Tag Archives: walking the talk

Guest Post by Bridget Kirby: On Calling Myself a Writer

For the third year in a row, I have been challenged (in the best possible way) by Amy Rasmussen to get out there and write. For the third year in a row, I have started this submission to the Three Teachers Talk Blog. Maybe this is the year I will be brave enough to submit.

In her sessions at TCTELA, she has challenged her attendees with this question, “How many of you consider yourselves writers?” That first year, I lowered my hand. She followed up with, “How can we truly appreciate the difficulty our students face when we don’t struggle through writing?” This was something I had been working on as a teacher.

Like many, during my first years as a teacher, I would go and pour over my own essay to show as a sample to the students on the following day. “See students, this is what it should look like.” Until—one day—Tre’ came to my desk and said some of the most difficult words I’d ever have to swallow as a teacher, “Sure, miss. You can write like that. It’s easy for you because you went to college for it. For me, it’s not so easy.” You see, I had robbed my students of the opportunity to watch me struggle through the writing. I robbed them of the very nature of writing—it’s not easy; it’s supposed to be hard. And writing, for me, was very hard.

So, I changed. I started writing in front of my students. I modeled the vulnerability I wanted to see in them. I let them watch as I failed (sometimes miserably) to pull the best words from my brain, to spell words correctly, to begin and end a piece of writing powerfully. I let them help me try and try and try again. In conjunction with this process, I began implementing Writers Workshop. I watched students as they began to blossom in their own writing. Through workshop, they began to raise their voice through writing. Through workshop, I became an English teacher.

Fast forward to TCTELA and that first session with Amy Rasmussen.

Despite my improvements through teaching with the workshop approach, I still lowered my hand when she asked that question, “How many of you consider yourselves writers?” I still had trouble calling myself a writer. Sure, I was an English teacher, but I wasn’t so sure I was a writer. As someone who was not brought up through a “workshop” learning environment, I still battle with the enormity of perfection, with the fact that an essay does not have to be five paragraphs to be great. That when writing well, writers break sentence rules and essay rules and society’s rules. As a writer, my focus is still very much on the product, not the process. The 5-paragraph essay from my youth has pigeon-holed my very identity as an adult writer—even while telling my kids that they are all writers.

For this reason—and for many others—workshop isn’t just one way to do it, it is the ONLY way to do it! I never want my students to feel the crippling fear of the blank page or the fear of raising their voices in front of their peers.

This year, Amy challenged us again. She asked, “How many of you have heard of Three Teachers Talk?” Of course I have! I use this blog’s words on a daily basis to inform my practice. She followed up with, “How many of you have written for Three Teachers Talk?” Once again, I had to lower my hand.

So, this is me. Stepping WAY out of my comfort zone. Ensuring that I never have to lower my hand again. Writing a final paragraph with fragments. Breaking the rules.   

Maybe this is the year I will hit “submit.”

Bridget Kirby is the Secondary ELAR Instructional Coordinator for Silsbee ISD, and she has Bridget Kirbybeen in love with all things literacy and education for as long as she can remember. She believes to share that love with students and teachers has been the greatest of honors. She says, “I am proof that literacy and education can change a person’s destiny in the best ways.” Along with being an instructional coach and teacher, Bridget is also the mother of one adorable book-loving little boy and the wife of one giant man-child. Her life goal is to love like Lizzy Bennet, fight like Harry Potter, and live like Atticus Finch.  Follow her on Twitter @beekay928
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Every Teacher a Reader. Every Teacher a Writer.

Do any of you follow the Middle and High School Secondary ELA group on Facebook?

Now, I am not trying to pick any fights, but I’m just going to say it:  Some of the comments drive me straight over a rocky cliff. Honestly, I tend to get a little snarky if I spend too much time there. (Sorry, not sorry.)

Today an ELA teacher posted “Writing sucks.” What?! I sure hope a student never hears her say that. Yesterday a teacher posted this question:

“Silent reading…have you built it into your routine? For how long? Do you find your struggling readers or non-readers (at home) love this time? I currently have built it in for the first 15 minutes since I know many of my 6th grade sts do not read at home. I think it works, but just brainstorming other ways to do things for next year. Just curious what you all do! I would be curious if HS teachers still give time to silent read, too.”

I had a hard time reading the thread with comments like “They won’t read, or forget their books… It turns into wasted time.”

Of course it does, if teachers do not establish the all out importance of reading, the benefits of reading, the time commitment to grow as readers; if teachers do not walk the talk of readers, share their reading lives, promote books and match books to kids and beat the drum of reading. Every. Single Day. We have to help students value reading.

The same holds true for writing. We have to help students value writing. We have to help students value the struggle of writing well.

Are we teacher-writers who model the difficult task of writing? Do we share the struggle of getting thoughtful ideas on the page and revising and revising and revising to convey the meaning we intend to the audience we intend? Writing well means we make intentional choices and we develop the habits of writers. Read Donald Murray’s “Habits of Writing,” and then internalize his last line: “Consider my habits of writing, but develop your own by studying what you did when the writing went well, and make what you discover your own writing habits.” (If you really want to build your writer-mojo, I suggest Murray’s books, The Essential Don Murray:  Lessons from America’s Greatest Writing Teacher, and Learning by Teaching.)

