Your Dreams Matter. Your Teaching Matters.

A couple of weeks ago I was re-reading the chapter about genre studies in The Art of Teaching Writing, New Edition (Heinemann, 1994) by Lucy Calkins. Once I was finished, I flipped to the final chapter of Lucy’s book, which is entitled “Do I Dare to Care So Much?” I was looking for inspiration. (In case you’ve never never taken a class with Lucy or haven’t heard her speak, then I’ll tell you something I’ve come to know about her over the years. She’s always inspiring, but it’s what she shares with you in the final minutes you’re with her — at the end of a semester or at the end of a week-long course — that keep you going as an educator.) The final chapter of The Art of Teaching Writing is classic Lucy Calkins. She provides you with a message that makes you feel as though you can conquer anything when it comes to the teaching of writing.

Here’s an excerpt from that final chapter I’d like you to ponder today:

I believe that when we recognize how much our teaching matters, we become activists, defending with all our might, our right to teach wisely and well.

I recently asked a teacher to explain her daily schedule to me. “I like to start every day with reading, and then move into writing,” she said. “But this year, because our scores on the citywide math exam were low, we have to do math and reading before eleven.”

“You must do this?” I said, open-mouthed. “Who said so?” Even before she could answer, I added, “Everyone in the school must teach math and reading before eleven? What if you believe it should be done differently?”

I was started to learn of the new mandate but even more startled to learn that the teacher hadn’t even questioned the policy. She didn’t like it, but she’d shrugged it off with a sigh and proceeded to revamp her schedule. As we spoke, she was intrigued by my response. “You think it’s that bad to start with reading and math?” she asked. But my point, of course, wasn’t that one schedule is better than another. My point was that our teaching matters.

We need to be able to teach according to our beliefs. If our teaching doesn’t represent our best current notions about what matters in classrooms and in life, if our teaching doesn’t represent our most cherished hypothesis about education, then how can we hold ourselves responsible for and learn from the results of our teaching? Roland Barth was wise indeed when he said, “The greatest tragedy I know is to be caught up in the position of doing something one does not want to do or does not believe in.” If that teacher wants to begin her day with reading and writing, it is tragic to imagine that she instead must follow someone else’s image of how her day should proceed.

We may not always be able to bring all of our dreams into the classroom, but we need to remember those dreams. If we want to begin our day within the intimacy of our own classroom rather than with announcements over the public address system, we need to say so. If we want to keep our students for two years so that we can know their lives and support their intentions better, we need to propose this. My point is not in the particulars of these policies. My point is that we need to hold on to our dreams. We need to hold on to them for dear life (516-17).

From The Art of Teaching Writing, New Edition, by Lucy McCormick Calkins. Copyright © 1994 by Lucy McCormick Calkins. Published by Heinemann, Portsmouth, NH. All rights reserved.

What are you trying to hold on to for dear life this year? What have you advocated for in the name of your beliefs? (If you need help thinking about your beliefs, then click here to read a great post Ruth wrote on this topic.) What dreams do you have for the students whose lives you’ve been chosen to guide this year?