“I am a writer.”
Proclaiming these words invites my fifth grade students to do the same. Together, we are a community of writers who declare this truth: we dream, create, share and cheer together.
This classroom culture is a far cry from that of my new teacher freshness of 20 years ago. Then I stood before my students with the roles of teacher and student clearly delineated. In my early years, I served as the more knowledgeable other; teaching mini-lessons using a few recycled pieces of my own writing. Every unit I taught supported students in writing a form of one particular genre. Students had choice but in topic only. I relied heavily on teacher created checklists and rubrics to evaluate student work; work that likely ended up stuck somewhere at the bottom of a locker. I pulled up alongside students and conferred with them about their writing focusing on the question “What can I teach this writer?” rather than “How can I support this writer?” We sat together as teacher to student rather than writer to writer.
My metamorphosis from teacher to teacher writer evolved during the years of my ever- changing roles as
Fifth grade teacher
Fifth grade teacher
It traveled from the Italian neighborhood of the Bronx’s Arthur Avenue
to the bountiful apple orchard and rolling hills of Schuylerville, NY.
Now, my classroom resembles more of a writer’s cafe complete with soft music playing in the background. I carry my notebook with me always, opening pages to show my students what I am working on. During mini-lessons, I sit and compose with students in real time letting them see how as a writer, I too struggle with the blank page and finding just the right word to express my thoughts, feelings and ideas. And when we confer, I listen more than I talk. I follow my student writer’s lead and offer tips to nudge them further in that direction. I still use checklists and rubrics but now I create them with students and they serve as tools for goal setting and celebration.
What led to this transformation? A workshop with literacy coach Paula Bourque planted the seeds of my teacher writer identity. It was 2017, during my second stint as a literacy coach this time for the Schuylerville school district, when Paula encouraged us to schedule writing time in our daily lives. I always knew I had a book in me but I had no idea how to move from that desire to holding said book in my hands. Turns out, a writing habit and the support of groups such as TeachWrite and the Chippewa River Writing Project held the key. Shortly after that workshop, my dear friend and fellow literacy coach, Shelley Fenton and I formed our company, Lit Coach Connection. We launched our website just in time to participate in Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life Challenge during which we published a blog post daily. Having experienced the power of discovering our own writing identities, Shelley and I facilitated virtual summer sessions called “Connected Writing Teachers” in which we created space for teachers to experience the power of their writing voice.
Today I have a writing habit that includes blogging, writing in my notebook each morning, and plugging away at a memoir as well as a professional book.
But it was returning to “my home” as a fifth grade teacher that allowed me to embody the role of teacher writer. Having my own class of students allows me to put 20 years of professional learning into action. Truly, teaching writing again has been a constant source of joy.