“We don’t learn by doing, but instead by reflecting on what we’ve done.”
The most impactful moment of my life as both a writer and educator (as mentioned previously here) happened my freshman year of high school, and I think about it often as the moment I started thinking of myself as a writer.
This shift occurred primarily because of the (admittedly heroic) efforts of my 9th grade English teacher, Tricia Scow. I was fourteen and trying to be cool, so I told anyone who would listen that I hated reading and writing, and I was absolutely dreading my English class next period. I, of course, harbored a secret love of it all. Early in the semester we started what Mrs. Scow called M&Ms (and I cannot, for the life of me, remember why), which essentially was a daily journal we kept by writing — nonstop — for ten minutes at the beginning of each class. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was meant to become a record of our growth as readers and writers.
I fought this process tooth and nail. I wanted no part of writing everyday, and my early entries are filled with angsty scribblings about how much I didn’t want to do what I was doing. Eventually, however, and with the aforementioned heroic efforts of one very amazing teacher, I began to write seriously — and about everything. What I was reading, what I was going through, experimenting with short stories and poetry — even the beginnings of a novel I will surely never finish.
And I began to think of myself as a writer.
How could I not? When you spend ten minutes everyday for 8 months doing something, it inevitably takes the fear and hesitation out of it; this is a wonderful gift Mrs. Scow gave me.
At the end of the year, close to one of the last days of school, we pulled out our journals to write, and Mrs. Scow stopped us. Instead of writing, she said, we were supposed to take the ten minutes to look through the journal, cover to cover, and reflect on what we’ve written.
And it was like someone turned a light on in my head.
I was a writer. A real one. Someone who had a journal that showed things like “personal growth” and “potential.” It wasn’t until I was asked to reflect on my “journey as a writer” that I realized I actually was a writer, and that I had become a better writer and could continue becoming better and better. I remember the moment so clearly, and looking back realize just how much I owe to Tricia Scow.
And this reflection, I think, is the key to being a better writer (or reader, or student, or friend, or anything, really) and the key to coaching students to become better writers as well; if you’re not acknowledging your growth and achievement specifically, it can also be easy to miss the ways you could grow and achieve even more. It also forces acknowledgement; I never would’ve called myself or even thought of myself seriously as a writer if I hadn’t been asked to reflect on my journey as such.
And this, I believe, is another key element of fostering a love (or tolerance, at least) of writing in students; call them writers. Every chance you get. It instills the kind of confidence one needs to write seriously, and to reflect, and make mistakes and throw away whole projects and start over and revise and revise and revise. That process is messy and strenuous and sometimes stressful and sad and sometimes revealing and monumental; the badge “Writer” often feels like a cape, or a shield, or a weapon — you can handle that, Writers handle that all the time — and you, afterall, are a writer.