Contrary to the sarcastic tone of the title of this post, I do believe that ‘self-reflection’ is an essential part of the teaching process. Good teachers know when something hasn’t worked and change things to try to have more success the next time around. As James Gray, founder of the National Writing Project, said in his book Teachers at the Center:
“Teachers establish their credibility by admitting their mistakes.”
My first year of teaching full-time in my own classroom was the 2011-2012 school year. For our writing time, I tried to establish a writer’s workshop. I created guidelines for the workshop and shared with them ‘the’ writing process (plan, write, revise/edit, publish). I told the students about how much I loved to write, yet I practically never wrote with them. I told the students that they could write about whatever they wanted, but when they inevitably said, “I don’t have anything to write about,” I would point to their mandated list and say, “How about you write about that trip to the water park?” thereby taking away their choice and spoon-feeding them a topic (I ended up with a lot of ‘water park’ stories that year). I read them mentor texts to spark ideas for writing, but I never asked the students to tell me the ideas they got from the book, instead I would tell them, “Now you can write a story about a time that you wanted something, but did not get it.” I taught them how to prewrite or plan their stories by using a prescribed worksheet, even though I prewrite by taking photographs, reading The New York Times or letting my mind wander when I go running. I told them to think about the person who would be reading their stories and always gave them time to share, but I never fully taught them to appreciate the concept of ‘audience,’ when having an (implied) audience for my writing has made all the difference. I told them it was important to publish their writing, but when they completed a final draft of a story I would stack it in a pile in the corner of the room, never to be seen or heard from again.
I was a whirlwind of contradictions.
And I was too busy trying to keep my head above water to even notice. Enter the Greater Madison Writing Project.