Author: Anne Elrod Whitney
For the past several years I have met monthly with a group of K-12 teachers, librarians, and special educators from a number of different schools spread across our small town. After a long school day, we eat cookies or fruit, share stories from our classrooms, compare notes on teacher interns or on new policies—and we write. We sit in a public library, a church library, or a living room, and we write. Sometimes the writing is hard. Words fail us. We feel we can’t break through the onslaught of the day to say anything other than “I survived.” Emails from colleagues or from parents pour into our inboxes, pulling us out of our writing with their little pinging sounds. Our phones buzz with texts from the babysitter, or calls from the bank. We’re tired and we rub our eyes. Our minds wander and the words are hard to come by.
And yet we write. We write blogs for community consumption. We write letters to the superintendent or school board. We write articles for the journals of our professional associations. We write rants and diatribes, poems and promises. We write a column for the local paper. We do write. Sometimes the fifteen or twenty minutes we spend in “writing time,” quiet together with keys tapping or pencils scratching, is the only quiet time in a teacher’s whole professional day. That we write, period, can feel like a triumph.
Our writing works for us. We have used our column to present to the people of our town a glimpse of the life we live inside classrooms and our sense of the generative places schools can be if we are brave enough to make them so. We have used journal articles to urge our colleagues to try something we found helpful—or more usually, to invite them into a conversation about something we struggle with. Our writing has been a steam release valve, a fire alarm, a trumpet call, the knocking of a gavel, a swan song, a dinner bell. We have written well and we have written poorly, but through it all we have, over time, come to call ourselves “teacher-writers.”
To be a teacher-writer is different than being a teacher or being a writer. It is to be one who both engages a process of composing and one who engages others in doing so. It is both to guide students and to work alongside them. It is to claim a vision of writing as something more than the mere transfer of information or as the mere completion of a formula. It is to claim a vision of teaching as something more than the mere transfer of information or the mere completion of a formula. To be a teacher-writer is to raise your voice and let your writing be as powerful as it can be.
Anne Elrod Whitney is Associate Professor of Education at the Pennsylvania State University. A former high school English teacher, she now works with teachers and conducts research on writers and writing inside and outside of school. To read more about the teacher-writer group she describes in this post, see “Writing as Teacher Leadership” (Whitney & Badiali) beginning on page 2 of English Leadership Quarterly, October 2010.