I doubt the memory will ever leave me. It happened on a sunny Monday in late September during my first year of teaching. On my desk sat a four inch stack of slightly crumpled computer paper–the first student essays of the year–covered in blue ink and ready to go back to the students. Over the previous two weeks those essays had been nearly constant companions of mine as I did what I supposed good English teachers were supposed to do: I stayed up late extensively correcting and commenting in the margins and finished each paper with a personalized note to the student next to their grade.
As I readied to turned them back, I beamed with pride. Commenting through the stack had taken me well over 30 hours, but I knew it was worth it. My responses were thoughtful, thorough, personal, and would undoubtedly connect with the students in a deeper way than the general nature of class allowed.
I had decided to wait until the end of class, so that my comments wouldn’t distract the students from the lesson, and when it came time to hand them back, I felt ready to burst from anticipation. As the papers began fluttering down upon desks, I smiled broadly. And then disaster struck.
It took me a few seconds to register, and when I realized what was going on, it was already too late to stop. All I could do was to watch in speechless horror as a majority of the students, seemingly in slow motion, went through a process that (in my eyes) desecrated all the hard work I had done. Upon receiving the essays, most of the students skipped over my carefully crafted comments, the fruit of late nights and early mornings over the last two weeks; turned to the back pages, where they paused long enough to process the grade and glance at my note; flipped back through the papers for a few seconds to internally confirm whether or not they agreed with my grade; and finally swung by the recycling bins on the way out and fluttered their papers into the bin before stepping out of the room. This scene didn’t happen once either. It happened all day, five times in total, and by the end I shook with anger as I looked at the recycling bin stuffed with the final remains of their final drafts.
At first, I couldn’t understand it. How could the students be so indifferent? So thoughtless? Didn’t they understand how important my comments were? Then an even more gut-wrentching idea hit me: the whole ghastly loop had been my fault. The students were an overall conscientious and well-meaning group; they had not performed a purposeful slight. They simply did not understand how the comments could help them because I hadn’t taught them. Because likely no one had ever taught them.
In the wake of this experience, I had a lot of worries, but three picked at me the most. First, I knew my students deserved better. While I had the best of intentions, I doubted that most got anything of value from my comments, and the next essays, full of the same students committing the same errors, proved me right in that regard. Second, I knew deserved better. By that point, just one month into my teaching career, I was already so overwhelmed by the demands of the job that I had begun to wonder aloud to anyone who would listen whether it was even possible to be a good teacher AND still have the time and bandwidth to be a good friend, partner, and parent to those in my life. Third, I knew that I had more to learn than I ever thought possible, and if I couldn’t find a way to be more efficient and effective, my days as a teacher were likely numbered.
With those worries in mind, I set out the next week on a journey that is catalogued in and continues through this blog. I began to read everything I could about writing instruction, search for answers across the professional development world, soak up every syllable from amazing teachers I came across, and relentlessly experiment with my own practice. Fast forward to over a decade later, and while I don’t pretend to have all the answers, my search did yield a lot of answers concerning what works, what doesn’t work, and what saves or wastes time in regards to writing instruction. This blog is meant as a way to share those answers in the hope that they will aid others in their quests to become better teachers with better work/life balances.
I call this blog Re-Write because to rewrite is to “write (something) again especially in a different way in order to improve it or to include new information*.” That is exactly what I think all writing teachers need to do if they hope to do the best by their students and themselves. Much like a piece of writing gains greater depth and clarity through numerous revisions, writing instruction too grows more effective and efficient when we ruthlessly seek to incorporate new information and to improve. In this blog, I hope you will find new information, that my experiences give you ideas for areas where you can improve, and that hearing my story helps you with writing yours.
Thank you for reading, and best of luck!