The teacher gets schooled

Psst. Don’t tell anyone, but I’m not writing what I should be writing.

Yes, it’s been a while since I wrote something for the blog, but I swear I have some really good excuses. I took my senior newspaper editors on a 4-day trip to Chicago for a national journalism convention, and my full intention was to live blog from the convention in the same way that I did for the Civil Rights trip this summer. My plans were foiled (mice and men and all that), but the story of the trip is going to be saved for next week, when I have more time to really get into the full story. There was joy, there was surprise, there were surveillance videos, this trip had it all (is that a teaser or what).

However, you are not getting that story today. Today you are getting a confession. I’m currently failing. I’m not just behind on what I’m supposed to do, I’m failing so abysmally that a website is making fun of me. I’m failing so spectacularly that in a competition with high school students, I am the one being mocked for my lack of production.

At the beginning of the school year, I reached out to our Creative Writing Club sponsor about hopping on board this year and helping with the club. Part of the reason that I started this blog over the summer was that I wanted to reclaim my writing lifestyle. Reclaim may be a strong word, more like revive. I have spent my adult life collecting story ideas and keeping them on a special word document on my computer. Every so often in a fleeting moment of freedom from other responsibilities, I would stare longingly at my list and decide which one of them would be my great American novel. I would go down rabbit holes of research, feel really good about where I was going, and then, bam, reality would hit me in the face. By joining the Creative Writing Club, I was bound and determined to actually go through the process and start becoming the writing hero that I was meant to be.

In case some of you out in Web land didn’t know, November is national novel writing month. There is even a website dedicated to all fledgling authors for this month. It tracks your progress, gives you words of encouragement, and even provides letters from published authors about the joy of writing and the thrill you will feel when you actually get finished (I personally loved the Lemony Snicket letter, but I am a glutton for punishment). Part of my reason for joining the club this year was to be the ringleader of this month, to corral the troops and get a spirited contest going about who was going to finish their novel first, with me leading the way. Well, I got everyone going, but I stayed stuck in neutral.

The Chicago trip was on November 1st. I thought I’d have some time over those four days, but as you’ll find out next week, I barely had time to sleep, let alone write. I thought, “maybe when I get back I’ll really get into it.” A week into November, I only had a little over 1,000 words written (some of it was cheater writing because I counted my outline writing as part of my word count). Nanowrimo.org told me that I would definitely finish my novel by November 30; of 2019. I was being mocked, usually an indicator for me to step up and prove the opposition wrong. However, a week later I am only up to 2,000. I’m afraid to even look at the website for my estimated date of completion now.

I can live with the mocking of the website, but what is really bothering me is that there is a student in the club who is well over 20,000 words into her novel right now. I know I should be really proud of her, but she really is just pushing me to get after it during Thanksgiving to beat her. I know, it sounds petty and vindictive, but I am a very competitive person. I need to win at all of my undertakings, which doesn’t always make it fun to be around me.

Yes, deep down, I am very impressed by my students who have written more than I have, but really they are just motivating me to keep pushing myself. This is something I have learned about myself since I began teaching, and especially since I began advising so many different extra-curriculars. Students can definitely benefit from a strong mentor who pushes them to go beyond what they may think they are capable of doing, but it works the same way for teachers.

I put myself out there, in a way that I think many teachers try to avoid. Advising clubs helps you create stronger connections with students, especially if they spend multiple years with you as their mentor. As much as I want to push them, I hope that they push me. I hope that they ask me tough questions and make me really think about the answers, even if I can’t answer them right away. I hope that we can have friendly competitions about who is writing a novel faster, and that I might lose to a more motivated writer. I hope that they can show me some area in which they possess a lot of talent, and I can learn from them and grow as a person.

I think more teachers need to put themselves in the shoes of the students sometimes and be open to learning from them. I have students from so many different backgrounds and life experiences; I can’t help but grow as a person every day at school with what I learn from them. I think we also need to be willing to be vulnerable in front of students, because that can make us grow as well, even if it means getting clobbered in a writing competition by a 16 year old.

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