Kristine Michael taught fourth grade for fifteen years before becoming the Curriculum Director for Granville Exempted Village Schools in Ohio. Kristine is a Nationally Board Certified Teacher in middle childhood who loves talking books, literacy, and school. A newly confident writer, she’s currently developing character sketches for a fiction book inspired by her years of classroom work.
Last week I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, or SCBWI. It might not seem like much, but it is a big plunge for me.
For years, I’ve been an off and on lurker at the site and have read articles and blog posts written by people who have attended SCWBI Summer Conference or local chapter events. “They are so lucky!” I’ve always thought to myself. “They” are the people who belong. They write articles about their experiences. “They” are the winners of grants. “They” are talented. “They” are the newly published authors. “They” have the time to commit.
I had also lurked for years at The National Writing Project (NWP) and dreamed about some day having the time to apply to be a part of a Summer Institute. Every spring I would read the application materials for the Summer Institute and try to figure out how it could it possibly fit in my life as teacher, curriculum director, mother, wife, friend, blog writer… and eventually (after a week or two of carrying around the application), I would decide it wasn’t realistic or fair of me to even think about applying. Even though a teacher doesn’t “work” in the summer, I could never manufacture the time.
Oh, to be able to have the time dedicated to writing!
Several years ago I heard Carl Anderson speak at an event in Central Ohio. He had me rolling with laughter as he described his attempts to teach writing as a new teacher. How he failed to inspire his students despite the many prompts for stories about Halloween ghosts or Thanksgiving turkeys. His roommate gave him The Art of Teaching Writing by Lucy Calkins and changed his life. Since then, he’s gone on to help thousands of teachers and students become writers.
Why do I find Carl so funny? It could be his wit, his charm, his uncanny resemblance to Steve Carrell, or his love of all things Beatles. But it’s not. No, I laugh because he had the courage to name the thing out loud that hung like an albatross around my own teaching’s neck. He said enough with the excuses. “They” are no different than you. Stop being afraid and start writing!
Suddenly I saw possibilities everywhere. Ways to get my students to respond where before I saw doubt. Now I saw no way to fail.
It wasn’t just one thing that was going to make me an excellent teacher of writing. It was all of the little things. And one big thing. I had to become a writer myself.
Even if the audience was only my students.
I just couldn’t fake it anymore. In order for my mini-lesson to have the stickiness to build my students’ skills as writers, I needed to be able to share my own struggles, attempts, and successes.
I think it was Kelly Gallagher who said, “It’s not just good enough to show students your polished finished piece. You have to let them see you struggle and work through every step of the process so that they can see that writing is something they can do too.” (Sorry Kelly, I know the words aren’t perfect, but the results are!) For young writers, there is nothing truer than the old adage: it’s the journey not the destination. They need to see every messy step along the way.
Now I know there is no “they”; just we. People out in the world, eeking out time, however they can, to work on their writing. I’m really looking forward to being one of “them”. Even though it’s scary to jump off that diving board into a world of audience and critique. We are so full of possibility. We are dedicated to writing.