…….especially if you haven’t had the opportunity to do it in the past. I’m working with quite a few teachers in different places this year who feel very much out of their element when they are asked to teach kids how to write. Sure, “all teachers are teachers of writing,” and I know that most elementary teachers were certified to do precisely this, but when did pre-service learning ever perfectly prepare any of us to do our jobs well? That’s a nice but rather improbable ideal….we know this.
I’m learning a great deal about what it takes to improve writing instruction this year as I talk with those who feel comfortable and effective in their roles as writing teachers…and those who do not. Each of these groups seem to have distinct commonalities. The teachers who feel most comfortable distinguish themselves as writers and avid readers. They also place themselves in positions where they can learn more about writing practice, craft, instruction, and assessment. They know that their learning will never be done, and they know that their work will always be imperfect. Despite this, they continue to establish their own support networks around this, seek out opportunities to learn, and question their own practice. They are also very enthusiastic about teaching writing, despite the complex nature of doing so, which they also speak to.
The teachers who feel the least comfortable distinguish themselves as content specialists and are honest about the fact that their passions, their expertise, and their skills lie elsewhere. They claim that they are completely out of their element as writing teachers. They place themselves in positions where they can learn more about the things things they love to teach–but writing is not one of those things. When they approach their work as teachers of writing, they seek structure, order, and control, and they readily explain that they do this because they are uncertain about how to proceed in this role. They demonstrate confusion, frustration, and to a lesser degree in my experience, resistance. The majority claim that they feel discouraged. They often feel judged for what they do not know.
Lots to consider there. More later–have a good week!
we’ve had a part of this discussion a while ago, but it is so true. Teaching writing is SCARY!!! Especially when educators don’t exactly know how to grade it or what to look for. My advice would be to draw from their own experiences….what did they need as a writer? What were they lacking in or good at? Every person is good at writing something or a part of the writing process. That would be an easy place to begin.
I think, after going to BSC, and helping to teach the class to future teachers – it was scary how many of them had such negative experiences writing in high school. This is sometimes carried with them through college.
However, there is hope out there and teachers can start small and grow…it’s what we do everyday – we step outside out of our box and try something…it’s scary but it is the most fun part of your job 🙂
It also relates a bit to the conversation you started a while back about the ways in which some teachers actually take shelter in the state assessments….inappropriately. Assuming that the test “prevents” us from implementing new or better practices keeps us in our comfort zone quite nicely. I always appreciate the ways in which you invite others to write and share and teach their hearts out, Pam. You put people at ease but still inspire them to move forward, and that requires great skill.
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Teaching writing is scary; coaching writing less so. I think you teach writing by coaching writing. We need to be more of a “guide on the side” and less of a “sage on the state” to help students improve their writing craft. Here are ten tips I learned about coaching basketball that helped me change from a teacher of writing to coach of writing: Ten Tips for Coaching Basketball and Writing