’m a writer,” and for a while in my late twenties, I could even say that without cringing. I could point to my Masters in creative writing, and the few poems and short stories that found willing publishers in small, literary journals. There was the smattering of book reviews and articles that appeared here and there in those years. I even held an editorship of one of those small literary journals, doing my part to save a piece or two from the depths of the slush pile. Writing was serious business for me, and I worked at it.

But then I had children. I stopped sending pieces to publishers, and my confident, level-gazed assertion of being a writer faded quietly into the daily rhythms of motherhood. I wondered who I was and what I’d do next, and I wrote those questions in the multiple journals I stashed around the house. I wrote snippets of poetry on grocery lists, and I jotted notes for essays on the back of receipts. When my children went to preschool and I became passionate about early childhood education, I wrote about that, too. I sure wrote a lot for someone who wasn’t a writer anymore. And that, I finally realized, was all in my head. The problem wasn’t a lack of publication credits. The problem was that I didn’t accept and enjoy my writing in the organic way it was woven into my life. All healthy people find a way to express creativity, and my way was a collection of words and bits of prose with which I formed a nest around my children and me. I wrote because it helped me think. I wrote because it made me feel human. When writing wasn’t my work anymore, it became a valuable element in a rich, creative life. For me, this was a new way to see the use of writing, and it gave me a sense of peace as I transitioned to my new work as a teacher.

Now I see writing in a third way: as a part of my students' curriculum. Some may be writing for the very first time. I will make sure that they have sharp pencils and sturdy paper, word walls full of sight words, phonics lessons and spelling lessons—all vitally important building blocks toward the skill of writing.

But the most important lesson I want to share with my future students is that writing can make them feel human. Not only do I want them to be able to pick up a pencil and write down a thought, I want them to want to. I will tell them, you can have a thought—a unique thought that belongs only to you—and you can put it down on paper. Then I can read it, and I’ll understand. It’s a way of saying, “I am human! I exist!” and both of us will know it because there is your unique thought, right there on the paper. What power! I think this has the potential to be a great joy for a brand new writer. Perhaps it will become the way in which a child expresses himself or herself the best. Or perhaps there will be another way, but that child will know about writing, too, and take pleasure in the act writing for years to come. In the parlance of the Reggio tradition of early childhood education, writing will be one of my students’ hundred languages. I feel fortunate that I’ll be a part of that discovery.


  1. Have you read "Writing Superheroes"? Author's Theatre might be for you....

  2. Hmm, no, I haven't heard of that yet. Checking it now. Thanks for the tip, Pamela!

  3. What a great post and so much that resonates with me. I am beginning to reclaim that call to writing. I hope you will continue to write and to wonder and to ask questions.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Juliann. Oh, I've been meaning to tell you! I read the portfolio book that you recommended on your blog, and I loved it. So much more than a book on portfolios.