Opinion
Teaching Profession Opinion

Teachers Should Be Writers

November 08, 2017 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

By Tom Rademacher

Writing isn’t that hard. We can all do it, one word after next, little baby steps until a whole thought is complete. Writing so people will care is pretty darn difficult though, especially in an age where we are constantly besieged by words and ideas on email, social media and whatever news sources are best at forcing themselves in front of our eyes.

Still, the need is there. In fact, there has perhaps not been a more important time for educators to share their stories.

I’ve been writing about teaching heavily for the last five years, and I’ve learned things. I’ve learned the things that have been the difference between having a few people read a piece and a few hundred thousand. I’ve learned about the honest desire from many to hear directly from teachers as well as the desire of some to use teacher voices for their own needs.

I’ve learned about haters, and I’ve learned how amazing it is to hear how you’ve impacted or supported a colleague you’ve never met before.

So, then, here are some quick lessons to think about when you are ready to share your stories and ideas more broadly, whether you are thinking of submitting to a website, starting your own blog, or sending in a letter to the editor. Let me know when they’re done; I’d love to read and share them.

Things to do:

Keep it short. Educators have a lot to say, which is a good thing. We also tend to try to say it all at once, which is where we get ourselves into trouble. Think about your own reading habits when considering length for any piece online. How long do you last before you start skimming? In general, your goal should be to write a piece so that people will read every word. Any time I see my word count creeping over 600, I start to keep a very close eye on sections, secondary arguments and stories that can be cut.

Keep it honest. Working in schools is really, really ridiculously hard. It’s impossible to feel like you’re perfect at it, and very often hard to think you’re even all that good. When writing about your experience, it’s OK to be vulnerable. In fact, being honest about what your day feels like, what you see and feel in your work, will often make a piece more interesting, more relatable, and ultimately more powerful.

Honesty isn’t easy, not always, but ignoring the good or the bad in a situation because it’s politically expedient to the point you’re trying to make will weaken your argument, not strengthen it.

The hard truths are the most important to tell.

Tell stories. We don’t do this enough, not nearly enough. As educators, the primary thing we can offer that no outside expert, no politician, no advocate can offer is stories about what school was like yesterday. You are an expert of your own experience, and, as an educator, your experience is often a result of decisions being made far away from you. Writing about those experiences is an important way to impact conversations and decisions around education, as well as the help everyone remember why we care as much as we do about the students we serve.

Things to avoid:

Don’t write what people want to hear. The organizations and people you want to impress have communications people that write those things for them. Repeating the same sorts of ideas and slogans that you’ve already heard 100 times isn’t going to make your piece more impactful to anyone who is reading it.

Don’t get yourself in trouble. Even if no one you work with or for has ever mentioned anything you’ve written to you, believe me, if you talk about any of them in a piece, however indirectly, they will see it.

If you write about your students, be extra careful. Respect their privacy to carry their own stories and their own secrets. If you currently frustrated by the way your students are acting or learning, walk away from the keyboard. We all get frustrated, so it’s understandable, but there’s no excuse for teachers who would use the internet to trash the kids they’re supposed to care for.

Don’t give up. I wrote regularly for a year before anyone started really reading anything. Slowly, a few pieces caught on, and then a few more. A few years and a few hundred thousand words later, I am a better writer than when I started and have a lot more readers.

Your first piece may go viral, or may just mean the world to your two closest work friends. Either way, your first piece is just your first, or your first this year, or your first about a new topic. Give yourself time.

There will always be reasons not to write. There won’t be a lot of time. There will be commenters who don’t get it or who don’t like you. There may be weird looks from coworkers because teacher culture does not often award speaking up or calling attention to yourself.

There are lots of reasons not to write, but we need you. We need your stories and your experience, we need your passion and your inspiration. You are an expert, and what you have to say is important. We’re waiting to read it.

Tom Rademacher is the 2015 Minnesota State Teacher of the Year and a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY). He teaches English in Minnesota. His book, It Won’t Be Easy, An Exceedingly Honest (and Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching, is now available. Reach him at mrtomrad@gmail.com.

Photo credit: Free Range Stocks Photos //freerangestock.com/photos/40573/writing-in-a-notebook.html.

The opinions expressed in Teacher-Leader Voices are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Deepen the Reach and Impact of Your Leadership
This webinar offers new and veteran leaders a unique opportunity to listen and interact with four of the most influential educational thinkers in North America. With their expert insights, you will learn the key elements
Content provided by Solution Tree
Science K-12 Essentials Forum Teaching Science Today: Challenges and Solutions
Join this event which will tackle handling controversy in the classroom, and making science education relevant for all students.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Stronger Together: Integrating Social and Emotional Supports in an Equity-Based MTSS
Decades of research have shown that when schools implement evidence-based social and emotional supports and programming, academic achievement increases. The impact of these supports – particularly for students of color, students from low-income communities, English
Content provided by Illuminate Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Explainer: Why Are Chicago Schools, Teachers' Union Fighting?
The issue that caused the most chaos in the roughly 350,000-student district was when and how to revert to remote learning.
3 min read
Members of the Chicago Teachers Union and supporters stage a car caravan protest outside City Hall in the Loop, Wednesday evening, Jan. 5, 2022. Chicago school leaders canceled classes in the nation’s third-largest school district for the second straight day after failing to reach an agreement with the teachers union over remote learning and other COVID-19 safety protocols. (Ashlee Rezin /Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
Teaching Profession Some Teachers Are Running Out of Sick Days, and Administrators Are Hesitant to Help
With a shortage of substitutes and pressure to stay open, administrators are reluctant to extend paid time off for teachers with COVID.
13 min read
Professional male social distancing or self quarantining inside a coronavirus pathogen.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Teaching Profession Opinion 18 Ways to Improve Teacher Observations
Holding pre- and post-conferences, showing more compassion and less judgment, and organizing peer observations are valuable.
19 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Teaching Profession For Anxious Teachers, Omicron 'Feels Like Walking Into a Trap'
As COVID cases rise sharply, educators brace for another semester of staffing shortages, student absences, and potentially getting sick.
9 min read
Kindergarten teacher Mrs. Amber Updegrove interacts with her students, while she and the students are wearing masks to protect against COVID-19 at Warner Arts Magnet Elementary in Nashville, Tenn, on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021.
Kindergarten teacher Amber Updegrove interacts with her students at Warner Arts Magnet Elementary in Nashville, Tenn., in August.
John Partipilo/AP