Teachers who write · writing workshop

Straight From Students: Why Teachers Should Write

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During the last week of school, I met with a group of fourth graders to have an end of the year reflective conversation. We can learn so much about what to do throughout they year by asking students to reflect and share what they found to be powerful. Many times, students are our very best resource for knowing how to become better educators.

I asked them a series of questions, and we had a whole class conversation. On of my questions was:

“What makes you feel like writers in this classroom?”

 I put it the question on a piece of paper in front of them, and many of them had ideas. Because my job spans grades, I’ve known many of these students for several years, so I have watched them grow, evolve, and develop as writers. Trust me when I say that some of them would never have said they were writers until this year. Some of them didn’t like writing until this year. Some of them did what they could to avoid writing until this year. Therefore, I really wanted to know what made the difference in their classroom.

For a little while, they scratched their heads, trying to figure out answers to my question. I jotted some of the responses on the notebook paper I had with me to record responses.

And then one student said, “It’s because Ms. C. writes with us.” The floodgates opened, and I couldn’t document their responses fast enough. They kept saying why her writing mattered, and I kept scrawling on my piece of paper. My original notes were an assortment of different ideas, but later as I read their comments, I could organize them into categories of related concepts.


Some of the statements had to do with the sense of validation they felt:

“It shows you’re not giving an assignment for the sake of giving an assignment.”

“It proves the fact that we’re all students and all teachers.”


Other statements had more to do with the inspiration she provided–the bar she set for them:

“I want to do it as well as she does.”

“It makes me want to do it better.”

“Seeing her think, seeing that she cares about her work, helps me think in my own writing.”

“She shows us the fun of writing.”


And another set of statements reflected the sense of community they felt as a result of sharing their writing lives:

“Her writing shares stuff about her we wouldn’t know otherwise.”

“We teach each other how to learn and be good friends.”


Spontaneously, I put Ms. C. herself on the spot, and I asked her why her writing life mattered to her as a teacher. Some of her reflections made right in that moment are so important:

“I appreciate the struggle of time. When I draft and I can’t get the word, I realize how much I want that word, and I develop and then teach different strategies to learners.”

“It makes me mindful of what learners need to write.”

“I can be more supportive because I know what it’s like to have a defined writing block.”

Whenever I have a chance in my coaching work, I weave in the importance of our own writing.Yet I have never had such an unscripted conversation with children about how much their teacher’s writing mattered to them. Straight from the mouths of students–our writing models, motivates, and inspires.

8 thoughts on “Straight From Students: Why Teachers Should Write

  1. I have had my 5th graders say they really love having a teacher who writes. Many of my writing pieces were shared, even ideas I was planning to write about. One time I had to write a column for the newspaper about teaching–so wrote how often my class has belly laughs. It was 500 words, but had to be 400. I put them in groups and gave them the job of taking 100 words out. Oh how they struggled–because if the teacher wrote it it must stay. 🙂 That was the best writing class ever. Now I teach 1st. I write many poems and share them. Oftentimes I can’t decide between two words, so I talk it out, they share their ideas, then we vote. Another vital step is responding to each student’s writing the day it’s turned in. My first graders get a sticky note with my comments–usually what my favorite part/word is, or questions I have. They cannot wait to return to the room after special to read their note (or for some have me read it to them). Nothing inspires them to write more than fast feedback. I love it when they say “Mrs. Santoro, you are going to LOVE what I wrote today!”


  2. When the teacher writes in front of students, making it interactive, especially using the teacher’s own experiences or tapping into emotions, the workshop atmosphere becomes charged with energy. Get out of the box and exciting things happen! Excellent post.


  3. Again, I agree with Mary Lee, Amen. I always wrote with my students. For so many reasons. I learned from them that it mattered and I explained why I did it. And there were ways it di. But, imagine going to learn from a painter, like the masterful mentors in the Renaissance. The young painter watched and worked along side the great ones, learning the secrets of the craft. No books to read, no computers to investigate. Honing ones skill, the mentor might find something new sooner and would demonstrate or share. “The tricks of the trade” and they exist for sure. As a writer when you are stuck, can’t get into the flow, want to take an assigned topic and be creative, find it very hard to follow the dictum of the proscribed form, well, if you are the teacher and you get it, you can better teach and help your students. Even if you have to write at night or before class and only do a little during class time so you can confer and observe and help, it makes a huge difference. And the elementary kids I dealt with it loved it and thrived. Imagine trying to learn to ride a bike by reading a book…..you need to learn from the inside out. And writing, expressing, creating comes from all of our experiences. Those who simply dictate the topic and sit back to grade are not doing what is best for learners.


  4. This is just great, Melanie. I feel like this has been such a hot topic lately, too, and you provide great anecdotal evidence here for anyone who doubts the power of teacher as writer. I think we may end up asking permission to share some of this in our presentation at NCTE this year!


  5. What an awesome exchange. I could feel the excitement you had in this unexpected moment. It’s worth taking note, when we ask students questions and listen, we sometimes get unexpected results. I hope this offers a great source of reflection for teachers as we all begin a new year.


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