On Writing & Encouragement

I teach high school English which means I also teach writing which is probably one of the most challenging parts of my job. I won’t dive into all the pedagogical strategies I’ve tried over the years, but I’d like to share one recent experience.

The grade 12 class had just finished first draft writing and I wanted them to engage in some careful revision. I gave them instructions for a peer-feedback process that required them to ask for specific feedback on two aspects of their draft. Each student had to have four “feedback -readers” (plus me, of course), and to be a feedback -reader for four of their classmates. As we were organizing this activity, one of the students randomly asked, “Mrs. Crandall, can I be your reader?”

The question caught me off-guard for a moment, but I did indeed have a piece I had started working on with the hope that I could submit it to an online magazine. I once mustered up enough courage to submit a poem to them and was honoured that they accepted it. That gave me courage to submit another poem for another issue, which was also accepted. But I had yet to find the ‘whatsit’ to submit a pitch for an article. I tried once, labouring over a piece for a month before deciding it simply wasn’t good enough.

So, after a short beat, I told the student, that yes, she could be my reader. To follow my own rules for the assignment, I needed three more readers. Hands shot up across the room. I gave the four students a draft version of the piece I was considering, broke my rules by identifying not two but three areas for feedback, and then set to work earnestly revising and refining what was originally a post here on my blog. The stakes had just been raised…

The deadline to submit the piece to the magazine came before my class deadline for feedback, so by the time the four students had added their comments, I had already written the pitch, attached the revised article that I hoped was sufficient, taken a deep breath, and hit the send button. Their feedback, however, was insightful, honest, earnest. I was impressed. While their comments didn’t really have any impact on what I submitted, their willingness to engage with me made all the difference in actually making the submission.

Writing is hard work. Writing is vulnerable. But writing is also how many of us process life and sometimes we just need a little encouragement to keep putting words on paper or online or in other people’s hands. My students gave me a gift of encouragement, and I try to do the same for them and their words.

And those students, bless their hearts, were more excited and less surprised than I was when the article was accepted by Fathom Mag for publication in their recent issue on “Margin.”