The other day my friend and colleague, Cyra Levenson, said, “Until the teacher has a voice again, no student will either.” I realized that while I coach how to teach writing to children, I have been neglecting to focus enough on the fundamental need for teachers to have a writing voice.
There are always great things happening in education, but for a long time now there have also been constraining mandates taking up more and more of our time. I felt suffocated towards the end of my time in the classroom, and today as a teaching coach I hear too often from teachers that they don’t feel like professionals when so much is decided for them. This needs to change. Obviously, you did not go into this job for the salary–so you deserve to feel happy in your job, as you educate the next generation.
Teachers: this is where I get bossy. If you don’t have a journal, get one. You need to exist on paper. Draw and write in it every day…not just about your students, but about yourself. Who were you as a child? How would you teach your younger self? What made you want to teach? What are your school memories? What do you love to do today? Write about anything. Join a writing workshop for teachers like the Summer Institute at the Yale Center for British Art (http://britishart.yale.edu/education/schools-and-teachers), or travel – there are teacher/writer workshops out there (like this one in Santa Fe: http://eefstc.sfprep.org/the-way-i-see-it/).
Share your writing with your students so they see your process, your struggle, your courage, and your voice. And then, watch your students exist on paper too.
When we see ourselves as researchers and learners, we gain a deep understanding of the larger picture. We develop strategies to overcome the oppressive red tape and get down to what matters: learning to love learning.
Poetry is one of our oldest image-makers. Words paint. Readers imagine the world of the text. What if we tapped into this visual process and redirected the output? What if we began asking readers to ‘give us a picture’ of what they ‘see’ as they read?
What do these words see? And later, how might words show a place or an emotion?
Poetry attempts to alter our perception through words. By asking students to draw what they see in a passage or a chapter we bring them into the poetic process. Creating a classroom where these drawings are shared and discussed situates each member of the class as an image-maker. By establishing various drawing activities within the study of the language arts we encourage students to explore other versions of ‘image-making’. The imagination has another platform. Students have access and place to continue the conversation.
In class students discussed their planning (“pre-writing”) for their design as well as their hopes (the effect on the audience). Everyone had words to add. Later in writing they pursued this question: In what ways did the activity alter or enhance your understanding of the passage or reading itself? You may discuss your own work or work of your peers.
For the assignment the students chose a passage from their reading to draw and provide ‘a visual reading of the passage’. The examples below are from three different sections of the text we were reading at the time (The Odyssey). One student wrote later that the assignment was the most difficult of the unit “because we had to draw a picture of what was going on in the chapter and I didn’t really have a good understanding of the chapter that we had to draw which made it tough.”