My dad was an 8th grade Social Studies and English teacher for well over 30 years, and his joy (and frustration) as it relates to education, inspired me to work in the classroom as well. I grew up on stories of my dad’s intelligence, humor, creativity, and passion in the classroom. This and other tales of how I’m pretty sure my dad was incorporating elements of workshop in his classroom in 1968, in a future post.
But it’s not only my choice in profession that was influenced by my dad, it’s the writing you are reading right this very moment. Dad has a gift with words. People are still talking about how clever and touching his speech was at my wedding…almost nine years ago. He has a way of turning phrases to make them as sharp as his wit and as beautifully deep as his heart. I’ve always wanted to write as powerfully as my dad.
So, early on, my writing filled with passive voice and right-clicked thesaurus words (the nuances of which I was not skilled enough to use correctly), I wrote. And I often wrote utter crap.
When I would ask my dad to read it, an old school sea of red comments would flood the page. Arrows, strike-outs, question marks. It was harsh, but fair. And though I was often too stubborn at the time to admit it (a trait I certainly, thankfully, and ironically in this case, inherited from him directly), his insights pushed me to add clarity, depth, and insight to my craft.
Earlier this week, Amy wrote about writing when it’s hard. She spoke of filling the room with beautiful language, getting kids to keep talking with one another, and allowing time to think.
I humbly add to Amy’s list the idea of helping students to find what or who inspires them to write. With the mutual understanding that my “brilliant” quick write ideas aren’t always going to cut it and not everyone is lucky enough to have a writing mentor at home to inspire them, we need to help our students find inspiration. In essence, as their teacher, I need to be that writing mentor by sharing brilliant published writing, encouraging students to share their writing with one another, and in (sometimes with a knotted stomach) sharing my own.
I’m inspired today by both the last day of school and, again, by my dad. For years, Dad would take traditional poems and rewrite the lines to match the happenings at his school. Christmas, the end of the year, retirements…Dad would craft witty quips about teacher’s lounge antics, administrative frustrations, student silliness, and more. He has a gift for playing with the written word.
So, dear readers, Dad, and Robert Frost, forgive me as I try my hand at a holiday poem to warm your workshop hearts. It’s all in the name of holiday cheer.
Stopping By a Workshop Classroom…
Three Teachers write here, I think you know.
Ideas of workshop and reading to sow;
We read and write each day without stopping
To keep our students’ brains and pens hopping.
Some colleagues certainly must think it strange
To bring to our classrooms such a great change.
A room full of books and pages of scratch;
Such delight when a book with a student we match.
They may even, with concern, their heads firmly shake
To suggest that there must be some grave mistake.
But lives as readers and writers we give
For choice and challenge in our classrooms do live.
This workshop gig can inspire, uplift, and “readicide” it can mend,
But break is here my old dear friend.
So go on and with your family some happy time spend,
Because this week of school is finally (blessedly) at an end.