Summer is officially over for me as this week has launched me headfirst into what will be a very full term of teaching.
One of my most challenging courses to teach is Writing 100, Academic Writing. A prerequisite to the required freshmen composition course, Writing 100 is for students who haven’t met the necessary SAT thresholds to succeed in Writing 101.
Often these students struggle with grammar and mechanics; they can write a paragraph, but when they have to string paragraphs into an essay and maintain a sense of unity and coherence, everything falls apart. Most unfortunate, is that these students usually come into my class already deflated, convinced that they are just “bad writers” and that nothing that they (or I) do will change that.
On the first day of class, I show up with exuberant energy, hoping to offset their doubt and resistance to being in a required writing class, and one they've been placed in because of low SAT scores at that. I tell them how much I love writing, that even if they hate it, I love it enough for both of us. I tell them that while I believe that there is such thing as natural talent, I also know that all writers have to work to hone their skill. A simple glance at the acknowledgement page of your favorite novel will give you a sense of just how many hands touched those pages before they reached the bookshelf, shaping the words into their final form. I tell them that with the right tools in their toolbox, writing is a craft that can be learned. And then I tell them this story:
When my husband was little, he had to take music (choir) in school. He is certainly not a naturally gifted singer and at some point in the school year, his music teacher grew tired of the effort it took to try to teach him how to stay on key. Instead, he was told to lip sync while the other students sang. We’ve always laughed about this story in our family, as my husband decided from then on that he was tone deaf, and truthfully, he is a pretty terrible singer.
Recently, I was chatting with someone who knows quite a bit about music. This person explained to me what it actually means to be tone deaf. We talked about my husband, and from this person’s description, I gathered that with the right music teacher, my husband could have been taught to at least stay on key. He certainly wouldn’t have been the next Ed Sheeran, but maybe he wouldn’t have had a story that he couldn’t sing.
In my Writing 100 class, I want my students to tell themselves a different story. Even as we’re working on things that feel as boring as topic sentences and transitions and (UGH!) grammar, I'm going to hold the next ten weeks as an opportunity for them to rethink how they feel about their writing ability and about themselves.