2012--the year my younger daughter (in her sophomore year of an English education major) began questioning my teaching practices, the year my older daughter graduated from college and got engaged, and the year I began blogging. In the long run, it’s probably one of the family events that will be most significant, but in my daily teaching life, I’m sure the prize goes to blogging.
I started blogging as a way of killing two birds with one stone: keeping myself accountable to reflect regularly on my professional reading and practice while gaining experience in the technology to which many of my students are native. There was also the pleasant side effect of being able to easily share a thought once captured, emailing a link to a friend or colleague, though I shrank from the thought of any larger audience.
Still, the idea of having some limited possible audience has renewed my empathy with my students: the nervous butterflies of unveiling one’s writing to the eyes of strangers, as well as the discipline of just getting something down even when the inspiration doesn’t flow and of doing a little more revising and editing than with a private journal.
Being a practicing writer as I teach writing has been fascinating. It has sharpened my awareness of what is important to do and how I do it--from ways of crafting a hook and conclusion, to when and why I use (or don’t use) a thesis and preview of points, to what makes a good transition, to balancing specific support and general observations, to keeping my voice personal yet not too informal. This gives me not only empathy for students, but also ideas and examples to share with students--from my own writing and from other writing--because the more conscious I become of my own craft of writing, the more I identify others’ craft as I read.
But probably the biggest surprise of all has been the emergence from the shadowy background of those previously fuzzy concepts of audience and purpose. No wonder I couldn’t teach them to my students--I didn’t really grasp them myself! I wrote unit guides and assessment prompts for my students because it was my job, and they wrote essays, stories, and poems for me because it was their job, but neither of us had a real clear idea of who we were writing for or why--our audiences were captive. I’m still not sure who I’m writing for or why in my blog--but I’m having a running internal conversation about it every time I think about what I’m going to write.
Here are some of the voices in the discussion:
- If I’m writing for other teachers, I need to have an intriguing, transferable idea up front with a lot of specific student examples. (At least, that’s what I like to read from other teachers.)
- I shouldn’t write too long.
- But I want to write that long! It’s what I have to say.
- Okay, Kim, down, girl--you can write long--you’re not trying to attract a big audience. Your first audience is yourself--getting your ideas down; your second audience is friends and colleagues who are interested, and they’ll bear with you; your far distant third audience is anyone else who happens across it.
- But I want people to read and like me! I don’t want them to think I’m long-winded and dull.
- Maybe I should post on Facebook--I’d get more readers!
- But there are much better teachers out there--why do I have anything to say? I don’t want to be presumptuous.
The internal discussion goes on.
What I know is, by thinking about my audience and purpose, I’ve become more aware of my craft of writing and a better writing teacher.
By working to give students real audiences and real purposes for their writing, I can become even better.