Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Teacher becomes a Writer

By Heather Jung

Image result for elementary student writing stock

On a sunny Tuesday morning last July, I found myself sitting in a graveyard in Winchester Virginia, two hours from my house, writing the first poem that I had written in almost 20 years. 

I have been writing for the WIDA blog for almost 2 years, but I never thought of myself as a writer.  I am an ELL literacy teacher. I work in an elementary school teaching students to be critical viewers, listeners, speakers, readers, and writers.  I am a teacher. That is what I am because that is what I get paid to do.  A writer is a person who writes books.  They are writers because that is what they get paid to do.  At least that is what I thought, before I participated in the Northern Virginia Writing Project's Invitational Summer Institute (ISI).

The Northern Virginia Writing Project (NVWP) is an affiliate of the National Writing Project (NWP), a non-profit organization of almost 200 university based network sites.  The NWP is focused on the knowledge, expertise, and leadership of our nation's educators on sustained efforts to improve writing and learning for all learners (, 2015). 

I have always believed that teaching students to write is an essential part of any literacy teacher’s day.  I also knew that good teachers of reading were avid readers themselves, but I never translated that to writing.  One of the core beliefs of NWP is that good teachers of writing write themselves.  This was a new concept for me.

Most of the other participants in my ISI were Secondary English teachers, for whom writing was already a normal part of their everyday lives.  This was not the case for me.  I only wrote when I had to.  It never occurred to me that I should or would want to write just for myself.  

Through engagement in a Writing Group and a Writing Marathon this began to change.  I found that I could write for enjoyment, rather than just to perform a task.  This was the change that I brought with
 me into the classroom when I went back to school this fall.

Certainly, participating in demonstration lessons presented by master teachers was great professional development and expanded my repertoire of concrete techniques for teaching writing. Of course, getting to know current and former participants has helped me to expand my professional network. But what has really revolutionized my teaching has been the change in how I think of myself when it comes to writing. 

Now, I think like a writer.  When I look at the world I look for important ideas that I want to write about.  I write regularly to convey those ideas.  Most importantly, I analyze my own process as a writer. 

This allows me to talk to students about their writing in a completely different way.  I can share in their challenges and successes as a fellow writer, rather than as an authority figure.  There is more honesty in my teaching.  When I talk to students about their writing I no longer use words that I’ve lifted from teacher resource books.  I can speak honestly and with conviction about my real experiences.  I know the struggles my students are facing when they are writing, because I face them in my writing too.

I am a teacher, but I'm also a writer.  I am a writer because I have something to say.  I am a writer because I believe that my ideas matter and deserve to be heard.  All teachers have important ideas to share, and all teachers of writing need to be writers into the classroom when I went back to school this fall.