Why I Shouldn’t Write, Part II

What’s worse than not knowing what you’re talking about?  Standing in front of a group of twenty-five College Board AP English Students and not knowing what you’re talking about. Forget about a bear mauling and devouring me. Some of these kids had me for lunch almost every day. That year, I was on a steady diet of salt water, fresh from my own face.

My first year as an AP English teacher came when I started my fifth year teaching. This small town gal didn’t know anything about advanced placement. I went to a school that didn’t even have an honors program. The first time I heard the words “diction” and “syntax,” I thought someone was speaking in a different language.  Forget polysendeton, anaphora, chiasmus, and juxtaposition.

That class turned me into a student again, and while teachers must always be students, I know I’ve learned more about reading and writing because I’ve had to teach it.

There’s also one more important thing I know.

You can study all the writing techniques you want, and you can read all you want, but if you don’t write and write continuously, those other things don’t matter.

My high school English class focused on rules. We memorized every single punctuation and capitalization rule that exists! And we practiced them on worksheets by fixing prescribed sentences.

I knew how to make a sentence error-free, but I didn’t know how to craft my own sentence.

One of the hardest things I’ve had to teach my students is that just because a sentence is error free, doesn’t make it a good sentence.

Good writing comes from practice.

My students complain about all the writing I assign them, but that’s because I don’t want them to settle for being error-free writers.

I got schooled that first year as an AP teacher.  Without a doubt, I had a few students in that class who were better writers than I. Fortunately, I had an eighty percent pass rate on the college board exam that year, followed by ninety-two the following year (the last year I taught AP). When I think back, I vividly remember the arms crossed over the chest, scowl on face, slouched back body language of some of my students, students who dared me teach them one new thing that year. The teacher whose position I filled had left to go to a rival school. She had MANY more years experience than me, so it was difficult taking my feet that were prepped for Keds and fitting them into her rock star stilettos.

But then I remember the students who showed me grace and encouraged me in their own way. In fact, I had coffee with one of them several months back to help edit her medical school entrance essay. While sipping on lattes at a Starbucks, she thanked me for making her write and giving her critical feedback, even when she didn’t like it.

A couple of days ago, I received a text with the exciting news that she had been accepted into medical school.

Guess what the interviewers really enjoyed about the process?

Her essay.

4 thoughts on “Why I Shouldn’t Write, Part II”

  1. You need to be teaching without restrictions.

    The freedom of not teaching for someone else’s idea what is good is a freeing experience.

    When I was student teaching in Grad School my mentor sat me down because I was only covering the textbook, and just substituting my pop-culture examples for the ones that were include in the text.

    Or just be a writer…yeah…be a writer.

    1. I know what you mean. When I started out, the textbook was my bible. I’ve now learned that the textbook is really just a supplement to what we do in class. I really only need it for the actual literature. Everything else we do comes other sources from which I gleaned (and personal experience).

  2. That first paragraph? Substitute physics for AP English and that will reconstruct my first year of that class. Thankfully, there were no rock-star stilettos, but there was a constant feeling of having no idea what was going on. There but for the grace of God and some of the students I went. I’m thankful for the passage of time that has dulled the painful memories and allowed me to build from that point.

    I am thoroughly enjoying your writing.

    1. Jaime, it’s such a good reminder to realize I’m not alone in the experiences I had. It’s a wonder I didn’t quit after my first year of teaching…or my fifth!

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