I Am Not a Writer Who Teaches

If we as teachers do not read and write in our own “real” lives, how can we expect our students to value reading and writing as anything more than school work?Kathleen Sokolowski

The current consensus among teachers of writing seems to be that it is necessary to be a writer, to write regularly, in order to be a good writing teacher.

One problem with this, for me, is that I really, really, really don’t like writing, at least not in the creative sense. I do not have the remotest urge to keep a diary, or a journal, or a notebook. I have notebooks. And I do write things down. Mostly they’re lists of things I need to remember to do. Lesson plans. Songs to add to my karaoke rotation. Movies to watch. Groceries to purchase.

Many writers describe the process of writing as a form of thinking.

Apparently this is common, but I don’t experience it. For me, thinking comes first. It has to. How do people put anything down without thinking about it? I don’t understand that at all, but apparently it’s a thing. Like the idea that a story goes in a different direction than you’d planned. I guess maybe that doesn’t happen for me because I don’t really plan out my stories; I generally have an idea for what ideas I want to explore, and what makes sense.

Generally, I write to communicate. Letters. Emails. Social media posts and comments. If there’s no audience, writing seems both pointless and tedious. If I’m exploring an idea, I can do that within my own mind. That also gives me more freedom to rethink and restructure without having to erase or scroll or undo.

Trying to write is like making donuts. Yes, there are stories that I’d like to read that haven’t been written. However, there are an awful lot of stories out there that I haven’t yet read that sound very interesting. Making donuts is an awful lot of work, and given that we’re five minutes from a Dunkin Donuts and fifteen minutes from a Krispy Kreme, it’s really not worth the effort. Likewise, my narrative hankering is quite easily satisfied with a trip to the library.

I think that in order to be an effective teacher of reading, you need to be a strong reader, so that you can say “here’s what you can do when you need to read something that’s difficult, or something you just don’t feel like reading.” I feel much the same way about writing. In order to be effective at teaching it, you have to have strategies for addressing common writing challenges.

In both cases, I think it’s completely possible to have these skills even if you don’t currently practice them often. The question that’s embedded within Solokowski’s question is “in what way should people value reading and writing?”

But it often seems like teachers of reading and writing over-prioritize their subject matter. When you’re really passionate about something, and you also have the opportunity to make it your life’s work, it’s easy to get tunnel vision. Socrates reportedly claimed that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” which would seem to be patently false, given the vast numbers of people who neither devote themselves to philosophy nor give in to despair.

There are a lot of things in life that should be valued well ahead of reading and writing. Kindness. Integrity. Patience. Persistence. It is completely possible to live a full, meaningful life without reading or writing on any sort of regular basis. It’s definitely important to be able to read and write well enough to accomplish the tasks that matter to you. And so I want my students to develop their skills enough so that they can choose the options that best fit their interests and goals.

I am not a writer. I write, sometimes. But I’m not “a writer” any more than I am “a singer” or “a cook.”

More than anything else, I am a teacher.

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