post by Michele Fowkes, 2019-20 Associate of The Educator Collaborative
#WhyIWrite (and Read)
On any given Sunday, you will see a book in my lap or hear one playing through my Libby app. On any given Sunday, you will see me jotting an idea for a one-day story or scribbling an attempt at poetry. A couple of Sundays ago, I was especially reflective of who I am as a reader and writer because it was The National Day on Writing.
Annually, on October 20th, both NCTE and The National Writing Project encourage all people, especially educators, to choose a writing utensil and celebrate the act of writing and the many reasons we write.
It took me too many years in my evolution as an educator to realize that it is not a waste of time to read a Middle Grade (MG) or Young Adult (YA) book. It is not a waste of time to pick up a pen and write. (Seriously! I promise you it is not time better spent grading.)
Literacy educators need to read and write themselves. I have felt the weight of this truth ever since becoming a National Writing Project Fellow in 2007 and being exposed for the first time in my career to inspiring teacher-writers like Ralph Fletcher and Donald Graves. Graves, in an interview with Scholastic, said something that I think about continually: “You can’t ask someone to sing a duet with you until you know the tune yourself.” In other words, he told Scholastic that the one thing teachers of writing should do is “Write yourself. Invite children to do something you’re already doing.” He said that they will know if you are not doing it.
I agree. My students are so perceptive. I never want to be a fraud in their eyes. They are readers and writers in my classroom, and so am I.
Related to this, I took a risk last year. I sent several stories that I wrote to various publishers. For the first time, I attempted publication to a mass audience. I now proudly own several rejection letters. And so I write on — more empathetic than ever towards my students who struggle with reading and writing.
I am teaching 6th grade Reading currently. To showcase myself as a reader, I post a sign on my door regarding what I am currently reading. My email signature line includes what I am currently reading as well as the text I just finished. I book talk often. I create videos of strategies that I have attempted in my reading notebook and share them with students on Google Classroom.
With The National Day on Writing having just occurred, I knew that I also wanted to showcase myself as a writer more than ever. Luckily for me, though, we are departmentalized at my middle school, and I have a Language Arts counterpart who realizes that our subjects of reading and writing cannot be divorced. Reading and writing are reciprocal processes, after all. We joined forces and collaborated on a joint lesson that asked our students to write and publish a “Where I’m From” poem. This poetry activity is inspired by the work of Appalachian poet George Ella Lyon.
A “Where I’m From” poem celebrates who we are and the influence of place upon us. Student work is still being crafted in our space, but this activity has already provided us with a window into each student’s identity. The conversations have been rich, and we feel that we would not have been able to open this window had we not taken the first step and written our own poems (here’s mine). As our students listened, we published our poems. We modeled for them that we ALL are writers.
There is no doubt in my mind that I am a better teacher of literacy because I read and I write.
So I urge you to read and write on any given Sunday — on any given day of the week! Please realize that part of a work-life balance as a literacy educator is, in fact, building in time for you to devour a book with a cup of tea in your hands or to write down a funny story about your child or children.
And, of course, be sure to share such moments of your literacy life with your students.
How are you ensuring that your students see you as a teacher who reads and/or who writes? How have you celebrated The National Day on Writing? Please feel free to share below in the comments.