By Nikki Hansen
I remember sitting in my 10th grade English class. We had just read “A Modest Proposal” and my teacher, Ms. Goodman, had handed out a rubric for an assignment on a creative satire piece. A boy in the back chimed out, "Will you be writing one, too?" By now we all knew the answer. Her reply was, as usual, "No, because I'm not the one being graded."
This wasn't an unfamiliar refrain. Year after year, teacher after teacher reminded us that "they'd done their part" and finished high school. They'd "written enough in college" or "weren't the ones being graded." As students, I don't think we knew why we were asking our teachers to write. Maybe it came from a place of wanting to see them trudge through the same task as the rest of us. Maybe it is because we really wanted see their process. Either way, it never happened and we collectively felt like our teachers were copping out.
Flash forward. I'm standing in front of a group of seventh graders after finishing My Name is not Easy and I'm handing out a rubric for a memoir project. As I head to the front of the class, a boy chimes up from the back. "Are you going to write one, too, Ms. Hansen?"
I stared back at the 30 pairs of eyes watching me. I knew I had to break the cycle of excuse giving. So, even though I had not previously planned to write alongside my classes that quarter, I made a different decision, and said YES.
To this day, it is the single most rewarding unit I have ever taught.
The best part about being a teacher who writes is that it benefits teachers and students equally, and here are my top 3 favorite ways that happens:
- Being a teacher who writes allows you to be human in front of your students. It immerses you as a writer in the community, offering a window into your mind, promoting risk taking, and motivating student writers to share their own stories with less hesitation.
- Even if you aren’t writing about something especially personal, it gives students a glimpse into the process of writing and takes the pressure off of creating a perfectly polish piece the first time around. They get to see that even you misspell words, get writers block, can’t figure out how to phrase an idea, and change your mind about what you’re writing.
- It opens up authentic opportunities for feedback. When you’re writing live on the screen or under a projector, it empowers students and gives them a chance to support you as a writer and share their ideas while giving you an opportunity to guide them in that process, preparing them for when they give feedback to their classmates.
You don’t have to plan a new unit to become a teacher who writes. It’s easy to do and you can start tomorrow with things you already have in place including (but obviously not limited to):
- During writing warm-ups and daily journaling
- During timed writing
- Responding to current events
- Responding to assigned or choice reading
The opportunities are really endless. If students are writing, you can (and should) be, too. Even if it’s just for a few minutes before you start conferring. It’s time for us to be the change we want to see in our writing classroom, and we can start by simply writing with our students.