Make It Write This Season
As I started this composition, I had to check my calendar to confirm that it was true that we were actually in December. As an English teacher, I admit that I am by no means an expert in math, but even still, I can recognize that this month represents the completion of a whole. It is the twelfth month out of twelve—12/12—which, despite my math deficiency, I know is a fraction that equals one. It is the sum of our year. All our accomplishments, struggles, triumphs, and growth have been totaled, but despite what the calendar tells us, they, unlike 2022, are by no means finished. The calendar year may be concluding, but our time is not. After this month and its celebrations are wrapped up like this season’s gifts, we will take our gifts– where we have come from and what we have left to share– with us into 2023.
This spirit of fostering our version of excellence extends to our personal and academic lives. So while classroom doors may be shut for the next few weeks, our learning does not have to stop.
The year we are now ending marks a significant transition for me professionally. After several years of teaching Advanced Placement English Language and Composition, I moved to teach AP English Literature and Composition. While I am honored to shift my curriculum and instruction to focus on some of the very works of literature by Dickens, Morrison, and Vonnegut that first made me fall in love with books, I would be a liar if I did not admit that composition and rhetoric, the study and instruction of writing, is what still keeps me warm on these cold winter nights.
I firmly believe what I tell my students every day: “if you can say what you mean and mean what you say, the world is your oyster.” The ability to effectively convey your message—your story—applies to both verbal and written communication. Despite common assumptions, the written and spoken word utilize two different cognitive processes and occur in two parts of the brain. As such, writing is a skill that we all should develop in our personal lives as well as in the classroom or office to facilitate our development. After all, we use our voices to express ourselves often; this season, with our time away from work and school, is the perfect time to foster our other voice through writing. After all, reading is listening to someone’s story. Writing is now responding with our own.
Two Ways to Keep Writing at Home Through the Winter Break:
While I would love to take credit for this idea, the inspiration comes from Eat Pray Love author Elizabeth Gilbert. When she isn’t eating, praying, or loving, Gilbert is assumedly writing. To get her thoughts and words transformed into the written word, she performs a particular type of journaling, which my students and I have christened Pages. I invite you and your family to join us by engaging with this prompt:
- Today is your first day of “Pages.” The rules are simple. There are no rules! Well, really, the only rule is that you cannot stop writing for FIVE whole minutes. In room 235, we work our way up to ten minutes, but five is perfectly admirable for our first attempt today. You are not to worry about grammar or even about necessarily making sense. You are to write only what pops into your brain. If something new pops in, go with that! If you look inward and struggle to find a thought at all, just write, “I do not know what to say.” Eventually, I assure you, something will come. When it does, go with it. Go!
Okay, now that you and maybe your family have journaled, I ask, “What did you notice?” While I, unfortunately, cannot confer with each of you, I can report that over the years, my students have consistently reported several similar discoveries year after year, two of which I will share:
- One, we recognize, perhaps for the first time, how much chatter, both positive and negative, beneficial and nonsensical, is occurring in our brains. The ability to acknowledge this internal dialogue, hear it, and sift through what is important from what is harmful is a gift we can each give ourselves.
- Two, we realize this practice allows us to bypass the trepidation that is often the cause of the procrastination and writer’s block that prevent many of us from expressing ourselves in writing and transforming our ideas from thoughts into the written word. By embracing the fact that this Pages assignment will be imperfect, we can get our ideas out and accept that all writing is imperfect in some form. We can then, in an hour, a day, a week, or a month, look back at the product of our five minutes and discover a gem amongst the snow—whether it only be a few words or a phrase—of all that what we have written to now expand on in a more formal and deliberate piece of composition.
2. Thank Yous
This year, my school system in St. Bernard Parish has focused on gratitude. I have embraced this motif alongside my colleagues because it truly represents how I attempt to interact with the world around me. Every experience has contributed to who I am and who I will continue to become; for that, I am grateful. It is important for us to express our gratitude to others. This holiday season is the perfect opportunity to express in writing our thanks for both presents and simply the presence of our loved ones. Composing thank you cards is also an opportunity for all of us, regardless of age, to synthesize our thoughts into a powerfully written message that endures.
Just as this year comes to an end, now, so must I. In doing so, I want to thank the students of St. Bernard Parish for all they have written and will continue to write on Pages and on the pages of their own life stories. As I prepare to go into the new year (and write new stories), I want to encourage you today, and for the remainder of this month, for all of next year, and for as long as we have, to say what you mean and mean what you say. When we do that, the world will be our oyster. So let’s grab the pearl.
2023 Louisiana State High School Teacher of the Year
English IV, AP English Literature and Composition, and Duel Enrollment Composition II
Chalmette High School/ St. Bernard Parish