I am a writer. For the last 48 years, I have not considered myself a writer. Yes, I can write an email, a letter, a thank you card, report card comments, and even a blog. But writing and being a writer are totally different. I think back to my writing instruction growing up, and I don’t remember any teacher teaching me how to write. I know I did worksheets. How can I forget the cold feel of new dittos? And the smell? I remember writing my first “term paper” on Norman Rockwell. I worked really hard on it, and I was so proud of my work. When I saw the “C” on the cover I was devastated. The teacher’s comments were “Your notecards are incomplete, we’ve talked about your poor penmanship, and why are there words printed on the back of the pages?” However, the most painful memory of writing happened in sixth grade. I turned in my “How to Essay.” I can still picture the harsh look on my teacher’s face, and her voice when she told me she didn’t understand anything I had written. When I asked her to explain she replied, “You are such a spoiled brat!”
Being that, historically, I was a non-writer, teaching writing is a struggle. As a third grade teacher, teaching students to write is paramount. So year after year, I have lied and faked my way through the Writer’s Workshop. I dreaded that they could sense my fear, and one day, my young students would realize I was a fraud. They would look up at me and say, “You want us to consider ourselves writers; you are not even a writer!”
Given my relationship with writing, it is ironic that I ended up applying to the Denver Writing Project. Last February at the state reading conference, I was visiting with Mark Overmeyer, a respected writer/educator who has published two books on Writer’s Workshop. As we discussed the conference, he brought up the Denver Writing Project and encouraged me to participate. While he talked my stomach started turning flips, and my heart started beating faster. I thought he must have me confused with someone else. All I could think about was that I was not a writer. Why would I even contemplate doing a writing project? I listened politely, looked at him; finally confessed that I was terrified to write. That night I received two emails from Mark. The first was information about the Denver Writing Project, and the second was about my blog. “I just read your blog. You can write!” Mark is very polite, so I took it as a nice gesture. Remember, I was not a writer.
Always the curious one, I clicked on the link and read about the Denver Writing Project. The more I read the more I thought: I need to do this.
I need to do this.
I was tired of the anxious feeling I had every day before writing. I took the next step and applied. I filled out the application and wrote the brief essay.
As you can guess, I made it into the Summer Institute. On the morning of June 13, 2011 I timidly made my way into the classroom on the University of Colorado at Denver campus. This was to be my home, away from home, six hours a day for the next 20 days.
I learned how to use SLAM poetry to engage students.
I learned how to use low-risk activities so students can experiment with different leads for stories.
I shared MY WRITING with my colleagues.
I was inspired by a peer that demonstrated the importance of not just showing our students our writing; but writing with them so they can see the process.
I learned ways to bring writing to life in my class.
I learned not to reel from horror at having to be a writing teacher.
My confidence grew and slowly I began to change the way I looked at writing. I know writing will never be easy, and I realize that it will always be a slow process. I will still struggle with spelling and misuse words like than and then. I will never write like Michael Chabon or Federico García Lorca, but I will write.
This I believe is why the Denver Writing Project helped me find the writer inside me.