Thanks to Twitter, last month I noticed that some of my teacher friends were producing and sharing a lot of great writing. They’d joined the Slice of Life Story Challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers and were posting interesting writing about everyday experiences.
I so enjoyed getting glimpses of their writing lives, I reached out to see if they would share more about why they write, how it influences their instruction, and what kind of good things can happen when teachers write. Happily, Cindy Chiu, Sally Donnelly, and Beth Sanderson agreed to answer three questions about their writing which I’ll share in a series of posts here at Book Life.
Cindy Chiu is a Reading Specialist and the ELA lead teacher at Swanson Middle School in Arlington, Virginia. While she was teaching English overseas in Hong Kong and Beijing before applying to law school, a Chinese fortune teller told her she would become an educator instead. Over 15 years in elementary and middle school settings later, Ms. Chiu is still teaching and loving it. She describes herself as a teacher-reader-writer-mom who cannot live without books, tennis, and coffee.
Sally Donnelly is a National Board Certified Teacher in Literacy and an avid reader of children’s literature. She taught elementary school for 25 years in Diocese of Arlington, Fairfax County Public Schools, and Arlington Public Schools. Currently a 6th grade Reading teacher at Swanson Middle School in Arlington, Virginia, she’s also a regular learner at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project .
Beth Sanderson is an English teacher and instructional leader at Swanson Middle School in Arlington, Virginia. In over a decade of work in Virginia schools, Ms. Sanderson has designed reading intervention programs, taught reading and English in the classroom and taken a leadership role in professional learning initiatives. Her classroom has been featured in The Washington Post Magazine , NEA Today and the Book Club for Kids podcast . Prior to her work in education, Ms. Sanderson was vice president of a Washington, D.C. public affairs firm helping clients craft effective communication programs.
Question 1: Share your writing life: what do you write/like to write; do you share writing/how; where does writing fit into your life/work?
My writing life hides in plain sight, as my mind is always filled with conversation snippets and song lyrics and what ifs and to-dos. It is not until I release these noisy, swirling thoughts onto paper or a virtual page, that I solidify my reflections on any given topic. Deadlines spur me to action, but prompts guide me, as do sentence starters, graphic organizers, outlines, poetic structures, and mentor texts. When ideas strike like lightening, I scribble or click away phrases, describing what I see and think, how I feel and process. As a full-bodied story emerges, my mind eases and my heart is full. Day to day, I write about teaching, parenting, and growing up Chinese-American. Once in a blue moon, my inner novelist comes out to create and craft a fantasy world where a protagonist named Lily resides.
My writing life has some routines. I only buy purses that are big enough to hold a moleskin notebook. It also has to have room for a variety of pens and colorful felt-tipped markers. Most Saturday mornings I spend a few hours at a Starbucks, typing on one of my blogs and/or writing lists and reflections in my notebook. The month of March and the summer months are when I “work” on my writing. Daily on the Two Writing Teachers blog, I share a small moment story in March as part of their Writing Challenge. In the summer, friends and I meet up regularly to write, share and offer feedback. Both allow me to strengthen my writing muscle.
I tend to write mostly about my life in the classroom. Often it reads like a how-to for another teacher to try. Other topics include my daughters and traveling. I also write non-fiction pieces explaining highlights from conferences I attended because writing helps me process what I learned. Also, my notes then can easily be shared with other colleagues. Sometimes I try writing poetry but only by following a specific poetry format.
Currently, I teach 6th grade Reading so most of the writing I share with students is writing about reading. I do miss being a writing teacher and guiding students to write in a variety of genres. I’m still proud of the adapted fairytale and my “All About UVA” book I wrote a few years ago as a 3rd grade teacher. But for now, I tutor a few students after school with their writing and that satisfies the writing teacher in me.
In November, my eighth-grade students took on the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge. They wrote furiously every day for a month. I marveled to look across the classroom day after day and see students buried deep in thought or talking to a neighbor about a challenging story point.
As part of the effort, I told my students I would write every day with them. I was nervous about sharing my story ideas and rough drafts. But in fact, sharing my writing made us all brave.
Each morning, I arrived early and wrote in the calm before the school day storm. As the writing days added up, I found myself irritated if someone came into my room with a question while I was writing. My early morning writing space was vital.
Unfortunately, I let the joy of this morning routine fall by the wayside. I thought wistfully about the morning writing time, but I did not make adjustments to restore the practice.
The Slice of Life Story Challenge provides the same spark NaNoWriMo offered earlier in the year. I think about my posts walking the dogs, on my way to work, chatting with students and driving home. Oh, and my students are “slicing”! It is beautiful to see students select moments to share.
Bottom line: sharing my writing life with other teachers and students made me vulnerable. But, sharing my writing made me a part of a writing community.