Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A Written History

I learned of a way to connect with my students' fear of writing by exploring my history as a writer with them. The task required me to examine my own development throughout school and beyond. The outcome of this activity should allow my students to understand that the craft of writing happens over time and is often challenging.
Let me share my history with you. If you wish, post your own history in the comments section.

For as long as I can remember, I have written well. I can't say I always wrote neatly. From Ms. Stack to Ms. Mudget to Ms. Morgan, my penmanship always needed improvement. But in terms of content, I don't ever remember struggling. Truthfully, I wasn't much of a reader until my Junior year of high school, but was very happy whenever the test included essays. I could b.s. better than anyone.
That is why my spirits were nearly crushed when I received my first essay back from Ms. Traut. She verbally shredded my essay. I mean, it was heartless. As it turned out, the heartlessness was only my imagination. The reason she wrote more on my essay than I did was because it needed to improve. And it did.
The first day of orientation at Northwest University (formerly college), we all had to provide a writing sample for consideration. I managed to gain admittance into an English 103 class--an honors writing class. But again, a teacher managed to assault my writing with comments like, "cluttered," "redundant," "passive voice," and mostly "fragment."
I tried to argue that the fragments were on purpose--they were--but Ms. Young gave me this piece of advice, "Until you are published, you will write correct sentences." If I ever get published, I will dedicate the book to Ms. Young. Without hesitiation.
The two previous teachers prepared me for Ms. Pope. Rumor had it she was tough. I'll admit a sense of fear the first day of class. I sat in Ms. Pope's office a number of times as she praised my work while offering ways to improve. She always encouraged me to write.
This blog is largely a product of her encouragement. Yet, even after reflecting on my history as a writer, I cannot fully understand how I got to this point. Every student can write correctly, but not every student can write beautifully. And even for all the praise various teachers have offered, I sit amazed at the ability others have to construct a story, to tap into their life blood and let it bleed into the ink on the pages.
Ultimately great writing is exactly that, an expression of who we are at our most human, our most honest. And if I could find a way to shred the facades that my students construct, whether out of fear or embarrassment, my students would learn that all the pre-writes in the world cannot produce a better essay than when they write from their own experiences--their own understanding of the world they live in.


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