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A Bottle Thrown Into the Sea

March 26, 2011

My friend K earned her PhD from Teachers College Columbia and talked highly of the great Lucy Calkins, a pioneer in teaching literacy. Since Calkins wrote The Art of Teaching Writing, an influential book that earns teacher reviews like “essential” and “inspirational” (total star stickers there), I’ve too become a fan. Calkins reminds teachers to tap their personal love of writing in order to convey their enthusiasm to students. Most teachers I’ve known really do love writing. There’s E with his still intact writing portfolio from grade school that he shares with his students. There’s A who began (and, I hope, finished) a brilliant chapter book that had me hooked from the first paragraph. There’s the playwriting team of K and me; while teaching second grade in neighboring homerooms we wrote a tongue-in-cheek version of America’s birth for the students to perform. The second grade just staged it for the sixth year running, and J is busily editing the video of the play as I type.

–dramatic interlude–

We’ve been busily printing paper bills.

We haven’t decided whose portrait will go in the middle, though.

What about King George?

Nah, since we fought the Revolution, it means we have our own leaders now.

What about Paul Revere?

Nah, I think he’s still riding his horse out in Lexington.

What about General George Washington?

Let’s have a look …

He’ll fit the bill!

K and I laughed until we snorted and wept while we wrote that script, even though we had to stay very late on a Friday to write it. What teachers do when they connect their love of writing to their writing lessons is not only “essential” and “inspirational,” it is simply awesome. I’ve considered the lengthy list of Things I Regret That I Can’t Remember From Childhood, and one of them is certainly the budding awareness of a love of writing, of language and cleverness and humor and sharing with others, in a polished, permanent form, what came from my brain. To think, there was a very first time to know that you are special and worth listening to. Not remembering that didn’t stop me from sharing my love of writing with my students, but I do wish I could connect this adult-time harvest to a kid-time planting.

From Calkins’s book on teaching writing, a great reminder to us writers, but also to teachers and others who might find avenues for kids to publish:

“As writers, what we all need more than anything else in the world is listeners, listeners who will respond with silent empathy, with sighs of recognition, with laughter and tears and questions and stories of their own. Writers need to be heard. As Francois Mauriac says, ‘Each of us is like a desert, and a literary work is like a cry from the desert, or like a pigeon let loose with a message in its claws, or like a bottle thrown into the sea. The point is: To be heard—even if by one single person.’”

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  1. oh, suz, that is a killer quote there at the end. thanks for sharing it.


  2. Beautifully stated, Katie. I love your idea here that empathy can be a direct result of writing partnerships. You remind me that empathy is an end goal in a classroom, not simply a pre-existing trait in some of its members. Not for the first time I wish for the sake of kids everywhere that we could somehow freeze time and sweep through every single school and remind every single kid that his or her “writing is gold.” Huzzah!


  3. Katie Cunningham permalink

    “Let’s vote on what we should have for lunch?”
    “Corn bread and hoecakes and three cups of tea each. ”
    “Too bad all of the tea is in the Boston Harbor. ”

    Writing alongside you, my friend, is one of the greatest joys I’ve had as a teacher, writer, and friend. Finding ways to make our students feel like writing champions is a big part of the job description. So is helping them read like their writing is gold. So is modeling a love of writing. So is sharing our work with them. So is fostering collaboration as a part of the writing process. I am a better writer today thanks to your supportive kind words and infinite wisdom. Writing partnerships need to be a greater part of our school experiences. It fosters empathy, community, and thoughtfulness in ways that go far above and beyond traditional literacy standards.

    May Huzzah, Huzzah live on as our own personal statement to the joy of writing, partnerships, and play.


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