Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/cSuLVN
It was a good day for professional learning in western New York: the temperature hovered well above zero, the roads into work were clear, the room we were in was dappled with morning sunlight, and all of the subs arrived on time.
I couldn’t have asked for anything more at 7:45 am, really. But then, of course, I got it.
“I’m so excited to spend today talking about reading,” one teacher admitted to another as she pulled a pile of picture books out of her bag and offered me a warm smile. “It’s going to be a good day.”
And it was. Every so often, my world shrinks a bit in order to inspire me, and this was one of those days.
“Sandy Barton is a friend of mine,” I smiled, passing copies of her children’s book, Discovery in the Woods, around the table. “She’s a local writer. She’s also a retired teacher.”
We were studying the development of character and setting, and I knew that Sandy’s book was the perfect mentor text. I began reading aloud.
“Wait,” one of the teachers stopped me several pages in. “How did you say you knew this author? Where did she teach again?”
I explained: Sandy was a retiree who recently joined my writing group. She taught in Williamsville, New York for quite some time, and after leaving the classroom, she made a new life for herself as a writer. Her story was an inspirational one for teachers everywhere.
“I thought so!” the teacher beamed, flipping the book from front to back and skimming through its pages. “Is her picture in here somewhere? I think my brother was her student. She was such a wonderful teacher.”
A quick trip through my Facebook friends list confirmed her suspicion.
“Now she’s a wonderful writer,” I said. “She’s also an inspiration.”
The fact that Sandy dared to make her writing dreams a reality was impressive enough, but it was the source of her ideas that compelled me most. The story we were reading was one she often shared with her own students when she was in the classroom. Long before it found its way into print, it lived in the hearts and minds of the writers she taught. Are you a teacher who longs to write? I hope you gain inspiration from Sandy’s approach:
Draft the stories you’ve told your students.
I believe that every writer needs a dedicated space for creative work, especially teachers who write. Here’s what I know: teachers put in more time for less pay than many professionals from other fields. Many also spend all day giving themselves to the children they teach only to come home and give themselves to the children they are raising. After they tuck everyone into bed, they often crack open their lesson plans or dive into student work that requires their immediate feedback.
Time is tight for teachers, and those who wish to write can’t waste it carving out a seat at the dining room table or clearing a corner of their classroom desktop in order to resume their work.
My friend Deborah Bussewitz understands this well. She’s also on the move quite a bit, traveling great distances to teach her own students while leading others who do the same. Her blog is home to the part of her that is a writer, and she shares many inspirational stories for teachers in her space. She loves having visitors, too. You should try this:
Create a dedicated space for your writing and invite company.
Last week, I was asked to help a group of administrators conceptualize and then strategically plan a year of professional learning. At some point during the conversation, someone suggested making professional book studies an option. I’ve been a participant and a facilitator of such experiences in the past, so I was familiar with the drill. Teachers tend to enjoy book studies and learn a great deal from them. I’m not one to question the approach too much.
“What if we invited teachers to circle up as writers instead?” I asked. “Writing has been a district-wide concern in recent years. When we were eager to improve reading motivation, we made more time for choice-based reading and we expected all teachers to participate. Why not try a similar approach with writing?”
And so, our first writing circle is beginning to take shape. Teachers will be writing beside students weekly, making their learning visible, and participating in exhibitions. Somehow, the fact that they’re connected as a group seems to be sealing their commitment. Knowing that others are looking forward to or even relying on your contribution matters. Finding company among those who share similar interests and goals does as well. So go ahead, reach out and find a group of your own. Start one, if you have to. If you’re eager to write yourself, this step might be the most important one you take:
Connect to other teachers who are becoming writers.
I’m inspired by writers who self-publish. Rather than waiting for permission to share their ideas, they blaze their own trails and do their own heavy lifting. I’m grateful for their courage and their tenacity. I’m also grateful to have access to their work far sooner than I might have if they pursued more traditional paths.
If you have something important to say about how we might serve children better, you must say it as soon as possible.
If you have stories or poems or songs to share that might serve the world, you must share them as soon as possible.
If you find a publisher who is eager to support these efforts, that’s fantastic.
If you don’t?
Don’t wait for permission.
And once you’ve become a writer who teaches, make your story known. Give more than your work away. Share your expertise with others who might be inspired by it. Explain where you get your best ideas from. Help others create dedicated spaces for their work. Encourage their efforts to publish. Promote their writing. Give them more than your permission. Give them your support:
Shine a light for others to follow.
This is how many teachers who long to become writers begin.
Which of these inspirational stories for teachers resonate with you most?
What bits of inspiration are you willing to share here?
I hope you’ll add your contribution in the comments.
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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.