I remember staring at Mrs. Peters homely black shoes. I must have spent a good deal of time wondering why whe wore such old fashioned shoes and how she formed her curseive letters so perfectly. Mrs. P. spent all day firmly planted in her desk at the front of the room; however, at night, she must have spent hours filling the chalkboard with nealy written questions for us to answer. Our job was to turned in neatly handwritten pages to the bin on the corner of her desk. Neatly formed cursive letters were the goal and to be quite honest, I do not think she really read what we wrote!
I am sure I must have written a few things in middle and high school; however, I really do not remember anything of substance. I’d like to think my school experience was the result of a long focus on science and math fueled by then President Kennedy after the launching of Sputnick or perhaps it was the large classes fueled by the “baby boom!” However, based on my undergraduate preparation and early teaching experiences I believe my teachers – even in high school – did not have a clue about how to teach writing. They believed that IF you read enough AND if you were “born” to be a writer – it would just happen to you!
Thus, I really did not do TOO much writing until I arrived on the campus of Syracuse University where they ASSUMED that IF I had qualified for advanced placement English, then SOMEHOW I had learned to be a writer! I am POSITIVE that I did not take ANY writing test before coming to college or qualifying for Brittish Literature; however, in the fall of my freshman year, it was learn to write or return home a failure – so you know what I did!
I carefully drafted on legal pads writing and revising and rewriting. I went in for extra help with teaching assistants who offered me the greatest of teaching gifts: models of what was expected. They did not want neat handwriting or neatly typed papers. They did not want me to write a specific number or words or a specific response to a question. They wanted me to express my ideas in writing using details from the text to explain my point. Sounds simple when you state it like that! NO matter what the task, students need models and scaffolds in order to progress within their zone of proximal development.
I’m not very proud of those early years of my own teaching of writing. Like MY teachers, I focused on copying rather than content. I focused on learning to read and then learning to write. Yet, I knew in my heart that there needed to be more and thus I read and studied the works of early writing researchers such as Donald Graves and their ideas morphed my thinking and teaching. I dove deeply into the teaching of writing as I researched and wrote my own dissertation. My mornings and evenings are now always spent in front of a computer. I write now because I can and because it is how I clarify and share my ideas and knowledge.
However, I’m not sure that I would consider myself a confident writer even now. I do have a few published pieces; however, my dream of publishing my collection of easy readers for beginning readers is still a shapeless vision. I do, however, know what I need to make that writing dream a reality: someone to guide me to if not through the maze of publishing.