Sometimes I forget I'm a writer. That's because I am so busy being a teacher.
Or a husband.
Or a dad.
Or a handyman.
When the Bay Area Writing Project showed up at our school last week to give all of us teachers and handymen a refresher course on how to teach writing, I had my writing nerve tweaked. Yes, I know that I sit down daily to hammer out these accounts of my reckless life and wayward ideas, but I don't always think of myself as a writer. I'm squeezing it in as an avocation. Which is fine and noble, but it doesn't make a lot of sense that I don't share that part of myself to kids who are still trying to discover what it means to be a reader, a writer, and so on. I could be some kind of inspiration.
One of the biggest impediments to this revelation is my reaction to most students when they are given a writing assignment. The very first question is, inevitably, "How long does it have to be?" And as the class proceeds, I see their tortured faces looking up at me asking, "Is this enough?"
This is the hardest part for me to rationalize. When I was a student, a blank page was there to be filled. Just as I sit here now, anxious to cover the screen in front of me with all the words and phrases I could manage to jam together. It's an opportunity to express myself. How often does that come around?
That was and continues to be my reality, but doesn't quite match up with the way things go in the minds of many ten year olds. That vast expanse of empty cannot be filled quickly enough, which is why I get so many kids who will park a finger on a key and attempt to cover their screen with the letter G as if I might be giving their work such a superficial once-over that I could be bamboozled by such a ruse. Nope. I'm looking for real thought, real expression.
But can I make this easier for them? Yes I can. There are definitely those students whose best effort will be to copy down the prompt from the board and then ask to be released from any further abuse. Which I was reminded by the friendly folks at BAWP is easier if the kids have some alternatives to the way they respond. If that first attempt happens to be the letter G, then I can hope that the next draft might include some vowels. Growing up without a fear of the blank page doesn't mean that it doesn't exist in others. As it turns out, there might be a few more of those with that phobia than I had originally imagined.
And it's my job to help mitigate that fear. And to open doors that may have been closed. And to encourage others to start at the upper left hand corner and see where they end up. I might be surprised. I hope they will be too.
We're building something here. We'll start by learning to use the tools we have. Someday they might build their own cathedral. Or explain why they couldn't.