Workshopping Yourself: A Self-Intervention


Inspired by Shana’s post, I have appropriated her title and shall use this post to tell you about how I have performed a self-intervention using the WW model.  (That is how I am justifying this confession/resolution/declaration post of mine.)

First off, it’s been awhile since I’ve written on TTT.  The first time was because I apparently never hit “publish” on a post I wrote around Thanksgiving!  The second time was because I got pretty ill.  But this time, I’m here!

It’s 2014.  I have just finished administering my last final of first semester.  And it’s a mixed bag, I tell ya.  A mixed bag.

It all hit me hard at the end of winter break.  I hit a wall and thought, “I cannot do this anymore. I must quit my job. I am doing damage to students all over the world!”  (I get a bit melodramatic, as you can tell.  I realize I could only be doing damage to a small percentage of the students of the world.  But the hyperbole does wonders during a whirlpool of perceived despair.)

Rather than allow myself to go under and give up altogether, I decided to…WRITE!  I applied the workshop model on myself.  I just started writing about all the gunk that was swirling around inside.  Why was I feeling this way when I know that teaching is pretty much the only job I can see myself doing, other than being paid to read and talk about books.


ah, to be back in the zen pools of diana’s baths. unh lit 13, we hardly knew ye…

I sifted through the pages and pages, diagrams, charts, and song lyrics (yes, song lyrics…I went deep), highlighted lines that stuck out, phrases that hinted at more, and crossed out what I knew was just in-the-moment-I-don’t-REALLY-mean-it-stuff.  I revisited the “What’s in my Teaching Soul” that I wrote over the summer when I was in Penny’s UNH Literacy Institute class.  I looked at the handwriting I recognized as mine, and asked, “Where did you go?!?!”  (Melodrama, again.)  

I then did a few things.  I wrote a list of all the things that have gone really well this semester.  Things that I can say I am proud of.  Things that are in-line with my teaching soul.  I made a list of things that I want to bury deep into the ground.  And then I buried it.  (I did!)  I wrote a list of things I know to be true about myself, about my passion for teaching, and about my passions in life (looking at the areas of overlap and of tension).  I wrote about all the things I would miss if I left the classroom. I wrote a list of things I would NOT miss.  I re-visioned my Teaching Soul piece.  I wrote a snapshot of a day in the life of Emily with a “regular person” job.  (I suppose if I really wanted to make a go of it, I could do a whole multi-genre project on this!)

Basically I wrote A LOT.  And I came to know by experience the truth of one of my favorite quotes from one of the books we read during the magical two weeks of UNH Lit 2013 (#peacelovenotebooks, y’all)

“Writing remains the best route we know toward clarity of thought and feeling.”  (from Good Prose by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd)


yes, my friends, that is a fork in the road.

I started with a mish-mash of thoughts, feelings, and knew I was at a fork in the road.  I needed to decisive action for my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.  And I’ve come out of it all with deeper understanding of what is important to me, what I have to do in order to do what is best for students, and also best for me.

Rather than bore you with all the muck, I will say this.  Being a teacher, in whatever subject, using whatever model – workshop or not – is hard work.  No doubt.  I’m in my 9th non-consecutive year of full-time high school teaching.  What’s with the “non-consecutive”?  I wasn’t trying to be an actor or singer; I took a five-year hiatus in grad school, only to return to the classroom because I realized I LOVED IT and my SOUL WAS DYING in the ivory towers.  And yet…it’s hard work.  It’s hard work that drove me to the “should I quit?” question.

My “regular” friends say, “Why is it so hard? You’ve been doing it almost 10 years.  Doesn’t it get easier once you’ve taught the same thing a couple of times?  Don’t you just rinse and repeat?”  I smile pleasantly and then scream inside – are you kidding me?!

Aside: If I were using a rubric on this post, I would ding me on the “control over topic” box.  Sorry for the tangential nature of this post.

I will end with these few thoughts/reveals/celebrations:

– I have workshopped myself and have come to deeper self-understanding and life-understanding.  Isn’t that what we hope our students will reach through their own writing process?

