Too many irons in the fire. This is a phrase I’ve heard most of my life. I started hearing it as a child, and today, decades later, my mom’s voice stays with me. Too many irons in the fire. I hear it when I think about the school day. It whirls and spins us around and around. Just pause and think about the tasks facing you on the next school day. The list is long, so long, in fact, that the idea of adding one more thing to the already crunched To-Do List is absurd. I acknowledge this fact because I live it too. Still . . .
I believe in being a teacher who writes. Today. And the next day and the one after that.
I know there are reasons why this will never work. I’ve heard most of them, have claimed some of them, and understand, logistically, there just aren’t enough minutes in the day. But what if we could become teachers who write? How might it play out in real time? What if instead of listing all of the reasons it’s impossible to write daily, we come up with an opposite kind of list, a powerful list of possibility.
For me, becoming a teacher who writes has changed me more than any other instructional strategy, advice, or professional conference. I’ve been transformed from teaching writing to teaching writers all because I put words on the page. It is simple and difficult rolled together. Ultimately, though, it is possible. It is possible to become a teacher who writes.
Our days are made up of moments. If we want to be teachers who write, then we choose to spend some of these moments writing. It is not enough for us to decide to write, we must also decide what we are going to give up. When I first started writing, I gave up ten minutes in the teacher’s lounge at lunch. I ate my lunch and then instead of sitting and chatting I returned to my classroom and spent ten minutes writing. Are there moments throughout the day you can steal for writing? This may mean ducking into your classroom at the end of the day instead of talking with colleagues in the hallway; or perhaps you’ll chose to use the beginning of your prep to devote to writing. I watch less television so I can scribble more words.
Ten minutes is powerful. Sometimes we think we need hours in order to write. Instead, I think of capturing snippets of time. While my son plays in the tub, I can write an introduction. While the chicken thaws for dinner, I can write a quick list in my notebook. Sometimes I set a timer for ten minutes and I write until it beeps.
The way we spend our time speaks volumes about the things that are important to us. If writing is a priority, we will find the time to write. When are some possible times you can carve out of the day in order to scribble in your notebook?
Where are you going to collect your words? The back of scrap paper only works for so long until you will want a place more permanent to keep your writing. When I first started, I worked in a notebook, exactly like I expected of my students. Later I started a blog. Today I have different spaces for different kinds of writing. I keep traditional paper writers’ notebooks, as well as blogs. My single blog has expanded into three blogs. I blog as a teacher at Two Writing Teachers, as a writer at Ruth Ayres Writes, and as mom at Good Happy Life, a private blog. Just like my blogs, I have different writers’ notebooks too. There’s a notebook for my classroom work and a notebook for my family stories and a notebook for my YA work. Finally, I use my computer to collect words, often opening a Word document and dumping some lines into a file.
You only need one space. (But consider my examples a warning — once you become a teacher who writes, it may spiral out of control, and you will want to write more and more and more!) The remarkable thing about being a teacher who writes is you can write about anything. What tugs at your brain and makes your fingers itch to collect words? It can be a favorite hobby, or maybe you want to spend your energy collecting bits about your family life, or maybe technology in your classroom has your heart fluttering. It doesn’t have to be formal; it just has to be written.
Writing is hard. There will be times you won’t feel like writing, so consider ways you will press on even when it’s difficult. There are a handful of people in my life who I know will question me about writing. Perhaps there is a colleague or a family member who would like to embark on this journey with you. It is always easier to stay committed with someone instead of alone. As a blogger, it is easy to see how loyal you are to your writing life because your posts are automatically dated. In addition, I like to keep inspirational notes on the front of my notebooks or tucked into unexpected places like my computer bag or laundry room. Click here for the Write Today word art you can print out and put in a frame near your writing space, giving you instant inspiration.
As we write, our words begin to pile and it is then we can understand, firsthand, some of the experiences writers face. We ask students to write day in and day out during writing workshop, it is only reasonable for us to do the same.