Mission Clarified

I had the lucky opportunity to attend the Colorado Day of Writing this past weekend. And what a gift. I haven’t had a whole day to talk and think about writing for a very long time. I didn’t get much writing done, but I got some critical thinking done inspired by the conversations had with teaching colleagues who were there from across the state.

I completed my doctoral degree in 2009. Three years later, my dissertation (for the most part–there have been a couple of articles from it) remains unpublished. I’ve sent out four proposals to book publishers and  heard back “no” four times–“no” for different reasons each time. I was expecting this as I know that getting a book published is not an easy feat.

One “no” was actually a “no-but,” meaning that the publisher was willing to look at it again if I did a bit more writing with specific suggestions for teachers about how to manage the classroom tensions that my story unpacked. What I’ve written identifies a few specific moments of tension in the classroom, excavates all around them to figure out where they came from, and then makes an argument for why those moments of tension are critically important to transformative classroom experiences for students. This publisher wanted me to go that one more step to tell teachers how to manage the tension, how to respond to it, how to deal with it.

For a year now I’ve been thinking about this request from this publisher because I’m just not sure if that’s the direction I want this work to follow. I’ve had this all percolating in the back of my mind (waaaaaaaaaaay in the back of my mind) for months. I’ve just been totally unsure what I wanted my dissertation work to become–a book for teachers? a book for academics? a book for people who don’t know much about what actually happens in classrooms but need to?

In our conversations this weekend at the Colorado Day of Writing, we talked about why teacher stories are important, why our stories about our classrooms are important. They are important to other teachers of course because we can learn from each other through the stories we share. But right now with the status of public schools in America and the way that teachers are being vilified for the perceived failures of the system, we need to share our stories not just with each other but with all those people out there who have particular ideas about what happens in classrooms but who don’t actually know because they aren’t there.

Stories are powerful. It is through story that we understand our lives. If someone were to ask my students who I am as a teacher, they would respond with stories about their experiences with me to define who I am. We all carry stories with us–stories from our experiences we hold to define who we are, stories we hold to define the other people in our lives, stories we turn to when we need to make sense of something or someone new or unfamiliar to us.

If the world tells a certain story about you, that story defines you. The media have been telling a certain story about public schooling in America, and that story has defined it so fully in the minds of policy makers that we have ended up on our current path, a path that we here at The Paper Graders have written about again and again and again because we believe it’s damaging to our schools and our students.

At times I feel totally powerless against all of this. What can one public high school teacher do to enact meaningful change and reform to such a huge system?

Our introduction to you about the newest Paper Grader, Mr. B, was something he said to us recently:

If you really want to change the system, you need to think like a virus.

What’s more viral than a story? The most powerful stories get told over and over and over. People pass them on. In fact (warning: English geek moment approaching), this is why we even have something like The Odyssey all these years later. Homer traveled around and told the story and eventually someone wrote it down and now we make high school students read it. Usually in ninth grade.

So my mission has been clarified.

I wish to tell stories from the classroom, stories that will (I hope) work to redefine the world of public schooling in America. I’m starting by taking a story from my dissertation and reworking it toward that goal and then I’ll send it out and maybe someone will publish it in a place where people will read it.

Join me? Tell your stories!

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Read more about the power of stories:

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One Response to Mission Clarified

  1. Liz says:

    OMG…. I cannot wait to read this book.

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