My Life as a Writer

It is really hard to simplify my life as a write and condense it into a blog post, but, oddly enough, it also equally as difficult to really quantify it enough to meet the required length of that same aforementioned blog post.  To expound a little bit upon a possible reason as to why this duality exists, I would have to say that it probably has something to do with how I have been writing for most of my life now but I would not really go so far as to call myself a writer.  This is not to say that I never had aspirations of becoming a writer and sharing my thoughts and ideas with the world, but I grew up in classes with teachers who either implicitly, explicitly, or both insinuated that only a select few individuals could be writers and even fewer could be successful writers.  This had always seemed odd to me because everyone I knew wrote, so why was it that none of them could be writers.  However, I also grew up being told things like, “The teacher is always right,” and, “Do not question authority.”  While I may have found it within me to buck the reins of the all-powerful teacher figure, I still have yet to really find the confidence within myself to stand up and say, “Yes, I am a writer.”

With that being said, I was one of those kids that liked to write about anything and everything that interested me.  I remember one summer I just wanted to copy down entries out of a journal and then the following school year I was obsessed with writing short nonfiction works about different creatures that live in the rainforest.  While I naturally lost interest in the dictionary entries, I have to admit that I was essentially forced to stop writing about the rainforest animals.  If I recall correctly, my teacher came up to me one day after I had finished my most recent nonfiction piece and told me that I had to start writing about other things.  I do not think that she ever really gave me a reason why other than the always implied, “I know what is best for you so just shut up and take my word for it.”  After that, well… I never had the same interest in just writing about what I wanted to write and, ever since then, I have found it difficult to journal or free write or do anything other than just complete writing assignments and hand them in for a grade.

Of course, here in class, as well as in a few other classes at Chadron State College, I have slowly, but surely, started to regain confidence in myself as someone who writes if not necessarily as a “writer”.  I have kind of, sort of, maybe found some semblance of my voice in writing and have been able to tackle topics that interest me and questions that have puzzled me.  I have found that I prefer to write shorter pieces than longer ones and that I prefer writing spoken word poetry or snappy monologues than essays or stories.

With that in mind, I would have to say that, as of this moment, I have not yet begun my life as a write and am, instead, still working through my life as someone who writes.  Hopefully in the very near future I will be able to shrug off those last few mental blocks and really come into my own as a writer, but, for now, I still have quite a few struggles ahead of me.

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A Semester of Reading, Thinking, Talking, and Learning

As I have sat in the tiny and, at times, exceedingly stuffy little room located on the third floor of the library, I have to admit that I have had a most incredible and unique experience.  Over the course of the semester I have learned more in this class than I think I have learned in any of the numerous other classes that I have been enrolled in throughout my scholastic career.  That is not to say that the other classes have not been informative or interesting to attend, but rather it is because I had greater opportunity to learn from my fellow students and from myself in this class than in any other I have attended.  The opportunity to direct our own research inquiries and to discuss the findings with our peers has been an amazing experience in what our own work alongside our future teachers will possibly, hopefully, be like.

With that being said, I think it would be rather prudent to discuss with more specificity the exact experiences that I personally found to be the most beneficial throughout the class.  The first thing that I found to be the most beneficial was the way that Dr. Miller set up each class session.  He would give us a topic, a point of origin if you will, and would then let us use that topic as a jumping off point for our own research, our own contemplations, and our own conclusions.  We would then forge our own paths and find our own destinations.  It was incredible to see how the same starting point led to so many different endings.  For instance, when Dr. Miller told us to look into the history of writing some of us decided to turn to innovators in the field of writing, others turned to inventions that changed the way in which we write, and some even looked into specific moments that altered the course of writing as we know it.  Another thing that I greatly enjoyed during this class was how we were able to form little study groups that allowed us to conduct our research alongside each other, or even together, and get immediate feedback from our peers as well as just bond as individuals sharing this learning experience.  While most of my primary typing of my blog posts and website contributions was done, admittedly, in the quiet of my apartment, I benefitted greatly from being able to use my classmates as sounding boards from which to hone my thought processes and really dig down to the core of what I was trying to share with everyone.

