Learning from Young Writers

When I started writing this blog I thought it was about the voices of children being heard. And it is. But it is also about my voice being heard and sometimes it is hard for me to draw lines about where my writing is just my voice. I worry . Am I telling the stories the way they are meant to be told? It is a challenge telling someone else’s story and in some ways it seems like stealing, stealing the voices of someone else. All these worries have kept me from writing lately because I am always questioning why am I doing this? Is it the right thing to do? Am I telling the story correctly? Because my voice as a teacher, a writer, a human being it is intertwined with the voices of all those children, teachers and families that I work with each day. Am I telling the true stories? Watching my classroom of writer’s finding their voice I listen and learn.  Lately they have had a lot to teach me about writing.

Many of my second graders struggle with spelling and they let that struggle get in the way of writing their story. So from the beginning of the year I teach them to use what we call -ish spelling. This comes from the Peter Reynolds book Ish. The main character in the book is a boy who gets frustrated with his drawings because they aren’t good enough and so he stops drawing. As his story unfolds he discovers that it isn’t the perfection of his drawings that is important it is the creation of his drawings and the process that is important. And so he does drawings which are -ish representations of the world. His drawings are flower -ish, vase -ish. etc. So as writers I tell my students that perfect spelling is not the most important part of their writing, getting down their ideas and their thinking is the most important part. I encourage them to use -ish spelling. Recently one of my kids was talking to me about a piece he was writing. This little guy was writing a thank you note to a visitor that came to read to our classroom. He asked me how to spell something and I encouraged him to write the sounds that he heard. He asked “What if he can’t read -ish spelling?” In that moment I knew something profound had happened for me. This little writer truly understood and believed that his words had power. He was trying to communicate something important with his writing and what if it couldn’t be read?

This little guy is having the same writer’s crisis that I have been having. I am going around and around in my head. I am working so hard to tell the perfect stories of myself and my kids that I just quit writing them. I was just too afraid that my attempts at -ish writing would be wrong, would be misunderstood, would be misread. It is a sacred responsibility to tell someone else’s story.

But really and truly I can’t tell anyone’s story but my own. So I am giving myself permission to just write my story. And to let it not be perfect. Because my story is far from perfect. I have a lot of questions, struggles, doubts and fears. That has to fit somewhere in this blog.

So let me start by saying that this has been a year filled with difficulties in our classroom. And there are many times that I have felt defeated. I don’t like feeling defeated in the faces of these little people. I am the adult and I need to have my act together. And I am human. I feel things and sometimes the things I feel are difficult to look at, difficult to think about, difficult to write.

I tell my kids that what they have to say is important and true and real. Just before spring break I had the kids write letters to me , the teacher, to tell me anything important to them about our class and/or anything they would change. As I read these letters over break I could hear each voice. And sometimes those voices were saying things that made my heart soar and some of the things they had to say reaffirmed the struggles and difficulties we have had and continue to have as a learning team. I didn’t like hearing about our difficulties from those little writers. And those are the words I need to listen to the hardest. These writers were brave with their words, brave with their voices. They deserve to be heard.

I need to be brave with my voice, with my words. I have some difficult things I need to say, some things I need to write. Where to begin?

I have a big jumble in my head and I am going to leave it there for now. I am going to let this piece of -ish writing stand as it is, because the alternative is silence.

Thank you to my community of little writers.  You remind me every day to be brave, that it is more important to be heard then be perfect and to keep writing.