Do you want to inspire your students to be great writers, then teach writing by writing! There are art teachers who will never show a piece of their work. Or math teachers that won’t complete a geometry problem to lead by example.
No? What then of the English teacher who passionately discusses characterization and setting, dialogue and structure, the intricacies of editing and redrafting – but never actually writes anything original to illustrate their teaching?
I am a firm believer that English teachers who set their pupils the task of writing creatively should do the same; for a teacher to demand that students carry out work they would refuse to do themselves is a hypocrisy. Senior pupils, tasked with producing writing folios, can really benefit from seeing a story being conceived, planned, sketched out, written and refined. In my experience the majority of English teachers don’t tend to write creatively, even when they are teaching this skill in their classroom.
Many reasonable objections have been put to me. Time constraints are an obvious hurdle. Marking takes an awful lot longer in English than other subjects. When asked to write for three minutes in an online survey I conducted, one respondent replied: “Sorry, I have a class at my door – the reality of teaching English is that if you do it conscientiously it leaves little energy or time for creative writing.”
Barring the subtle and contentious implication that English teachers who do indulge their own creativity are failing to teach diligently, there is a lot of truth in this.
English teachers have a lot more on their plate than creative writing, and have to prioritice literacy skills, reading comprehension, critical analysis, literary study, and any other number of things ahead of writing a story.
In the same survey, 22% of respondents skipped the writing section entirely. They were either too busy to respond, or perhaps didn’t fancy it – both fair enough. Of the remaining respondents who completed the creative-writing task, just 20% left a smiley face. While this may be indicative of how some teachers feel about writing creatively, the passages I read were lyrical and engaging – a real pleasure to read.
My point is this: in class, we expect pupils to sit in relative quiet, in a fixed location, surrounded by their peers, with a jotter and pencil and create stories. This is not how writers in the real world work. It is not an environment in which art can flourish easily. The manufactured, unnatural atmosphere of a classroom stifles the work of even the most curious and keen pupils.
Why then should teachers not practice what they preach and write when the pupils write? Let us lead the way and show that it can be done. Most classrooms are equipped with smartboards and projectors so we can share our computer screen with the class. It is perfectly possible to write a story – or an opening paragraph at least – while the pupils wrestle with their own work. Showing them our mistakes and imperfect pieces of writing is just as essential as presenting them with polished work; they can see the process of creativity, rather than just being given a finished item to read.