Turning to the discussions we had in class, I enjoyed learning from everyone as they shared their thoughts and opinions and we all helped to build upon each other’s understanding of a given topic or point of interest.  Even though it was a morning class and, I will admit, I have never been a morning person, I found myself making an extra effort to be awake and attentive as each person shared their blog post and contributed to the class conversation.

As such, I would definitely like to take this a brief moment to just thank everyone in the class for being so supportive of each other and each other’s learning journeys.  I know that many of us will make promises to stay in touch, but very few of us will actually manage to do so.  We may remember to send each other the occasional birthday wish through Facebook, but, regardless, I just want everyone to know that I deeply appreciate all of the care and cooperation and just positive energy that was brought to this class and that culminated in a very positive learning experience for myself.

Reflections on Writing in Today’s World

It is exceedingly difficult for me to really decide upon a method of how to approach this topic and in which direction I want to take it, so I guess we can just dive in to this blog post and hope for some semblance of coherence to arise from this tangled mess of late-night rambling.  To begin, writing in today’s world, as an act in and of itself, has become much more flexible in terms of who is allowed to write and what they are allowed to write about.

Historically speaking, many groups have tried to prevent many other groups from writing.  This probably has much to do with how writing, as I see and understand it, is a vehicle for transmitting thoughts and ideas in a way that gives those aforementioned thoughts and ideas a physical form.  This can be potentially threatening to the former (oppressor) group as it gives the latter (oppressed) group/s a weapon, both literally and metaphorically, with which to rise up and take control of their destinies.  Specific examples of this are when women were forced to write under pseudonyms as they would have been ostracized and possibly been victims of violence for writing and when black men and women had to learn to write in secret as they would have been executed if anyone had found out.  However, these groups, and many other groups, fought for and won the right to write and publish, but even today we still see oppressive practices pigeonholing or blacklisting the books, poems, screenplays, etc. that these authors create and disseminate.

Segueing from there, I feel that it is important to discuss some of the ways in which those modern writers face pigeonholing and blacklisting.  One specific method is when editors and publishing houses tell women writers, black writers, LGBT+ writers, and so on that they are, essentially, not allowed to write about anything other than what non-women, non-black, non-LGBT+ people think are “appropriate” topics for these people (i.e. romance novels for women, stories about gang violence for black authors, or coming-out stories for LGBT+ authors).  If they do not write these stories, those editors and publishing houses will often refuse to work with the authors and will even go so far as to tell others not to work with them.  However, the writers have, yet again, risen above this adversity with the advent of self-publishing and independent publishing companies.  This has allowed them to write what they want and in the method of their choosing, and even though the public interest starts small it often grows rather large and fairly quickly.

Additionally, while I am not saying that women do not write romance novels or that LGBT+ authors want to stop talking about the trials and tribulations of discovering their identities, I am saying that they also want to write about other things like the negative effects of gentrification on the preservation of historical buildings or the social behaviors of the walrus.  As such, the aforementioned groups are not being totally silenced anymore, they are still experiencing oppression through stereotyping and one-size-fits-all mentalities.

Anyway, the point that I am trying to make, and that I am almost fairly sure that I might have made but who knows at this point, is this: modern society has opened new doors for thoughts and ideas that we would have been denied if people had not fought to express them.  Of course, that is not to say that we do not still need to continue bettering ourselves as a nation and a world of writers and readers, but it would be unjust to say that progress has not been made.  We must continue working to uplift the voices of silenced demographics and keep making efforts to leave the world in a better condition than when we entered it.

Letter to Students and Parents

Dear Parents and Students,

 

It is that time of year again where I find it prudent to introduce myself to everyone.  My name is Amanda Jeter, but I ask that everyone refer to me as Miss Jeter.  I attended Chadron State College in Chadron, Nebraska where I attained a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Secondary Education with a focus in English and Language Arts for grades 7 through 12.  Throughout this school year, I have three goals for mastery that I will expect students to meet:

 

  1. Reading
  2. Writing
  3. Blogging

 

To begin with our first goal, I want students to leave my class at the end of the year having improved their reading stamina and comprehension.  In order to do this, we will be setting short, medium, and long term goals for reading that we will revisit at the end of each quarter.  My goal is for each student to acquire a sense of who they are as readers.  This will be done through the exploration of multiple genres and forms as well as the establishment of page goals rather than book goals.  Students will also have the freedom to choose titles that intrigue them and are welcome to return to the shelf to find a different title if the one they have chosen fails to capture their interest.  With that being said, I will be encouraging students to stick with the book for a brief “buffer period” just to help prevent snap judgements or what is colloquially known as “judging a book by its cover” if you will indulge my attempt at humor.

