Tuesday, April 30, 2013

When Teachers Write...

Recently, I have faced a personal dilemma when reflecting upon my teaching practices. I have become increasingly aware of a missing link in my classroom instruction: writing. While recently reviewing some of my old writing from my graduate coursework years ago, (I realize that I run the risk of sounding like a complete nerd here; I guess it wasn't enough for me to do the work the first time...) I found myself convicted by my own words.

"Although I have always considered myself to be an avid writer, I never approached the possibility of incorporating my enthusiasm for writing into my own elementary school classroom. Just as I viewed components of literacy development as disconnected areas of instruction, I failed to unite my own literary passions with my teaching instruction. The opportunity to explore writing in the classroom with my students seemed to hold a place only in creative writing courses with older students; I did not realize that such instructional practices could take place in an elementary school classroom. Then, I learned about modeling." 

I wrote that. Those words. In 2009. I experienced this revelation in grad school. This idea of modeling writing for students was a concept that excited me. Sharing my passion for writing with students by letting them actually see me write was both an exhilarating, and altogether natural, concept. I intended to do just that as soon as I had students of my own. Then I entered a real classroom, and anyone who has ever been there knows that even the best of intentions can somehow get lost among the lesson plans. 

So I find myself in this place, yet again. However, this time, a sense of failure and neglect hangs heavily over my teaching experience thus far. Have I failed to teach grammatical concepts within the context of writing? No. Have I neglected to cover necessary standards for language instruction? No. My failure lies in my own personal expansion of my writing selections, and my neglect lies in sharing enough of that with my students to inspire them to want to apply those language standards. Lest I forget the importance of this application, my own words are there in those old papers, haunting me...

"Graves and Kittle (2005) discussed the importance of modeling in writing instruction, in that it allows students to observe the process of writing. Professional authors have provided an infinite supply of texts that serve as a model of the final product for students to examine, and it is important for teachers to share these products in a variety of formats and genres. However, when teachers model writing in the classroom, students have the opportunity to witness the many decisions required throughout the writing process in order to create a final product. During modeling, the quality of the writing is not necessarily the focus. As Graves and Kittle (2005) state, “You don’t have to model exceptional writing; you model the decisions a writer makes” (p. 49). These decisions form the link between initial ideas for writing and the final piece of writing those ideas will eventually produce. Teacher modeling serves as a crucial component of the students’ development as competent writers." 

There is a fine line between the lesson plan and the actual lesson. 

So I am left in this place, once again torn between my passion for writing and my intrinsic need to weave that into my classroom instruction. While I am approaching this a bit later than I would ideally prefer, this is a great point in the school year to use this reflection as a springboard for reform in August. I have yet to decide exactly how this type of modeling will fit into my classroom, but it's presence is guaranteed. I have already decided that this blog will serve as a greater instructional tool in the future; in that way, sharing writing here will be essential for me personally as well as professionally. 

As for my own goals as a writer, I cannot imagine a point in my life at which I will not write, in some way. I keep coming back to it, and I just can’t keep from writing, if only in my head. My first memorable experiences with writing occurred when I was in middle school, and since then, my passion has consistently grown. I just can’t ignore it. At some point, I would love to turn this passion into a career. In the meantime, however, I write as much and as often as I can around my career as a teacher. I try to experiment with a variety of exercises, techniques, and voices so that even the little time I have now is not wasted. In the future, that may change, but for now, it is what it is. 
In one of my all-time favorite books, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes, “We have to take reality as it comes to us: there is no good jabbering about what it ought to be like or what we should have expected it to be like,” and this quote has become a personal guideline for my outlook on life. For me, it applies to writing as well. Whether thousands of people know about my passion, or only my close friends, I will still write. Whether I have massive amounts of time to devote to words, or only minutes per day, I will still write. Whether my words earn money, praise, critical disdain, or nothing at all, I will still write. 
So that’s where I am, friends. I wanted to share this with you so you might better understand how much I truly appreciate any ounce of your attention here. Please never hesitate to offer your opinions or advice about my work. I’m not afraid of constructive criticism; I appreciate honesty. 
I hope you will continue to visit me here.