Teaching as narrative art; teacher as storyteller

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Once upon a time there was a writer, turned teacher, turned writer… Turned teacher/writer. Good teachers at our hearts are essentially story tellers. We know story hooks children into the learning whether the topic be children in South Sudan or the quadratic equation, minds wander to why.

Failed teacher? Failed writer? Which came first: the chicken or the egg…

For me, I started as a teacher but in my head I was really a writer. I taught for six years, liked it well enough, worked hard, had success. Then there was a confluence of events as there often is: I had a hard year of teaching at the same time as my husband was offered an exciting position working in Montreal. “Be a writer?” He said to me. “Are you kidding?!” I said,”of course I will.” I told my friends the plan:

“I’m going to be a writer!”

“So how are you gonna make money?…” They would ask.

“I’m going to be a writer…” I’d repeat.

“So…” (long pause here…) “Your husband will take care of you?”

Okay then… I left the classroom and took up another life…

I got a degree in translation, I worked as a translator, a copy editor, a writer. I wrote scripts, pitch documents (so many pitch documents…), I wrote a novel (or two) and participated in a mentorship through Humber college with Joan Barfoot. Yann Martel read me. I met Robert McKee and loved his workshop. I was published in Scholastic instructor. Once upon a time I made it to top 20 in the CBC Canada writes blogging contest. I translated a science textbook…

Where does my work appear now? Mostly nowhere but here…

Finally, I found that the freelance life wasn’t working for our family. I couldn’t be up all day with kids and work at 10 o’clock at night to deliver a document at 6 o’clock in the morning. So I quit.

Maybe.

I’m back in the classroom where I seriously love to be. I am doing a masters degree and have a love for reading and writing about teaching and learning that allows me to marry my loves together into pretty much my dream job.

I think every teacher brings something amazing and different to the table. Part of what I love about teaching are the many varied talents of my colleagues. Not every teacher is a writer; I know plenty of teachers were or are something different in their lives outside of school (sales people, secretaries, personal trainers… the list is endless). But I do think blogging is accessible to every teacher. It’s cheap. It’s accessible. It opens our practice to discussion.

Blogging is a reflective practice; it is important because it makes visible that reflection that often occurs in our heads, on the way home after work, while cooking, while running, while waiting to fall asleep at night.

Does the “publish” button sometimes make me take a long pause? You bet. My admin reads my blog. Potential employers may see what I write. Potential PhD panels may see it in the future and decide I’m not the candidate they are looking for. At the least (or maybe at the most), though, I hope that I can demonstrate blogging is a place for reflection and interaction. It is a place to celebrate success but it is also a place to share what doesn’t work for me and to seek opinions.

Not every teacher brings “writer” baggage to the table, but every teacher can and should blog. It’s the opportunity to make visible the reflective practice that so often happens as teachers. It’s not only what happens in our classrooms that makes us professional educators but also the reflection on best practices, on assessment and evaluation, on feedback, on knowing our students that makes us true professionals.

Anybody can stick a shiny sticker on a spelling test with 100% written on the top. Not everyone knows how or why that might not be best classroom practice.

The truth is that teachers are one part craftsman, honing a skill that can be passed from one practitioner to the next, one part artist, storyteller, dramatic artist, engaging students in the magic of learning, for when it’s done well, any story is narrative art.

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