Turning to our writing goal, students will be expected to keep a Thinker’s Journal.  This will be a combination of a reading journal and a writer’s notebook.  Within the journal, students can jot down their responses to the themes in their books, analyze the form and style of the writing, and critique the author’s methods and ideas.  This will provide everyone with an opportunity to really engage with the text while also teaching them to think critically about the types of media and information that they consume.  Additionally, students will be able to explore their own ideas, thoughts, and feelings within the pages of their Journal.  At the end of each semester students will be asked to collate the information in their journal into a synopsis of their growth and development as readers and writers.

Lastly, students will be asked to keep a class blog which will also involve short, medium, and long term goals for postings and improvements in technology and Internet fluency.  Where the Thinker’s Journal will be more private, and thusly will have very few expectations for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and the like as it is meant to be a safe space for students to explore their own thoughts and ideas, their blogs will be more public.  As such, there will be expectations for the development of their thoughts into clear, concise, and coherent points that can be accessed and understood by anyone who so chooses to read their posts.  Furthermore, the blogs are meant to be spaces where the students can interact with each other in order to make their learning inclusive and cooperative.  With that being said, students will be encouraged to read their classmates’ posts and provide constructive criticism, helpful feedback, ask questions, etc. while maintaining the highest standards of civility, courtesy, and respect.

Conclusively, there will be additional learning objectives as dictated by state standards and school mandates, but these will also be completed within the paradigm I have outlined above.  First and foremost, my goal is for my students to develop as readers, writers, and thinkers who see themselves as capable and effective participants in the world in which we live.

My Ideas About Teaching and Writing

To begin, it is difficult to really put into words a fully-formed, or even mostly-formed, plan of how to go about teaching writing.  For the most part, I know what works for me when it comes to preparing to write, drafting, and revising, but it is important to note that, when it comes to writing, there is never a one-size-fits-all method.  Some authors have sold innumerable copies of guides attempting to dictate to the aspiring novelist how to write the “perfect book”, but the good ones (the ones with something fairly worthwhile to say) will instead write something that reads more like a memoir of their own writing journey.  They will tell the reader something along the lines of, “This was how I started, this is how I kept going, and this is how I eventually found success.”  These authors will provide suggestions for overcoming writer’s block and breaking into the world of publishing, but they will never try to sell the lie that writing is easy.

To my mind, the teaching of writing is very similar.  As teachers, we are expected to teach our students that success comes from following rules whether they be grammar edicts, assignment deadlines, or the school dress code.  However, we fail to mention that some of the best works of literature came from people thinking outside the box and acting on that desire for innovation.  No teacher told James Joyce and Virginia Woolf how to experiment with stream-of-consciousness, and certainly no one told William Carlos Williams how to write his poetry.  With that being said, we have the ability, and the responsibility, to empower our students as writers, as thinkers, and as people.

When I was in high-school, I had a teacher who said that his mission as an educator was to provide us with the knowledge and the tools to become healthy, happy, safe, and successful while recognizing that everyone has different ideas of what fits this bill.  I took this to heart and have included it in my own pedagogy.  In terms of teaching writing, this means that I want to give my students the tools and freedom to explore their identities by means of the written word.  In my ideal classroom, I would be able to encourage my students to read and write as much as possible without fear of judgement and would provide them with access to resources that would allow them to publish, perform, or even archive their work in their personal collection if they so choose.  However, I do recognize that nothing is perfect and that we live in a world where teachers are being told how to educate their students by people who have never taught, or even brushed up on basic educational theory, a day in their lives.

