Teaching Brave Writers

We talked about being brave writers in class. But let’s flip it around. What would you do as a teacher if your students wrote what you didn’t want to hear? What if they wrote a heart wrenching, beautifully composed piece about their life as a drug dealer? What if they wrote a piece that put Fifty Shades of Grey to shame? If they confessed their intention to commit suicide and detailed their constant self-harming tendencies? How would you handle that? These may be extreme examples, but I think you can get my point. How do you ensure that your students feel like they can safely be brave in their writing, in an institute that covertly encourages conformity?

I can give you a real-life example of a tough situation in writing. During my sophomore year in high school, a student in my grade wrote an essay sympathizing with Adolph Hitler and praised him for his fortitude and groundbreaking ideas. Our teacher attacked him (it probably didn’t help that she clearly didn’t like him in the first place. Which also raises a question I’d love to blog about at a later time: what do you do if you can’t stand one of your students?) Personally, I may have had a hard time not taking a similar approach as our teacher. I would have tried to challenge his thinking in a slightly more positive way (keep the claws retracted as long as I possibly could). I’d love to hear of any other ideas!

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4 thoughts on “Teaching Brave Writers

  1. I don’t know if the teacher lashed out in front of everyone in class but I would try to bring about a group discussion and get other thoughts rolling. It might help to get the heat off that student. Did the student maybe mean it in another way? Or did it seem like they were pretty dead set on their feelings?

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    • She definitely lashed out at him in front of everyone. In her defense, he really was saying some creepy/scary stuff that I would have notified the councilor about, but I think you’re right: probably still not okay to have an aneurism in front of all of your students.

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  2. You’ve identified some disturbing content that English teachers might be exposed to and need to deal with in our classroom. I feel like I can deal more effectively with some kinds of content but not others. Usually schools have a policy in place that teachers have to follow with content that threatens violence to self or others, so that may be out of our hands. I think part of the issue here can be resolved by considering the kind of writing community you establish in your classroom. Try to imagine a student in Katherine Sokolowski’s classroom writing some of these pieces and what she would do about it, how she would be able to use her relationship with that student to use this kind of content as a meaningful and valuable teaching moment.

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    • If I ever get any of the scenarios I listed during my first few years of teaching, I definitely will be reaching out to more experienced teachers for help! It’s scary because if I can create the ideal classroom full of comfortable writers, I really could have any and all of those situations.

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