I don’t consider myself a writer.
I wasn’t that great in English class.
I haven’t written fiction since creative writing in high school. Even then, it was a struggle (I thought having turtles in a play was a good idea. Come on Ms. Triplett!).
So why, as a 26 year old guy busy with a job as technology integrator, surrounded by devices and video games and presentations, am I choosing to devote copious amounts of time to writing?
It is simple really – writing is important, and I want to be able to come back to my school and my students and walk the walk. Too often in school, we do things that have absolutely no relevance outside of the school day. Because of this, we might turn off students to the possibilities of that skill or tool because they have now forever associated it with something that is unfun. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but as a student myself, that is how I felt.
Writing was tough. I’d try my best, but my thesis would be off. I’d get a bunch of “So what?” on my paper. Even though I didn’t get terrible grades, I am still sure my teachers went through at least an entire pen of red ink on mine. Well, except for Ms. Kuzcmarski. Apparently, everything I wrote for her was gold. Even if it was done the night before (once again, what does that say if that is constantly what happens? That is a blog post for a different time).
Anyways, after a lot of challenges and difficulties with writing for an audience of one, it can be hard to shake off the idea that we aren’t good at writing, or why bother, it isn’t any fun.
Well, I’m here to say we can shake that off. Writing is important, and you only get better at writing if you are reading and writing. As educators, we need to do a better job of walking the walk when it comes to a lot of what we preach to our students.
“Make sure and divide this up. You can’t do this all at the last minute!”. Teacher devotes 6 hours to grade papers in one night.
“You are going to need to know this math for the future!”. Teacher uses a calculator for most math, or stores numbers in a spreadsheet or financial program.
“Make sure you have the right thesis statement, and your citations better be correct MLA format!” Teacher doesn’t write anything academic beyond college, and only links to resources used for class activities.
Note: I’m not here to blame teachers. We are in a system that values doing things to prepare kids to do those same things the next year. But, we need to reflect on this issue and realize that it doesn’t have to be that way. We can be doing things that are authentic and meaningful.
Like writing a #NaNoWriMo story. It is meaningful because it is an expression of me. It is a way to show I can focus on one thing for a stretch of time, and commit myself fully to it. It is authentic, because I am sharing my story with many others (and soon, the world). I don’t just want to do it, I want it to be as good as I can make something.
Most of all, I want to break the perception that some people are writers and others are not. Or some people are techies, and some aren’t. Or some people are math people, and others aren’t. This is all a big pile of BS. Sure, we have our own talents, but we have to stop shortchanging ourselves, while at the same time building in excuses for failing or not doing something. We are all capable of whatever we want to do. We just have to commit, be willing to fail and keep trying, and get better. We need to broaden our horizons and challenge ourselves in areas we are weak in.
To end, let me tell you a story that is a little embarrassing for me, but helps emphasize this point.
As a young kid, probably no more than 7 or 8, I tried to ride a bike with training wheels. I ended up crashing into the swamp, and never tried again. That is until I was 26 years old, and I received a bicycle as a gift, with the obligation that I needed to learn. I’d be willing to be there are few things more hilarious than watching a grown man try and learn to ride a bike. I looked like a toddler. I fell. And fell. And fell. I got frustrated. Threw tantrums. Probably made my wife feel like this probably wasn’t a good idea. But to her credit, she stuck by me and supported me. She wanted this to be something we could do together, and she wasn’t going to let me fail.
So, this summer, I’d go out and shoot hoops. Then, on my own, knowing that I would probably fall again and again, I brought out the bike, determined to beat.this. After about two weeks of daily crash and burn sessions, I was able to stay up, on the sidewalk for a few seconds. Then I was able to make it to the end of the driveway. Then down the road. Then on a bike trail.
Now, that was over the period of one month, doing something almost every day for about an hour. I went from being absolutely unable to do something to being able to serviceably do it on my own. Yeah, I’m not comfortable going in the road, I’m not great at turning, and I still wobble like a toddler. But now I’ve seen the success and it is addicting. I went from never wanting to ride a bike, to wanting to do it more so I can get better.
So get out there and do something you suck at. I don’t mean do something you hate. Clearly there should be value to it. But let’s all get real about our role. As educators, we are to be examples. If we are closed minded, only focused on the things we are already good at, we, whether you agree with me or not, are doing our students a disservice. They need role models who can demonstrate the willingness to try and fail like we expect of them. It might not be the silver bullet, but it will improve your relationships with your students and help everybody get a little better at something in the process.
And that’s what it is all about.