Friday, September 19, 2014

On Validating Writers

Share it Please
The following is a repost from May, 2012. These thoughts ring true right now as I am in the midst of reading the first major piece of writing from my juniors. 

As of 10:00 this morning, I am a free woman. At least until school starts back the first of August. Oh, how I have missed you Summer Break!! Usually I spend my summers working with teachers with the Middle TN Writing Project, so all of June is in a classroom that requires an hours drive each way. I love every minute of it. We're changing things up this year, though, so I won't be going every day. Instead I'll be developing some online professional development programs and organizing a three hour session to present to my faculty. But that I can do from home, so no commute, no spending my summer salary on gas, and no racking up miles on my still-smells-new car.

Right now the husband is outside dong something, the kid is at her grandparents' house slipping and sliding, I am (for once) not in the middle of reading a book, and the laundry can wait. It's the perfect time to write. But my novel and I are not speaking right now. The first draft is technically done, but I'm trying to add a few needed scenes before I officially declare that. Since this is a much larger project than anything I have written before, I'm finding it to be quite a challenge to add significant sections in at this point. With a five page narrative, there's only so much to add. And finding said parts is easy. Wading through a couple of hundred pages looking for one scene, not so much. But something happened yesterday that made me think of something that happened several years ago, and I wanted to share it. I'm actually not commenting on what happened yesterday: that's another post, but here's the other story.

In 2000, I had the most amazing composition professor. Dr. Hagaman was like a grandfather to his students: gentle and kind. He shared his writing with us, and never criticized anyone to my knowledge. One of our assignments was to write a "Literacy Autobiography" explaining how we got to where we were with language. I'll have to retype it and post it at some point. Dr. Hagaman praised my writing in my final portfolio, but even with that and so many other compliments on my writing, I did not see myself as a writer.

Fast forward to December 2007. I was back at my alma mater, taking the last two classes for my Master's degree. Dr. Hagaman and I met each other in the hallway of the main liberal arts building. He stopped me and said, "Didn't we have a class together several years ago?" When I answered that, yes, I had taken two of his classes, he said, "Yes, yes. You wrote that wonderful piece about listening to the music of Opryland from your backyard." That is exactly what my literacy autobiography was about.

He didn't remember my name, or even which class I had been in, but he remembered my writing. That's when I began to see myself as a writer.

That moment inspired me to write more and to share my writing. But more importantly, it changed how I respond to students' work. It is hard to share your words with an audience, and we all--teenagers and adults both--just want someone to get what we're saying. I try to focus my comments around that: getting what they are saying, connecting to it. It's not all praise. I wouldn't be a good teacher or fellow writer if it was, but I really want my kids to know that I am hearing their words. When I start with the good and offer specific praise, I find that my students are more apt to take my criticisms to heart. They want sentence two to be as good as I said sentence one was.

But they want to be heard. They want me to know them. And when I remember sometihng they wrote weeks later--maybe even when they are no longer my students--they know their English teacher cared about them as a person. That will always be goal one for me.

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