Monday, October 21, 2013

"Say what you wanna say and let the words fall out." - Sara Bareilles: #Write2Connect

Yesterday was the fifth annual National Day on Writing but since it was on a Sunday, teachers around the country are celebrating today.

If you missed the fantastic #nctechat on Twitter last night, check out the Storify archive. It was an inspiring hour of discussion. You can also continue the conversation on Katherine Sokolowski's blog: Read, Write, Reflect

The theme of this year's National Day on Writing is #write2connect.

There are many ways to interpret what it means to write to connect, but one that I seemed to latch onto stems from the following quote from E.M. Forester:

"How do I know what I think until I see what I say?"

Writing helps us understand and make sense of the jumble of thoughts running through our heads. So often students (and sometimes teachers) are of the opinion that they have to know what they think before they sit down and start writing. They haven't made the connection yet that writing is the vehicle to help us elucidate our thoughts.

When students use their writer's notebooks I want them to write without censoring themselves. I want them to feel free to explore and take risks and heed the advice of James Thurber:

"Don't get it right, just get it written."

But that's easier said than done isn't it? Often I find myself declaiming these platitudes in front of my students, but when it comes to doing it myself, I listen to the censor in my head more often than I care to admit. So in that way, I write to connect in order to empathize with my students. A writing teacher should be a writer. Just like a piano teacher should be a pianist.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Changing the Narrative: Finding What Teachers Are Doing Right

When I left my full time teaching job back in June to work part time for NCTE, one of the things I said I wanted to do this year was to visit classrooms and be inspired by the teaching profession again. Bogged down by my own exhaustion but more importantly, tired of the incessant public narrative that portrays teachers as incapable and incompetent to the point where we don't deserve any autonomy nor adequate compensation for the tireless work we do, I am setting out to change that dialogue.

So I decided I would perform my own little educational experiment: to visit the classrooms of friends and people I've met through social media and celebrate what they're doing right instead of contributing to toxic narrative the American public is being fed via politicians and the media.

Today I had one of those inspirational experiences I've been looking for.

My friend Kaitlin, whom I used to work with, is currently teaching a history class at the Mercy Education Project in Detroit for women who are working on getting their GED. The class I sat in on today was extremely small, only six women, but their passion for learning was monumental, as was their determination to make a better life for themselves and their families. I was honored and humbled to sit in on such a class.

Not only does Kaitlin teach these lovely women history, but she finds ways to tie in current events to what they're learning, she looks for resources to give voice and multiple perspectives to history, and I was even able to witness a beautiful moment at the end of class when one of Kaitlin's students said, "This makes me want to go out and vote."
Kaitlin reads from HEART AND SOUL by Kadir Nelson to give an African American perspective from the Revolutionary War

To watch these women who have had what is likely a lifetime of disappointing educational experiences, be so involved and excited about their learning was so uplifting to see.

I was looking for inspiration and I found it. I hope I can keep this momentum going.

Thanks Kaitlin and to everyone at the Mercy Education Project for allowing me to come in and observe today and for being so welcoming. You all inspire me so -- mission accomplished!