Winding Down NaNoWriMo

For the past two years, my Creative Writing class and I have participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) during the month of November. My first time was… well, let’s call it chaotic. I didn’t give my learners enough preparation time nor was I prepared to help coach some fifty learners through the stressful and overwhelming process of writing a novel.

This year I was a little more prepared. Learners spent the last two weeks of October brainstorming, creating characters, identifying plot points, and outlining. It was awesome. They were asking all the right questions and the workshops that came out of that time were really valuable.

Now that we are firmly in December, my learners have been tasked with choosing a 1,000-2,000 word excerpt that they are to revise and take through Writer’s Workshop three times. Learners will present their final drafts to the class before we leave for Winter Break. While many of my learners didn’t meet their ambitious word count goals, right now, they are doing the hard work of writing: revision.

In my personal NaNoWriMo journey, I have written a 51,000 word manuscript that is somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 words shy of being completed. This novel for me was a divergence from comfort. I wrote from the perspective of two sisters, going through two separate struggles, with a focus on how family can help shore us up in the more nasty parts of life and can help celebrate with us as we come out on the other side. I have definitely struggled with this process.

Then there is the problem of the messy middle of my novel. Today, I sat down with a notebook and used some writing time to plan and process and think about what my characters need in order for the novel to have that sense of closure. I have an idea, probably not complete, but I luckily now have a direction.

Next steps for me are to finish my draft sometime in the next two months. Then, I too will move on to the hard part of writing: Revision.

Only a Teacher…

When I first finished grad school, a phrase that I often used to describe my career choice was that I was “only a teacher.” It wasn’t something that I was proud of, and at the time, I could also say that it wasn’t something that I was passionate about. I played the game well, did well in all of my classes, enjoyed working with the young people that I worked with, but for the first three years of my teaching career, I was only a teacher. And, honestly, I wasn’t that proud of myself. 

I had always wanted to be a professor of literature. I wanted to travel to Ireland and England, to study at Oxford and write academic papers that would be published in journals and read by other snooty academics. What ended up happening, though, was that I finished my undergraduate degree in three years and I was exceptionally burnt out. I didn’t have a plan for what would come after, but I realized after two months without using my degree that my nonplan was no longer a plan.

So, without any other ideas, I decided to get my Master of Arts in Teaching. It was a relatively new degree plan, but instead of a Masters in English, a Doctorate in English, and a thesis, I would be able to go to school for a year before going directly into the classroom. I took the path of least resistance and ended up teaching grades seven through nine English my first year, then grade nine English and Oral Communication my second. My third year, I went to New Tech, and that’s when everything changed. Eight years at New Tech and “only a teacher” isn’t how I would say it at all. 

I’m a grader. A feedback giver. A pep-talker and cheerleader. I’m an advocate for equality, a reminder that what we say and think and share matters. So, I don’t think about being “only a teacher” anymore. Now, I’m much more focused on what being a teacher truly is. 

Being a teacher is writing recommendation letters at midnight because a senior who you taught two years ago asked you to and didn’t realize how close the deadline was. 

Being a teacher is teaching young people to love themselves while still growing themselves. It’s a complicated balance that most adults struggle to get right. 

Being a teacher is being called Mom. Not on accident but on purpose because sometimes they just need a momma at school to look after them. 

Being a teacher is listening to a president and a secretary of education talk about how much the education system, and how much I, am failing our students. 

Being a teacher is grading until late at night and early in the morning because you have to grade sometime and your plan is given to so many other tasks. 

Being a teacher is listening to your toddler ask you again and again if you are done working because he wants to play. You’re not done working. You might never be done working. 

It is nights and weekends of worry. It’s caring about their education, yes, but it’s also caring about their hearts, their self-esteem, their self-respect. It’s reminding them that they are smart even when they are convinced that they aren’t. It’s them visiting weekly to check in because you have asked them to do that because you worry when they don’t. 

When I was in college and graduate school and even during my first couple of years teaching, I would have told you I was “only a teacher.” Maybe I am only a teacher,  but that only has a lot more meaning to me now.