– I am not going to leave teaching. 🙂  I realized I love it too much.  I reminded myself (through my writing, natch) of how much I missed the students when I was outside of the classroom.  I took the initiative and met with my bosses, and have come up with some options for next year. Options that might actually add to the workshop model conversation: looking at how the workshop model, and reading choice can be implemented in elective courses.  I would still get to teach mostly 9th graders (my sweet spot).  I would still get to talk about books and reading, but in a different context.  It’s still in the works so I can’t say much more than that at the moment.  But I’m excited.  And I wouldn’t die under the guilt and weight of the paperload.  I could be part of bringing rigorous literacy skills into content area courses, which is “so Common Core” (buzzword alert).

– Though there are so many things I have written on the list I buried underground, I do know that my students are reading more than they ever have.  They are being exposed to books that push them out of their genre comfort zones (I am Malala in the house!).  And I myself am reading more than I ever have.  In an effort to out-read my students, to have great titles to book talk, and to demonstrate that reading widely and just reading more is possible and beneficial, I read more last year (136 books officially on goodreads, and 10 more that I didn’t log) than I have since…1992, probably.

– Change in education is like trying to turn a stationary ship, and my school site is no different.  But I think we may have started the engine of the ship!  I believe I have found a kindred spirit in my department.  Someone who is on the same page (see what I did there?) about reading choice, and moving away from teaching literature towards teaching literacy.  *Of course I might be moving departments next year, but I can still help effect change!

– The Freedom Readers, our student book club, organized a Winter Break Book Giveaway, during which we were able to give away over 200 donated books to over 100 students so that they could read over winter break and beyond.

Even though we hardly had a winter out here in California, the winter of my discontent (allusion alert!) is thawing with the hope of second semester.  I won’t give up (unintentional and unrelated song lyric reference alert). What else can I do?  I’ll keep trying, and I’ll keep writing.  (And reading, of course!)


that’s my hope growing out of my non-California winter


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4 thoughts on “Workshopping Yourself: A Self-Intervention

  1. shanakarnes January 28, 2014 at 6:58 pm Reply

    Ems, thank goodness you are sticking around in our profession–we need you!!!! I love this post. Your writing is, as always, amazing, and your mind is as well. CAN YOU PLEASE MAKE A MULTIGENRE PIECE ON TEACHING?!?! ‘Twould be amazing.

    Anyway, in all seriousness, kudos for getting through the winter of your teaching. I went through this two winters ago–the exact same internal monologue, I swear it. Writing your way out of the darkness was so brave, and I’m so glad you shared. 🙂


  2. Leon Alirangues January 26, 2014 at 1:57 pm Reply

    Emily, Amy R recommended the blog to me. Sweet, sweet medicine. I am struggling right now with the kookiness of standards and so forth. Felt a need to reinvigorate my practice and find my way back to reading/writing workshop. So your blog was ringing Soooooo true to me. Just what I needed to hear. I need to rediscover my writing and reading life and remember what is true to my heart. Awesome. Thank you. Inspiring. I hope you consider joining my Reading and Writing Workshop Group at the High School on the NCTE site. If you want to join, just ask Amy form my email. Thank you. Peace, Leon


  3. Amy January 25, 2014 at 4:15 pm Reply

    Oh, Emily! You have my heart squealing in delight with this piece. Isn’t it awesome that you can testify to your students of the power of writing to find yourself? I love that you took yourself through the process and that you’ve found answers hidden there. I think God expects us to do this kind of searching about many things, including jobs and careers. What a cool way to come out of the other side of a dark and confusing dilemma. Thank you for this excellent, thought-provoking post.


  4. Heather January 25, 2014 at 9:41 am Reply

    I love that you are grading yourself on a rubric in the middle of your piece! 🙂

    I also love that your honesty and “rambling” provide so much truth and clarity! Writing is indeed a beneficial way to journey back and find yourself again. It is your care and reflection of your craft that makes you such a great educator for your students.


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