As I sat down with my notebook bright and early this National Day on Writing (well, to be honest, it was so early it wasn’t bright out at all, because it was dark), I sketched out a large “WHY I WRITE” across a two-page spread.
As I jotted down reasons, I began to notice that my responses were synonymous with another WHY in my life: why I teach.
Why do I teach? To change the world. To make people smile. To spread the joy of reading and writing. To cultivate empathy. To get to feel good at something. To create a world that wasn’t possible before the act.
I write for all those reasons, too. Every morning at five (have you checked out #5amwritersclub?), and every time I meet with my students, and every time I feel compelled to say something to myself and no one else.
But I feel compelled, so strongly, to share a writing reason far beyond the confines of my notebook. It’s a reason I received from one of my students, in a random email just bursting with joy and passion for teaching.
Elizabeth sent me this email at 11:19 last night, gushing with lengthy detail about a series of lessons she’d just taught. She’d been experimenting with writing beside her students, leading them into writing poetry about a topic of their choice, in a poetic mode of their choice. They’d worked through a series of lessons as individuals, in pairs, in groups, and as a whole group to craft their writing, evaluate what was important about it, and teach one another whatever they felt most confident about. Elizabeth called it “the height of [her] pedagogy to this date.”
But it was the final lines of her email that propelled me out of bed, eager to grab my notebook and write. Her words made me thrilled to get to see her in class today. They made me want to bring her books of poetry to share with her students and new pens and a big hug and every other manner of teacher/writer joy I could think of.
Here’s what she wrote:
By the end, they asked excitedly to share their poems, and I knew that they had created something they were proud of. What greater measurement can there be of student investment than pride in their work? What greater hook to the essence of why we write?
It was a lesson that made me remember that they are worth this world tilting, burnt out, drudgery of exhaustion. They are worth it.
Elizabeth got to the heart of why we write, and why we teach:
It is worth it. Our students and our work are worth it. Every day.
Do not forget, when you feel like your world is tilting and you are burnt out beyond belief, that we do change lives, that we do show students the essences of why we read and write, and that we do teach children to have pride in themselves, their work, and their words. It is powerful, important work, and is the core of what we do. It is worth it. You are worth it, my friends.
Shana Karnes is so lucky to work with amazing preservice and practicing teachers at West Virginia University. She is three weeks away from welcoming her second daughter into the world, two weeks away from teaching her last class of the semester, and about a week away from no longer fitting into ANY of her maternity clothes. Find Shana on Twitter at @litreader or on the WVCTE Best Practices blog.