With that in mind, I fully intend to follow the aforementioned pedagogy as much as possible with some necessary concessions to account for sociopolitical limitations.  To clarify, what we call “Standard Edited English” is, as we all know, a specific dialect of English that favors white, cisgender, heterosexual men from an upper/middle-class background who are also, for the most part, neurotypical and not disabled.  This means that other written and spoken dialects utilized by women, LGBTQIA+, non-white, lower class, neurodivergent, and disabled individuals are often frowned upon or even actively discouraged in the classroom setting.  You may recognize this as, “This is not the kind of writing/speaking that colleges and employers are looking for.”  Thusly, these disenfranchised groups are told that they are only valuable in the eyes of society if they reject their individuality in favor of fitting the desired framework.  As a result, the practice continues to perpetuate linguistic oppression as well as participate in other forms of systemic oppression because, though the student may be able to “talk the talk”, they will never be able to “walk the walk”.  Conclusively, I am left with the need to find a way to blend this unfortunate necessity with the pedagogical practices that I prefer.

To expound on that point, my idea is to teach the students how to effectively utilize Standard Edited English while also teaching them to recognize why this dialect has been chosen and what that means in the context of the society in which they live.  Alongside that, I will teach them that their voices matter and that they matter.  In summation, I hope for my students to leave the classroom being prepared to work through the daily grind while recognizing that they are so much more than an invisible grain in the sand of time.

Reading Response Journals

When we think about what should or should not, even can and cannot, be included in a writer’s notebook, many of us do not think of responses to readings.  This is arguably a mistake as reading and writing are so inexorably entwined that many people believe that it is not possible to do one effectively without doing the other.  To clarify this into a definitive statement, one cannot write effectively if they are not reading and, in turn, one cannot read effectively if they are not writing.  Reading allows students to find inspiration, inclusion, independence, and many other important things that allow them to grow and thrive as individuals.

In terms of what one may see in the reading response journal that is crucial to extended literacy, students may make predictions about what will happen next in the story, study character development, analyze the theme, and critique the author’s style and form.  All of these skills are then translated into their own writing lives thus allowing them to improve upon their own work.  As a result, students may come to find a mentor author, a favorite style of writing, or even experiment with new ways of looking at form and genre.  Additionally, students benefit even further when they are encouraged to share their thoughts and feelings on the aforementioned exercises utilized in a reading response journal as they can learn from each other and gain a sense of community and value for their ideas.  When this happens, students become more empowered to write their own stories outside of the ones that they are reading, or are being read to them, regardless of whether or not publishing is the end goal.

Continuing along a similar vein, some teachers have even linked the tool of the reading response journal with reading aloud in the classroom.  One teacher even points out, “[S]haring literature, through oral reading, written responses, and voluntary comments, might be an important ingredient in encouraging the development of a literate community in my classroom” (Simpson 45).  With this in mind, not only does the reading response journal give students a place in which to explore themes and questions about the literature without fear of judgement or embarrassment, when coupled with reading aloud it provides access to literature that may have previously been inaccessible.  Many teachers and researchers have found, over the years, that students can listen and understand at a higher level than they may have been working at while reading alone.  As well, reading aloud helps in higher grades to introduce students to books that they may not have looked at on their own thus expanding their chances for the previously mentioned inspiration, inclusion, and independence.

With this in mind, the reading response journal, and it goes without saying how one implements it in the classroom, is an important tool in showing students that their ideas and opinions matter and that there is no one right way to share them with the world.  If students are taught this, then they are arguably better equipped to handle a writer’s notebook and everything that can be included within that resource.

Conclusively, I think that it is more than safe to say that I would definitely try to find ways in which to implement the reader’s notebook as an extension of the writer’s notebook.  Particularly, I would like to see how students draw inspiration from different forms and genres and how they utilize this inspiration in their own writing lives.  Additionally, I would like to see how encouragement to read more translates into a visible progression towards the students integrating reading and writing into their daily lives and the improvements in their skills that arise as a result.  Ideally, my end goal would be for my students to become confident in themselves as readers, writers, and ultimately thinkers so that they can go out into the world equipped to handle whatever life throws at them.

 

Works Cited

Simpson, Mary K. “A Teacher’s Gift: Oral Reading and the Reading Response Journal.” Journal of Reading (1986): 45-50. PDF.

