Thursday, October 20, 2016

Why I Write: Students Need Writing Mentors

My mother recently found and sent me a photo of myself at 18 months, sitting in a highchair at the kitchen counter in our first apartment. Blank pages before me, one heck of a grip on a pencil, and a beam of pride on my face. My mother's familiar handwriting on the bottom of the polaroid reads, "Writing Letters!"

I've always been a writer.

Who I am as a writer and what I know and understand about writing has changed, though. And so has writing instruction in my classroom.

I'd be fibbing if I attributed the change in my perspective to one single factor over the last few years. Truthfully, I can name three very specific events. But the one of these three that is most easily replicable is this:

I write.

What I write ranges from short bits of fiction to poetry to book reviews to professional pieces. Most of what I write lives inside of notebooks and my hard drive, has never (and probably will never) be seen or consumed by readers. What I write doesn't matter so much. It matters more that I do.

Writing regularly (or, close...ish) changed my perspective. When I looked at writing instruction in my classroom through my teacher-writer eyes, I could hardly look away from the incongruence of my writing workshop and my own writing life. So, while I write for a lengthy list of purely personal reasons, too, these reasons #WhyIWrite are some of my most important:

I write because every day I face forty-five apprenticing writers, and it makes all the difference when I can say to them over their notebooks and my own, "Yeah, me too."

I write because my students need writing mentors. Students should learn by engaging with a writer who has plentiful and practical experience in this thing they are learning to do.

I write because my own tendency to shield and protect my writer-heart from criticism and judgement reminds me of the need to be kind with my students' writer-hearts, too.

I write because experiencing that the process of writing changes for me with everything I try to write nags at me to be flexible and open to students' writing needs and paths to "publication" that don't look like mine.

I write because relationships are born of risk-taking and bearing ourselves, and if my students are going to trust me, I must take chances first.

I write because my students encourage me and inspire me.

I write because they want to know what happens next.

And so do I.