This time of year I sometimes find it hard not to be crabby. Although it’s almost the middle of April, it’s still cold in the morning, there is still snow in my yard, and the lake still has ice on it. And this time of the semester I also seem focused on what the students aren’t doing—they aren’t coming to class, they aren’t turning their essays in on time, they aren’t doing their Works Cited pages correctly, they aren’t doing their in-text citations correctly, they don’t “get” the essays we are reading from our reader.
And this past week, I’m afraid to admit, I was crabby about organizing the Writing Program’s Celebration of Writing that was held on Sunday—an event where we recognized the undergraduate students who are completing our year-long tutoring course, the winners of our annual Best Text Contest for Basic Writing, College Writing, and Junior-Year Writing, and the students selected to be published in our Student Writing Anthology. I know. I know. The Celebration of Writing is a good event and this is something that I should not be crabby about, but anyone who has ever organized large events knows that the details that go into the planning of these kinds of events can make anyone cranky.
One of my tasks for the Celebration was to present the Best Text Awards for the College Writing category. Now although as one of the judges I had read all the entries, I decided to re-read the winning essays so I could say something specific about each piece. Once again, I was impressed with these pieces. Not only were they well written, each essay had a strong sense of voice and was truly a pleasure to read. I learned something from each essay I read, and I was moved by each writer’s use of language. As I read, my crabbiness began to fade.
For this year’s Celebration our program consisted of a keynote speaker, Nick McBride from the Department of Journalism, and several students speakers/readers. As I listened to each of our speakers, I realized a theme was emerging. (And since I was one of the organizers I can tell you the theme was unplanned!) Each speaker talked about how through writing they realized that they had a voice and that they had something to say. And, even more importantly, for each of these writers somewhere along the way there was someone who wanted to hear what they had to say.
Currently, I think, there is a lot of discussion and focus on assessment, outcomes, goals, and objectives. Of course, I’m not against all this. But listening to all our speakers discuss the power of finding their voices, the confidence they gained from someone validating what they had to say, and, as Nick told us, that writing can enable us to discover the truth within ourselves, makes me realize that the most important thing that we do in our writing classes is to provide a space for writers to discover themselves.
Our students have fascinating things to say and our writing classrooms provide them with the space to say these things.
And this is what excites me the most as a teacher.