Writing comes from a blank space. There are no multiple choice options, fill in the blanks, or answer keys. It is invisible until it manifests on paper or the computer. We arrange the words in various orders to convey thoughts. We move them around and shuffle them until they fall into just the right spots.
I have been writing since I could hold a pencil. When I was younger, I didn’t talk much (which will be a surprise to those who know I won’t stop talking now). I remember just wanting to fade into my surroundings when any attention was focused on me. Just let me write!
In second grade, during show and tell (a school tradition that should be banned for good) my teacher asked me to get up in front of the class and tell something that happened over the weekend. I was already in trouble for having a daily “stomach ache” during math. I am convinced that my teacher believed that I got sick at the same time every day. Even if math was at a different time, I would suddenly fall ill. Who knew that skipping second grade math would haunt me for years to come?
I created a story where my brother was lost on a raft on the Chattahoochee River. I said he was wearing my mother’s dress, and we haven’t seen him for three days. I gave sensory details about the sounds of the water. I described the setting of the warm day and the sun beaming down on my brother, as he floated away into oblivion. I was on a roll. I wasn’t even self-conscious about the ‘pixie’ hair cut my mom insisted I get. Another blog. Another time.
I didn’t get to finish my story, because my teacher stopped me and told me to sit down. Later that day, my mom was called in to talk about my ‘storytelling’. I told them that my story was more interesting than what we really did that weekend. From that point on, my words came out of my pencil, not my mouth.
Many teachers have a story like this. A story where their spirits were lifted or bruised. A story where they had trouble with a subject and a teacher either helped them or didn’t notice. We all come to this job with a vision and a hope that we will do something to make a difference in someone’s life. I wanted to make sure that no child was made to feel that her words were unimportant.
The year I was asked to be the literacy coach at my school, I felt that I had an opportunity to give back to all of those teachers and administrators who held me up while making sure I had a safety net on which to fall. And when I did fall (which happened often) they were there without judgement and made me get up. They even overlooked my leprechaun trap gone bad project my first year of teaching. For the rest of the year, I was scraping green paint off the walls near the window where the leprechauns ‘escaped’.
This is my third year as a literacy coach. My first year, I just wanted the teachers to let me into their rooms. Other lit coaches told me suburban legends about how they didn’t visit certain halls, or how teachers had requested that they not come in. YIKES! I went into the job having been inspired by those teachers who kept me afloat my first couple of years of teaching.
My second year, I tried out lessons, implemented county initiatives, and got a global understanding of literacy from the view of the teachers and the students. Of course, there were many days I felt useless, and hoped to just inspire a student to write, or a teacher to teach writing with more confidence than the day before.
This year, I had a rather bumpy start because of some personal setbacks. I had a complete paradigm shift in my understanding of human nature. My suburban village was by my side at a very difficult time, and I am more grateful to them then ever. But, I tried to write, but I couldn’t find the words anymore. They danced around me, and I was unable to pick the right ones. If I couldn’t find my own words, how could I teach others to find theirs? Writing has always been so cathartic to me. This was more than writer’s block, it was a semantic void.
I taught writing in various classrooms last week. The small people found all the words I was missing. They grabbed them from the air. They found them under their desks. They pulled them from their book bags. The scraped them from the floor. There were plenty to go around.
Not only did my words come back, but so did my spirit. After thirteen years in education, I still love my job. When we let our guard down, and the kids in-we can find all of our words.