Encomium to Gertrude Buck

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Image CC: Feminism by Jay Morrison retrieved from Flickr.com

Gertrude Buck… where do I even begin?  As I attempt to gather my myriad thoughts into something vaguely resembling coherence, all I can think is that I must find a way to extol your virtues in a manner that does your memory the justice that it is due.  You did so much for this world to benefit women, education, and literacy that I am struggling to decide which one to start with.  Given that this assignment is for a class that emphasizes literacy education in particular, it would probably be prudent to begin with that self-same point.  In addition, there is a recommended word maximum for this that I must try to fall either at or under, so it is necessary to also take that into account when waxing poetic about everything that you accomplished and inspired others to accomplish within your lifetime.

To begin with literacy, you worked tirelessly to analyze the social implications of rhetoric, and you particularly focused on rhetoric as an exercise of power within the communicative dynamic of speaker to hearer.  You argued that it was not a true test of rhetorical prowess for someone to convince another of the advantageousness of their viewpoint unless the listener had previously been against that particular stance on the topic.  Additionally, you argued that, specifically in terms of sophistic theory regarding rhetoric, that it is socially irresponsible to engage in rhetoric simply for the attainment of one’s own ends as it is a purely selfish goal.  Continuing from that point, you further proceeded to expand your argument by asserting that to do so also left the door open to a sort of disconnect between the conclusion that the speaker has drawn about the topic, and presumably wishes the hearer to draw as well, and the conclusion that the hearer actually draws.  With that being said, you firmly believed that rhetoricians have an ethical obligation to not only practice rhetoric in a way that benefits both speaker and hearer, but that it was also crucial for the rhetorician to do so in a way that emphasizes social equity and equality.

Turning to your work as a feminist, much of your focus was on how rhetoric, and the use thereof, could empower the individual and bring about relational equality as mentioned above.  While you distanced yourself from actively pursuing suffragette goals on the campus of Vassar College, possibly out of deference to the President of the College’s wishes, you still spent much time and effort in preparing women to debate their points with skill and assume a leading role in their civic lives.  Your lessons served as one of the many driving forces that shifted debate from the purely logical to the style that is favored today.  To clarify this point, you taught women that it was important to consider diverse opinions on an issue and check their own presumptions in order to build a more well-rounded and complete argument.

Finally, your work in education brought about changes that are still present within modern school systems.  As your years of experience showed to you that it was not grammar drills that gave students the tools and the knowledge to read and write effectively, you worked hard to push forward an educational model that favored practice and access to proper materials in order to achieve these skills.  This stemmed from your rejection of traditional notions of associationism in education, the idea that students would instinctively become better readers and writers by somehow automatically linking rote grammar exercises to those skills, and instead you focused on how real learning comes from actual performance and improvement (much in the same way that muscles improve from actual use such as weightlifting and not from constantly watching workout videos).

It is without a shadow of a doubt in my mind that I can say: without your influence in these three realms, my schooling would have been very different and definitely not for the better.

Image Citation

Morrison, Jay. Feminism. Digital image. Flickr. Yahoo, 5 Oct. 2009. Web. 4 Apr. 2017. <https://www.flickr.com/photos/artiseverywhere/3987414509/in/photolist-75mxq2-DRoR-Hf9rq-cCGFhY-RuY2v-a8dfr8-cCGHHb-a8ffFG-a8gatf-a8dq4n-a8g4eW-a8g3JL-a8deM6-a8d9k2-a8fejN-cCGJvN-9DFVkF-6BtcmA-a8gdZf-a8de7i-a8g5Uj-a8dmNZ-a5DtFZ-fFDos-cCGwnj-5WEGgr-ejA1Fm-cCGFDm-8W613W-cCGwWu-cCGLeW-cCGL19-gpBKLA-cCGASL-cCGw1y-cCGyaQ-cCGD3S-cCGKms-cCGLrj-cCGJVQ-cCGKF7-cCGHp9-cCGG3L-cCGENo-cCGAmL-cCGGow-cCGLEh-8W618C-cCGyC3-cCGxjE&gt;.