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The Best Gifts for the Writing Teacher in Your Life

It’s December, and if you’re connected to education, you know what that means. Energy levels reach fever pitch in school hallways, holiday joy and angst spill every which way, and teachers try to hang on to “business as usual” as long as possible.

Now is also the time of year where I find endless gift lists online: what to get the foodie or the music guru or the athlete or the you-name-it in your life. I confess I’ve clicked on a list or two so I can better shop for the important people in my life. I confess I’ve also browsed those lists to find things I’d like to buy for myself. (Don’t judge. I know I’m not alone in this!)

In that same spirit, I’ve chosen to curate a gift list for teachers of writing, and the folks that support them.

I know there are lots of lists for writers out there already. Many suggest pens, headphones, or comfy chairs, but my list is different. Being a poet at heart, I tend to live in metaphor. My list, then, is a collection of things writing teachers owe ourselves and one another – a collection we can’t find on Amazon or Etsy, no matter what search terms we use. So, without further ado, here are my recommendations:

Validation. Hey. You. I’m talking to you. YOU are doing a GREAT JOB. You have the work of helping others recognize and cultivate avenues of self-expression, and you help others as they try to reveal their identity and voice. The work you have is endless. There’s no “getting there” because as your practice grows, so does the potential for what you and your students can achieve. And that thought – the idea that we are in pursuit of an ideal we might not realize – it’s equal parts overwhelming and exhilarating. This work that you’re doing? You might not always feel it, but this work is real, and it’s important, and it’s shaping our world in ways beyond measure. Remember that, and tell it to yourself on hard days.

JOY. I’d like to think this goes without saying, but this gift is hard to hold onto sometimes. Let’s face it: writing instruction can be a slog. It’s easy to get lost in the weeds of standards, skill mastery, and expectations for academic achievement. But you also know how amazing it feels to get lost in the act of creation, how great it feels to make something you’re proud of. And you also know how amazing it is to see that joy unfold among students. There’s something so very cool about being able to approach learning with a spirit of fun. Hold on to that. And when this gift gets lost in the back of the closet, don’t forget to dust it off from time to time and play around.

Wonder.  There’s a reason why wonder is often described as “child-like.”  Our students are full of awe. Just observe them as they see the first snowfall of the year out the classroom window. Or when they make a new realization about their learning. Or see something through a microscope. Or hold a firefly. It’s incredible to watch. And as a teacher, you get a front-row seat to those discoveries. You deserve to enjoy those moments, too! What’s more, you deserve moments of wonder for yourself. Wherever and however you might find it, you deserve to experience this broad, beautiful world in a way that leaves you feeling both humble and powerful. That marvel and wonder – it’s magical. It’s part of why you set out to be a part of this challenging profession. You deserve to be a part of that. 

Grace. You are going to have lessons that rock it out. Sometimes, they crash and burn. There will be times you work with a student and the stars align. Other times, you might walk away from a student conversation that went the wrong direction. There will be days when your A-game sparkles and shines. And there will be days where your B-game will be what it has to be. Sometimes, you will astound yourself with the level of teaching you’ve been able to master. Other times, you’ll feel it’s all smoke and mirrors. And just as you offer patience and forgiveness to the students in your care, remember that you deserve the same. Again and again. And again.

These are my gifts to myself, to writing teachers, and those who support them. Here’s hoping we’ll love and use these gifts in good health. Keep them. Store them. Pass them along. And if you have another gift you’d like to add to our proverbial pile, share it with your colleagues in the comments below. Enjoy!

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