Writing Teachers Who Write, Reading Teachers Who Read

In the past year or so, I’ve been writing. Quite a bit actually. In addition to the usual cheeky, absurdist social media observations or histrionic political outrage rants as well these educational blog posts, I’ve been writing short stories. (Shameless plug: much of my short fiction is available at All Persons Fictitious if you’re into that sort of thing.)

I’ve been writing for all the usual reasons that motivate writers: finding a creative outlet, dealing with personal crises, trying to make some sense of this current insane moment in history and political discourse, etc. And it’s been good for me. There’s some satisfaction in planning and then beginning a narrative and, eventually, seeing it through to its publication. It’s a solvable problem in a world of utter disarray.

What I hadn’t considered is something that now seems obvious: being a writer has made me much better at teaching writing. Sure, to some extent, it’s a matter of empathy. I understand the difficulty and cognitive complexity of what I’m requiring students to do because I’m also doing it. I think it’s more than that, though.

When a grade 10 student recently came to me about problems she was having organizing a dark fantasy novella she was composing for her MYP personal project, I was able to do more than talk to her about what I’ve read and studied about writing or the advice I’ve given to students throughout the years. I was able to sit down with her and walk her through my own process that had served me in my own writing. There’s value in that.

I’m certainly not suggesting that one has to be a fiction writer to be a good writing teacher. I’m just sharing that it’s working well for me.

There’s a parallel here: reading. I know teachers who themselves aren’t really readers. Even English language & literature teachers who don’t read anything outside of school beyond the news or social media. I am judging no one here. I get it. Life’s busy. Time’s limited. Some teachers are themselves parents, often to young children.

For me personally, I am a better reading teacher because I read at least a book a week for pleasure. Again, maybe it’s partly empathy. Maybe it’s a better understanding of how long it takes to get through a book when there’s so much other life stuff going on. Maybe it’s a clearer sense of what it takes to sit down and read closely in a world of limitless technological distraction. That candy doesn’t crush itself, after all. I don’t think it’s just that, though. I think what’s happening in my own brain when I immerse myself in a book instead of an app or a scrolling news feed pays dividends in how I plan and teach a language and literature course.

I’m sure there’s great research supporting this. It’s totally something I could go find, but I’m most of the way through Jonathan Lethem’s new novel The Feral Detective and it’s been making me think differently about using narrative voice and structuring political allegory. I think I’m going to finish it instead.

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