It seems like you hear about defining moments all the time, like the moment when you know your spouse is the one, or the moment when someone realizes their job is not for them and quits and starts traveling the world. My problem was that…
IÂ couldn’tÂ remember having any defining moments!
which, God forbid, meant that I was either not paying enough attention to notice them or, even worse, my life was so pedestrian that I simply wasnât having them. So, you can imagine my relief and joy when I had my first Moment! I joke in my trainings that clouds parted and angels started singing, but it really was a magical moment for me. It was a turning point in my career as an educator. I was sitting in the Westin Hotel in Pasadena, California being trained in Write from the Beginning by the author, Jane Buckner.
You must first understand that at that time in my life teaching was everything to me. It was LIFE! I wasnât married yet, didnât have a child yet (let alone three), wasnât a homeowner. Teaching defined me. My students were my kids. They were my first thought in the morning and my last thought at the end of the day. My idea of a fun Saturday was being in my classroom all day, putting up bulletin boards, creating centers, and laminating anything that wasnât bolted down.
Even the smell of an upper grade classroom after lunch would make me smile. There was one big problem, however, and that was that…
I was an absolutely HORRIBLE writing teacher.
It was the one time of the day that I always managed to not get to. Oops, we read so much today we didnât get to it. Oops, itâs a minimum today, where shall I cut? Hmmmmm….. writing! Oh my, did we run out of time again? Silly me! My kids all struggled with writing and I struggled with teaching them.
I had cobbled together a writing program from talking to other teachers, attending workshops, a Scholastic book or two or three, and to be quite honest from thin air! Let me give you some examples of the ârulesâ I clung to with a death grip:
Worst Rule #1:Â I will start with my most embarrassing just to get it out of the wayâŠ Every paragraph must have five sentences. You would think I had never read a book! I cringe at the times students would come up to me and instead of reading their work I would count sentences!
Worst RuleÂ #2:Â Every essay is comprised of five paragraphs. It was my answer to everything! Students will write responses to literature = five paragraph essay. Students will write persuasive letters=five paragraph essay. Students will write research reports=five paragraph essay. You get the idea.
Worst RuleÂ #3: Your conclusion must restate your opening, but with different words. You must understand that ALL of my students were English Language Learners. They would look at me like I was crazy. You mean we have to say what we just said (in a language we are just learning) again, but use different words? Yes, I would say, and they would walk away shaking their heads.
I could go on, but I am sure you get the picture.Â I was sweating bullets every day to get my kids to write BADLY!Â So, there I was sitting in a conference room at the Westin and this woman, this proper, clearly brilliant woman is talking about writing. I donât mean the formulaic, fill in the blank, follow the rules kind of writing, but
- the kind of writing that you yourself could only hope to produce.
- the kind of writing where my âkidsâ could express their wonderful, funny, sad, interesting perspectives on life.
- the kind of writing where their voices could be heard, but at the same time not come out in a garbled way that caused me headaches to read.
She made it sound easy! She kept telling us that teaching writing is never easy (and she is right), but it made sense to me. Even better, she was making me think!
Her goal was for me to teach my kids to become writers,
to enjoy writing, to have their voices be heard. I was on my way.
Finally, a defining moment!
I would love to hear about one of your defining moments and if you want to make me feel better give me your top three worst writing rules that you wish you had never implemented in your classroom.