Could you teach reading if you couldn't or didn't read? How about teaching a language, say Italian, if you weren't fluent in Italian yourself? Yet I wonder how many writing teachers - as in teachers of writing - are writing teachers - as in teachers who write? This is something that has been a conversation point in literacy education for a while now, and something that teachers are rarely excited to talk about. In my experience, there are a couple of sticking points here, both in terms of defining what is means to be a writer, and also expanding our notions of what is considered 'text'.
When working with a group of teachers, I often ask for a show of hands of those who consider themselves writers. I'm never overwhelmed with positive responses. Most glance around the room, hopefully searching for the often lone writer in the room. I've seen this point play out in schools in different ways, in one case with teachers being forced to carry a writer's notebook at all times. But just as we cannot force our students to write in any meaningful way, neither can we force teachers.
We advocate the use of mentor texts as a tool when teaching writing, which is undoubtedly a powerful method. We use the examples of published authors to share a strategy or element of process with our students. We teach them to read as readers, and then as writers. In my experience, however, many teachers of writing were not taught this themselves and are not comfortable to call themselves writers, even writers who are reading. How can they best learn to view the world as a writer? By writing. And how will they become better writers? By writing. The difficulty is finding a place to start these writing journeys without overwhelming our already stretched teachers. Professional learning is a great starting point, but we also need to help teachers recognise writing in their own lives and allow them to connect to the writer within them.
Just as we all have preferences in the types of books we read, we also have preferences in the type of writing we do. And there are so many ways we write. Surely all teachers have written academically as part of their journey to becoming teachers? Some may be song writers, others might share thoughts and ideas on social media in the form of commentary or review. Looking into these ways we already write is a great starting point to understanding your own process as a writer. It lends to a wonderful exploration of the purposes and audiences of our writing, all rich material to share with the writers in our classrooms.
Sharing our own writing with students is powerful in other ways too. Sharing stories and experiences from our own lives is an excellent way to build relationships with our students, who are always eager to learn more about us and the things that make us tick. Students are so eager to share a common interest, or to add their own ideas to yours. It never ceases to amaze me that kids will ask me about my cat, who was the subject of some writing I shared with them over a year ago.
We implore our students to have a go at writing, and we must heed that advice ourselves. We also need to recognise that we have all written for many purposes and in varied contexts, and it counts. We may not be published authors, nor very confident in our beginning writing. But we push ourselves to write more and to better understand our own process. Perhaps this is the first step for teachers of writing to become teachers who write: to find the writer already within us.