Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Back in the U.S.A.

I was reminded (sometimes painfully) this summer of what it was like to be a student in a challenging class, and I found myself desperately wanting to please my professor. I sent her a barrage of e-mails as I worked on my papers, hoping to win her approval, until she gently reminded me that I was writing the paper for me, not for her. Aside from being a nice way of telling me to leave her alone,--she was a very busy woman--it also gave me a constructivist-teacher-epiphany (let's call it a CTE). To throw themselves into their work with curiosity and ambition, students need to be reminded repeatedly that they are doing their work for themselves, not for us. I wouldn't have spent hours, days, weeks in the Bodleian Library if my focus had been determined for me instead of by me. Well, I probably would have because I'm too much of a perfectionist, but I know that my final product would have been far weaker.

I think too often that the discourse I use to teach writing revolves around me. I say things like, "I don't want you to use boring verbs," or "I don't want to find any apostrophe errors," or whatever. I have never once told my students that they were writing their essays for themselves, not for me. Writing an essay to ingratiate yourself to your teacher and writing an essay to satisfy yourself are two wholly different tasks, and the latter is clearly the one we're striving for here. That goal has always been lying quietly underneath the writing lessons, but it's been drowned out by the much louder, egotistical-teacher-voice. I like that quiet voice. While I'm sad that I've largely ignored it so far, I'm eager to refocus.

In her comments on my final essay, my professor described my writing as displaying a "linguistic felicity." This seemed like a strange pairing of words at the time, but I truly was happy--in a tortured kind of way--as I wrote and researched, and it apparently showed. I'd like for my students to know how this feels.


Blogger Barbara S. said...

"I am eager to refocus" is a really great expression. As a math teacher who wants to quit "drill and skill" mode of teaching, this phrase is a nice way to start the school year.

6:33 PM  
Blogger Karl Fisch said...

I think you should share this post with your classes on day one (well, at least in the first week). I think it's a powerful piece of writing in and of itself, and conveys your hopes for your classes and the individual students.

9:01 PM  
Blogger James H said...

I think that all of us can learn a lot from becoming a student again and struggling through understanding. I also think that you should share some of this summer's learning with your students. They will appreciate your openness and it will give them a greater value of what it means to be a life long learner (for some of them).

12:30 PM  
Blogger Crosby said...

Wow - it sounds like you were much more academic than most of us this summer! Refocusing is always a good plan, and I think that your students will appreciate your thoughts about being a student again.

10:31 PM  
Blogger Davis said...

I think sharing just what you wrote, the struggle of searching for approval, searching for the grade possibly, will resonate with your students. They will recognize that your words have weight and can be something for them to own, not just (like you said) for you. I love it, Kristin.

8:45 PM  
Blogger Lary Kleeman said...

Well, I guess I would like to address your sense of guilt in that your writing instruction revolves around you.

I would venture to say that It Should Be About You--You As a Writer.

In other words, sharing what makes sense for you as a writer who has just come back from a summer of reading/thinking/writing in England as well as sharing what just makes sense and has worked for you as a lifetime writer. Hence, anecodotal references made to your students followed by "I've found this to work best" or something of the nature is, in my thinking, the most legitimate way of teaching writing.

I'm not buying that you have an "egotistical-teacher-voice".
Perhaps this phrase is a way of describing the tone that you take with being a "rule setter".
Instead of being the rule setter, be the reason behind the rules (your experience as a wrtier), the reason behind breaking the rules.

Is it time for high tea yet?


7:57 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home