One thing I enjoy in my new retirement is continuing to serve on the school district’s Professional Development Committee. Representatives on the team include staff from each school in the district, a school board member, assistant superintendant, and one community member. That community seat is now mine! The PDC has two main charges: first, to manage the state’s Department of Education teacher certification process. The other is to plan and facilitate training opportunities; thus, we sponsor a Common Workshop Day each March. All teachers from the whole district are required to attend and each year’s program includes a keynote speaker and a large assortment of workshops usually organized around a theme.
For a number of years now, I have been a presenter at about every workshop session on these days. I find teaching colleagues to be fun, and I’m willing to put myself out there even if I’m not the one with the most expertise – I’m OK with telling people that I’ll find the answer if I don’t already know it. This week we met to finalize all the workshops, and we realized that we were missing some key topics, including writing instruction. I volunteered to rearrange the sessions I had planned in order to take one on in writing instruction.
As I thought about it today, though, I think I will offer up a preamble to my content on that day. In the past year I have learned more about writing than I ever learned while I was employed as a teacher of writing. Writing blog posts on a regular basis has given me far greater understanding of the common advice we teachers hear from published authors consistently: “If you want to be a good writer, then write. Write every day.” I now understand this on a different level than I knew it before. The best thing teachers can do for their students is to have them write — every day. It doesn’t even have to be “fussy” writing — have them write in journals, with or without topic guidelines. It’s the daily experience that matters. And while students aren’t going to be as self-correcting as I am, they will still be able to recognize improvement, and success leads to more success. At the very least they will be more able to produce more writing more easily, and in less time. I think teachers should write every day, too, but I also know that teachers are already overbooked and overwhelmed — which is why I am only now practicing that song.
Through writing the blogs, I have learned how to be more succinct, how to manipulate sentences to make them better, and how to be better able to recognize and toss out the parts that aren’t good enough, no matter how fond of them I might be.
And since this January 1st, I have learned even more. I made a resolution this year, to write a poem a day, and so far I’ve been successful. Because I love to write poetry, this resolution was not a chore, something I need to do to be a better person. This practice has been fun, and I look forward to it. But what I’m learning is that the actual daily routine has enabled me to be more easily in touch with metaphor and deeper meanings. It doesn’t even take a lot of time – some days it’s as much as a half hour, and other days it’s quite a bit less than that. My goal is not to win any awards with knock-‘em-over, top quality; my goal is to write every day, and sometimes I walk away with a first draft that goes nowhere. But sometimes I walk away with a surprise that makes me smile.
Today was one of those days.
The hardest part of my daily practice is coming up with a topic, so this morning I thought I’d write about how I really need new hair color because my gray roots are way too noticeable. I seldom think of titles first, but when I sat down at the computer the title of this one popped into my head instantly: “My Roots Are Showing.” Suddenly there was a flash of lightning in my head and I knew that the poem would seem to be about my family heritage, and then at the end I would twist it around to be about my hair. I had been looking at old family photos recently, and images of my grandmother and aunts had stuck in my brain. The poem itself still needs some polishing, but that’s OK – just having that great idea made it a good day.
My Roots Are Showing
The days are long; when I get up in the morning
I wonder about all the years gone by
Did my grandmother think this, too
as she went through the work of ages passed?
I look like my grandmother,
and aunts as well, certain characteristics
handed down through all those years.
Pictures declare it.
It shows in my gray
hair, like my grandmother’s before me.
I will fight this passage of time,
cover these roots,
keep myself young.
It’s the daily habit that makes that kind of thing happen. Words are powerful instruments, and the more we practice the better we get. Just write – a page a day of journaling, or whatever comes into mind. That’s the best writing instruction I have to offer. There is a connection between the pen/keyboard and the brain, and regular exercise will keep the writer fit.
Life is good.