Opinion
Teaching Profession Opinion

Why Teachers Should Write

By Justin Minkel — July 30, 2019 6 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Teaching is hectic. The combination of precision work and chaos theory can make the school year feel like an attempt to knit a sweater while riding a Tilt-A-Whirl. Most of us collapse on the couch at the end of another tumultuous day wondering, “What the hell just happened?”

Writing provides a way to clarify the daily jumble of triumphs, stumbles, joys, and miseries in ink on the page. Once we write down the intense experiences, ideas, and questions that frame our professional lives, we can disentangle them and make some sense of that Tilt-A-Whirl world of the classroom.

Reflective Writing for Yourself

Shanna Peeples, the 2015 National Teacher of the Year, recommends that every teacher take 10 minutes a day to do a quick-write on these three questions: What do I do well? What do I need to work on? What do I want to do next?

When I sit down to write, I often find one tiny moment from my school day—a partial thought, a fleeting question, a funny or insightful comment from one of my students—scratching at my mind like a grain of sand trapped in an oyster shell. Those gritty fragments won’t all turn into pearls, but it’s worth taking the time to figure out why, of all that happened in a wild rumpus of a day, that particular moment has lodged in my head or heart.

So much regimented professional learning is external: conferences, workshops, faculty meetings, and professional learning communities.

But when I ask great teachers how they continue to get better each year, they mostly talk about three things that are hard to capture in bulleted norms and numbered agendas: collaboration, mentoring, and reflection.

We have to build the internal, often solitary practice of reflection into our lives as teachers. Reflective writing is a way to create the space and time for that solitude.

Writing for an Audience: Blog Posts, Columns, or Op-Eds

Writing for an audience can be daunting. Impostor syndrome is rampant in our collective teacher psyche. That gloomy inner critic can shut down any hope of putting our words out into the world. “Why would anyone care what I have to say? If they saw what a train wreck my classroom was this morning, they’d know I have no business telling anyone how to teach.”

The truth is, our profession doesn’t need people who think they have it all figured out. We do need honest, vulnerable, imperfect teachers who care about kids and are willing to share their ideas and experiences.

If you have taught for even a single day, you have something to share. A student’s story. A question, a belief, or a little revelation about teaching. A momentary triumph or failure, and the learning that came from it.

Start your own blog (WordPress.com is the go-to platform, and the basic template is free). Write a Letter to the Editor for your local paper. Reach out to your school or an organization you’re a part of, and pitch your idea for a piece you’d like to write.

Anya Grottel-Brown of Teach Plus suggests this simple structure for writers trying to figure out their first blog post or column:

1. A student story
2. The bigger theme connected to that story
3. Your recommendations or ideas about that bigger theme
4. Call to action: What should the reader do as a result of reading your column?

Shape the Conversation

“Speak and speak,” writes the poet Dick Lourie in Reprimand. “We are listening.”

The people furthest from the work of teaching often seem the most certain of their opinions. They get those opinions—many of them damaging to children—into print, practice, and policy with alarming regularity. There’s a chronic dearth of perspectives, practices, and solutions written by actual teachers.

Maybe that’s because teachers are so incredibly busy. Maybe it’s because we know how complex the work of teaching is, so we’re hesitant to offer Tweet-length solutions. Or maybe we have internalized the message that teachers should be seen and not heard.

Whatever the reason, we need more teacher voices shaping the conversation about everything from true equity for our most vulnerable students to how to teach kids to read. We speak with credibility because we see the impact of district, state, and federal policy on our classrooms firsthand. We can often cut through slanted political talking points to offer pragmatic solutions that work in real classrooms with real kids.

It’s usually a good idea to give your principal or district communications person a heads-up if you have a controversial piece coming out in the local paper or an online publication. But don’t let fear hold you back. Speak your truth, no matter how small or simple a truth it may seem.

How to Get Started as a Teacher-Writer

1. Go to Barnes and Noble, Amazon, or your local bookshop and buy a journal that appeals to your eyes and hands.

If you prefer the glowing screen to the blank page, open a file for your thoughts in Google Docs or Microsoft Word. Create a place for your words to live.

2. Build writing time into your work week, the same way you allot time for grading or lesson planning.

Waiting to write until inspiration strikes is like waiting to grab your fishing pole until you see a fish break the surface of a pond. Remove the pressure to produce something brilliant every time you sit down to write. Just carve out half an hour, once or twice a week, to take a break from child care, bills, laundry, and lesson planning so you can discover what words flow through your fingers onto the page.

3. Read what other teachers write.

There are plenty of platforms like Education Week and Education Post that provide space for teachers to share their insights, experiences, and teaching practices, without harnessing that writing to any particular product or agenda. Educators with their own blogs are great, too—my personal favorite is Shanna Peeples.

When looking for a teacher-writer to follow, pay attention to how her posts or columns make you feel. Inspired? Challenged? A little less alone? Find writers who are good for your spirit and read whatever they write.

4. Pay attention to everything, within and beyond the classroom walls.

What I love about writing is that it makes me a more reflective teacher and human being—even during those hours when I’m not actually sitting down to write. I’m more receptive to things my students say or do, to why particular lessons work or fail, to all those momentary epiphanies that crash over us during the school day like little waves breaking and—unless we capture them quickly—are swept right back out to sea.

I asked a few of the most gifted teacher-writers I know to share their advice for this column. I’ll leave you with their insights.

“Be honest and vulnerable and true. Remember that we all love story. Avoid jargon. Turn down topics that don’t live in your heart.” —Angie Chaloux Miller, 2011 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year

“Try to offer solutions whenever possible. Consider the various perspectives. What would students think? Parents think? When reflecting on teaching, in what way have those reflections led to considerations for the profession as a whole? Tell the truth. Think about the pushback that may come from that truth and address that pushback within the piece.” —Monica Washington, 2014 Texas Teacher of the Year

“It doesn’t have to be perfect on the first draft. Just get it down on paper!” —Megan Allen, 2010 Florida Teacher of the Year

Happy writing.

Events

Assessment Webinar The State of Assessment in K-12 Education
What is the impact of assessment on K-12 education? What does that mean for administrators, teachers and most importantly—students?
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Why Retaining Education Leaders of Color Is Key for Student Success
Today, in the United States roughly 53 percent of our public school students are young people of color, while approximately 80 percent of the educators who lead their classrooms, schools, and districts are white. Racial
Jobs January 2022 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

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 Opinion Stress, Hypervigilance, and Decision Fatigue: Teaching During Omicron
We teachers can’t just “self care” our way through this new stage of the pandemic, writes classroom educator Katy Farber.
Katy Farber
4 min read
A person faces an overwhelming wave
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and iStock/Getty Images
Teaching Profession Meet the 4 Finalists for the 2022 National Teacher of the Year
The four finalists hail from Colorado, Hawaii, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and were recognized for their dedication to student learning.
5 min read
National Teacher of The Year nominees
From left to right: Whitney Aragaki, Autumn Rivera, Kurt Russell, and Joseph Welch
Teaching Profession What Happens When Teachers Are Out of Sick Days?
We asked EdWeek's social media followers to share their school policies on COVID-related sick leave. Here’s how they responded. 
Marina Whiteleather
2 min read
Female at desk, suffering from flu symptoms like fever, headache and sore throat at her workplace
iStock/Getty Images Plus
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)