We can learn to write well. We can learn to teach writing well as we discover our own writing habits and guide students into developing their own. But this will never happen if we do not write.

readerswriters

I’ve written about walking our talk before — and I believe it more every day. I think we owe it to our students to be actively engaged in the learning process the same way we ask them to be actively engaged. I can never be a good enough reader. I can never be a good enough writer.

So, this summer I commit to keep working on my craft. I will read. I will write.

If you are reading this post, I know I am preaching to the choir. I know you already share at least some of my beliefs about reading and writing. Thank you for that!

I invite you to share your reading and your writing, to amplify our collective voices as teachers who read and write, and walk our talk — even during the summer. Shana posted our summer posting plans yesterday. I hope you’ll join us on our Facebook page, our Instagram feed, and on Twitter. And as Austin Kleon famously asserts:  Show your Work!

Let’s spread it far and wide!

Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 4 (new prep in ’17. She loves talking books, daughters’ weddings (two this year), and grandbabies (five). She also loves facilitating PD for other teachers making the move into a workshop pedagogy. Amy adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all aim higher. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass. And she really hopes you will follow this blog!

#3TTWorkshop — Why Teachers Must Talk about Their Reading Lives

#3TTWorkshop Meme

Why is it important to talk about our reading lives with our students?

Amy:  If I want my students to be readers, I have to be a reader myself. The same holds true for writing. I am always surprised to meet English teachers who do not read and who do not write. This is our content! Seems like if we want to have any kind of credibility, we must practice the craft we want our students to learn. At least that’s what makes sense to me.

Of course, I’ve grown into this philosophy and this practice. When I first began teaching, I taught literature instead of teaching students. I think when I learned enough about my role as a secondary English teacher, and when I began challenging the status quo, I learned the importance of walking my talk. If I want students to read, I must model for them my life as a reader.

Shana:  Many of my students don’t have a role model who’s a reader.  I know that a large part of my identity as a reader growing up was shaped by my mother who was a reader.

I remember weekly trips to the library, a mom who held up her hand to finish a page before I could ask her a question, and having a bookshelf for a headboard in my childhood bed.  I lived a reading life from day one, because my mother did.  That is not the case for many of my students.  There is no one to model for them self-selected reading, the act of reading for pleasure, or the skill of choosing texts that will absorb a reader.  That’s why I have to be that person for my students–or at least, another person to model those skills for them.

How has your reading life changed since you began sharing it with your students?

Shana:  I know that when I’m tempted to be a lazy reader, remaining on the downhill portion of my reading roller coaster, I think of how often I encourage my students to push themselves with an unconventional genre, an award winner, or a lengthy tome. Then I feel like a hypocrite if I just pick up another trashy romance novel, so I challenge myself with something weightier instead.  Now, during pregnancy, I find myself much more deeply affected by difficult themes in books, so when I’m tempted to avoid them, I remind myself to be a better role model (as I’m doing now with Leaving Time, whose themes of a missing mother and elephant grief make my cry at the drop of a hat).

Amy:  I didn’t know you read trashy romance novels, Shana. Ha. I love a good romance, but I rarely find time for that kind of pleasure of late.  I’ve been a reader since the time I fell in love with Anne of Green Gables way back when. Now, I am a purposeful reader. Maybe that’s why I have a hard time relaxing — I always have some master plan. I cannot even remember the last time I just read for the pleasure of it. Shana, you and I both wrote about that in the past. Here and here. Look at this recurring theme.

While writing this I’m realizing that I have not been a good reading model lately. I haven’t snuggled under the covers with a book and let the language carry me away. I   read because it’s a responsibility. Kinda the way many of my students feel about reading for my class.

Aha! I need to do some things differently. Starting now.

During which portion of class do you tend to share your reading life with your students?

Amy:  Sure, I share my reading life during class, but my favorite time is the impromptu talks that happen with students in the hall or just before class starts. I love talking about books, and students come to know that about me.

Just today, a former student stopped in my room and asked if I could tell him about a book. I said sure, and he proceeded to tell me in a waterfall of words about the midterm this week in his new English class.

“They read The Crucible, and I need you to tell me what it’s about.”

I know, not exactly the same as sharing books for the love of them, but hey, this kid knows I know a lot about a whole lot of books. (I did not tell him about The Crucible. I might have mentioned Sparknotes.)

Shana:  I share mostly during conferences or booktalks.  When I booktalk, I tend to tell the story of my reading of the book (like on the treadmill at the gym, when I cried publicly while finishing We Were Liars), including when and where and how I read it.  During conferences (both formal at a student’s desk, or informal at the bookshelf), I use anecdotes to help illustrate a skill’s development with students.  And, occasionally, I use a snippet of my reading life to introduce a quickwrite–like creating an ideal bookshelf.   

Amy:  I am glad we discussed our reading lives. As always, you’ve pushed my thinking here. I can do more to model and talk about my reading life with my students, especially reading for pleasure. That means I need to walk the talk I give my kids a lot more often. Maybe I’ll take a stroll through the shelves at Barnes & Noble, asking myself:  If you had nothing on your schedule — no expectations from anyone or for anything — what book would you want to curl up and read?

Readers, I’d love your suggestions. Any amazing books you’ve read lately?

Do you have topic ideas you would like us to discuss? Please leave your requests here.

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