Those who can, do; those who can't, teach. The oft-repeated idiom that can cause any otherwise reasonable teacher to lose her freaking mind if some idiot speaks it in her presence. I despise this phrase as much as any other teacher. Except for when I agree with it.
As a teacher of writing, I'm concerned by how many of us take ourselves out of the "doing" of being a writer as soon as we step into the role of teaching writing. That's a monumental problem. As soon as we distance ourselves from the role of Writer and place ourselves into the more common Judge of Writers role that English teachers occupy, we sever part of the magic of teaching writing. Any moron on the Internet can judge writing; just look at the comments sections on any widely circulated piece of written material. Growing writers need their teachers to be writers.
There are so many reasons not to write as an English teacher. We have to read and comment on hundreds of papers. We don't only teach writing, we also have to give equal time to develop reading, speaking, and listening skills. Writing takes a lot of time, something teachers will constantly remind you that they are always short on. We have personal lives in addition to being teachers.
And yet, as true as all those things are, they are still cop-outs.
Teachers are busy, but so are students. We don't allow their busy lives to be an excuse for not writing, and many of them have far more packed into their schedules on a nightly basis than adults do. If being busy isn't an excuse for students, then it can't be an excuse for adults. Being busy is a false excuse anyway. Workload isn't what really stops writing teachers from writing.
Vulnerability and fear of failure stop teachers from writing.
The act of writing, whether it is a personal narrative that bares your darkest demons to the world or a research paper you poured hours into constructing, requires vulnerability. Many teachers, many adults in general, are terrified of being vulnerable in front of kids. For the record, I am too. Middle school kids are hilarious and sincere and awkward, and they are also one hundred percent completely freaking horrifying. There are times when writing in front of my students, or sharing my previously written work with them, makes me break out in a cold sweat because I am so honest-to-God scared of their judgment. And that's a good thing. Because that's exactly how kids feel when they have to turn in work to an all-knowing-Grammar Nazi-English teacher. Writing teachers need to write and share our writing with our students so the vulnerability of writing stays fresh in our minds, lest we forget how even the shortest paragraph released to the world takes monumental courage.
Fear of failure in writing is different than failing a test or a project in another class. Writing is our thoughts on paper. It is the purest translation of what goes on in our brains. When we fail at writing, we aren't just failing at basic knowledge or memorization; it is personal. There is no way to separate the writer's ego from the writing. So it's easier to not write than it is to risk exposing our inner selves as failures. This is true for reluctant writers who say they don't care or hate writing in order to cover up their insecurity. This is just as true for writing teachers who have turned into editors because judging doesn't require the risk of failure that accompanies creating. Writing teachers need to write and share our writing so that we face failure and overcome it. This is the way we become champions for our growing writers instead of villains with red pens.
I write with my students regularly. I can do better by participating in all parts of the writing process, not just the ones I enjoy. I write here for a public audience. I can do better by being more consistent. NCTE's middle-level publication, Voices from the Middle, has a new call for manuscripts that's asking for submissions from teachers who write. I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't try to write and submit something, even though my chances for publication would be slim. I encourage my student-writers to seek publication whenever possible, and I need to risk vulnerability and failure to do the same. I am currently leading an initiative for ICTE that encourages Iowa English teachers to write for our website. I was originally frustrated by the slim number of people willing to write. I need to focus my energy instead on encouraging the voices who are ready to share, in hopes that we will reach more of those reluctant teacher-writers.
Writing teachers have to write. We are cheating our students and ourselves if we don't. Vulnerability and failure are far better risks than ending up as teachers who can't practice what we preach.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.