As a classroom teacher, I always made sure that writing maintained a place at the heart of our work. We wrote memoirs, crafted poetry, and reflected on the growth of our gardens. Writing helped us make sense of the world when the World Trade Center was hit in 2001. We wrote to pen pals in Belize and made gifts of our writing to those we most dearly loved. I always kept my writer’s notebook handy to commit my thoughts to the page alongside my students. As writers, we devoted considerable time to crafting our words, offering feedback and encouragement to each other as part of the process. We lived and breathed the writer’s life.
When I made the transition from the classroom to administration several years ago, I knew it was the right decision for the school and for me. Although the change was beneficial for everyone involved, I’ve missed my daily life among writers. What I missed most was the steady supply of surprises that writing provided, both in my own writing process and the children’s. In the last few weeks since I began my weekly visits to the three oldest classrooms to work on writing and art, there’s been no shortage of surprises. Each week at least one child has come up with something totally unexpected. On the day we drew contour drawings of ordinary items, such as glue bottles and tape dispensers, and then made comparisons to other non-related things, one of the children said, “Little items have big stories.” When I asked children what it means when certain phrases “jump out at you,” one girl asked, “Is it what hops into your head?” The best surprise by far was with a child who was at first resistant to the writing and drawing exercises we were doing to inspire new ways of thinking. After several attempts to make a connection with this child, I sat with him and listened to his his ideas for a story. I tried not to impose my thoughts for the direction of his writing and kept asking questions. Before long, an entirely new complex, creative story emerged. He was able to apply the required formatting completely, and more importantly, was excited about writing and didn’t want to stop. An hour later he was still passionately drawing and mapping out his story.
The surprise in this situation was two-fold. His enthusiastic response was the first part. The other part was the lesson I received in how vital it is to meet the writer wherever he or she is, so their stories can naturally unfold. The surprise wasn’t that it happened, but how powerful it was when it did.