Finding Your Voice, Telling Your Story

In July, I had the opportunity to be the keynote speaker at Long Beach Literacy Day (#LBLit18). The theme was “Write the Day Away” and educators in the Long Beach school district participated in a day of professional development around the topic of writing. Darshna Katwala, the Director of the Long Island Writing Project, and I facilitated a workshop entitled “Creating a Classroom of Writers: Tips, Tools and Techniques to Foster Student Voice in Writing” after I gave my keynote address.

Writing a keynote speech was a new endeavor for me. Any speech I’ve given previously was never longer than ten minutes.  For this event, I was asked to prepare a speech that would run about 55 minutes long. For a while, I felt paralyzed as to how to even start writing. I was filled with self doubt. What right did I have to be giving a speech about writing? I haven’t written any books. I’m not a coach or a consultant. I’m just a classroom teacher. But after a while, it was the “just a classroom teacher” that pushed me forward. Classroom teachers are on the frontlines every day, living the theories others suggest. It’s hard work. The reality of teaching often crashes with your dreams and visions for how it will all go. Classroom teachers aren’t always asked our thoughts on teaching and our voices aren’t always heard. To me, being the keynote speaker and a classroom teacher meant I had the chance to share how our voices matter. What teachers say can, and should, be heard in the field of education. With the idea that I was in a sense representing the voices of teachers, I started drafting my speech and telling my own teaching story.

My speech was entitled “Finding Your Voice, Telling Your Story: Becoming a Teacher Who Writes.” It was probably the longest piece of writing I’ve ever done. I told the story of how I came to be a teacher and how teaching broke my heart in many ways. I shared my journey to becoming a teacher who writes and shares her work publicly. I wrote about why writing matters and why being a teacher who writes positively influences your students and also helps you grow. Towards the end of the speech, I suggested some ways teachers could start on their journey to being a writer.

I learned many lessons on the way to writing and delivering this speech. If I were to ever give a keynote address again, I would know how to prepare and would almost have two or three versions of the speech ready to go. Mine was too long and when time was almost up, I was only halfway done. 55 minutes, in reality, became 35 minutes so I had to think on my feet and slash huge sections of the speech as I was giving it. Next time, I would have a core speech prepared and then places where I could elaborate if I noticed there was more than enough time. I would never have known this if I hadn’t gone through the experience. It took a lot of courage and faith to believe my voice mattered and then to speak my words. But doesn’t it always take a lot of courage and faith to write and share? And don’t our students sometimes feel this way too? Do they worry if their stories matter anyway?

Preparing this speech brought me to my writing inspirations, and I found many quotes that I embedded into the speech. Here are some of my favorites:

Finding and using these quotes helped strengthen my speech and gave me confidence that the words of these writers were pointing us all in an important direction. In what ways have you pushed yourself to try a new type of writing or to share your ideas in a public way?