Should Educators Be Writers?

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Last week, Donalyn Miller wrote a Nerdy Book Club post, entitled “Getting on the Bus.”  She wrote, “I am intolerant about teachers and librarians who don’t read. I recognize this failing, but I have seen the power that a teacher or librarian’s knowledge of books has for students and the lack of interest children have for reading when their teachers don’t know much about books.” Donalyn wrote passionately about the need for teachers and librarians to be readers themselves and to share that reading life with their students.  She issued a challenge for all of us in the “choir” she was preaching to, that we should have more conversations about helping other teachers to “get on the bus.”  She said, “It’s not enough to count our blessings when our own schools and the schools in our communities do more to engage teachers, children, and families with reading. Children’s reading lives should not depend on their luck in getting a teacher who knows about books or a school with a librarian. All children deserve these opportunities. Every year.”

Donalyn Miller’s post was one I couldn’t put out of my mind. I responded to it on my personal blog, Courage Doesn’t Always Roar, last week. Stacey Shubitz, TWT’s Chief of Operations and Lead Writer, commented on my post and asked, “How do we preach to those who aren’t writing daily to get them to be teachers who write?” Donalyn challenged us as readers, but now we were considering the idea of educators as writers, and the importance of that for students. How could we further spread the message, that being an educator who writes is important, beyond what we are already doing?

In an interview with Scholastic, Donald Graves was asked if he had to choose one thing teachers should do when teaching writing, what would it be? He answered, “Write yourself. Invite children to do something you’re already doing. If you’re not doing it, Hey, the kids say, I can’t wait to grow up and not have to write, like you. They know. And for the short term and the long term, you’ll be doing yourself a favor by writing. All of us need it as a survival tool in a very complex world. The wonderful thing about writing is that it separates the meaningless and the trivial from what is really important. So we need it for ourselves and then we need to invite children to do what we’re doing. You can’t ask someone to sing a duet with you until you know the tune yourself.”

Katie Wood Ray addresses the idea of teachers as writers in her book What You Know By Heart: How to Develop Curriculum for Your Writing Workshop. She states, “This is why so many of us try-at least once- the things we are asking students to do in our writing workshops. We live in the world as writers, searching for and capturing ideas for writing. We keep notebooks with these ideas in them. We take some of those ideas and grow them into something bigger that we eventually write for real audiences or for other reasons that matter to us. We draft, revise, and edit those pieces. We share them with others and deal with their feedback in our revision. We write in a variety of genres and forms. We write about the same topics in different ways. We give our writing away to others, finding out how scary that can be, and how joyous. Basically, we try to do for ourselves the things we are going to teach students how to do.”  Later, she writes, “We write so that we know what to teach about how this writing work gets done. We write so that we know what writers think about as they go through the process. We write so that our curriculum knowledge of the process of writing runs deep and true in our teaching. We write so that we can explain it all. (2002, 3)”

Yes, here at Two Writing Teachers, we write. We are a community that shares our Slices each Tuesday and all of March. Many of us blog at other times as well. Some of us are published authors of books. Some of us have spent summers with local sites of the National Writing Project, giving up weeks of summer freedom to explore what it means to be a writer. We keep notebooks and have special pens and give our writing as gifts. We share our writing with our students.  But are we representative of most educators? Do most students learn to write from a teacher who regularly engages in writing? Do most schools promote the importance of educators writing?

This is a multifaceted topic with no simple solutions. I have many questions around this issue, including:

  • Does the education community believe that teachers of writing should write themselves? If so, why should they write? 
  • Is it important that administrators and instructional coaches also be writers themselves and share that with teachers and students?
  • Is the experience different for a student learning from a teacher who writes, as opposed to learning from a teacher who never writes? In what ways? Is there research that proves this?
  • Would having teachers who write more themselves increase students’ growth as writers?
  • Many passionate teachers readily call themselves readers but avoid identifying themselves as writers. Why are teachers more reluctant to take on the identity of “writer”?
  • What are the roadblocks or obstacles that prevent teachers from writing?
  • What has to change in schools for teachers to grow as both readers and writers themselves?
  • How might a school culture change if teachers wrote more often and shared that writing with their students?
  • If we believe that teachers should write, and would lead to increased student achievement, then why aren’t schools making time for that, having conversations around that, building time into the calendar for that endeavor?
  •  As the passionate choir here at Two Writing Teachers, do we have a responsibility to share what we know and believe about being writers to colleagues who are not writing?

If you are interested in this conversation, I would love to explore this idea more with you in a Two Writing Teachers Voxer group.  Our group will share thoughts and ideas around this topic, with the goal of coming up with ideas to promote the notion that teachers who teach writing should write themselves.  If you sign up for the Voxer group, you are granting permission for your ideas to be shared in a future Two Writing Teachers blog post about this topic.  Please click here to fill out the form and join this conversation through Voxer.

Educators- to write or not to write? That is the question, and here at Two Writing Teachers, we would confidently state our answer. We firmly and passionately believe teachers should write.  We believe students benefit when they are led by a teacher who writes. We have a feeling you agree, but what about your colleagues and administrators who might not be as certain? How can we be the writing ambassadors in our schools and communities? We look forward to the conversation!

Some resources supporting teachers as writers: