One of my biggest accomplishments in teaching has been the transition to allowing my students to see me as a writer, and sometimes it's exhausting.
Before I took IWP Level 1 (side note: I firmly believe EVERY English teacher should be required to take this class) I spent a lot of time handcrafting perfect essay or research paper examples to display for my students, to show them how it should be done. A lot of teachers do this because examples are helpful. The problem of course, was that I wasn't showing them how to do anything. I was showing them a perfectly polished piece that an adult with English training had crafted behind closed doors until it was perfect, without showing the struggle or thought I put into it. Kelly Gallagher calls this a "Grecian Urn": giving them an untouchable example to live up to without showing how it got to be that good (Teaching Adolescent Writers). So four years ago, I started writing with my students.
Whatever we're working on in class, I do it too, in real time. I project my writing over AirPlay and tell students that if they get lost or stuck, they can take a few moments to watch what I do. This gives me the opportunity to point out the little things that are easy for me to forget as a writer: how I every time I write I end up deleting more than I type, how I constantly stop to read and reread what I've already written before I know where I'm going, and how sometimes I pick a bad topic and get writer's block. It shows my students that I'm not a perfect writer all the time, but that I work at it so my writing is constantly getting better. It shows them that the first thing you put on paper isn't necessarily the best. It also shows them that I know what I'm talking about and how to help them because I don't sit in a palace and dictate; I do the same work I'm asking them to do.
It isn't always easy. Yesterday I wrote three different thesis statements on three different research topics for my 7th grade classes who are doing formal research for the first time. In my three 8th grade sections, I wrote different personal narrative rough drafts on wildly different topics. By 7th period, I was dying. I was out of inspiration, I had picked a lackluster topic, and that was when I realized what a great moment for my teaching it was: kids feel the same way. It's easy to have empathy in emotional situations, but it's much harder when hearing yet another student complain about school or a particular assignment. Writing with my kids gives me empathy for the little things. It's not easy what I'm asking them to do each day, and I need to remember that by experiencing it from their point of view.
It's uncomfortable at first, to put yourself in a vulnerable position when you're supposed to be the expert. But it's worth it, every time. I'm not sure if anyone else in my building knows about this or would care, but it's made all the difference in my effectiveness as a writing teacher.
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.