Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Teacher Becomes the Student by Christa Allan

Thanks to Christa for joining us today!

The Teacher Becomes The Student

It’s much easier to assign writing than to teach writing.

That epiphany in my profession as a high school English teacher was a blessing and a curse. . .for me and for my students. It meant I stopped bombarding them with the alphabet soup of essays (analysis, biography, comparison, definition, exemplification, etc.), and started devoting more time to the writing process. Brainstorming, rough drafts, more rough drafts, editing, revision, more revision (FYI: they hate revision).

It’s exhausting. They don’t know what to write, where to start, when to finish, how to finish, if their sentences or paragraphs are too short or too long, or if it “sounds stupid.”

Their first question is usually, “How long does this have to be?” Generally, my response is , “the miniskirt rule”: long enough to cover the subject, short enough to be interesting. (FYI: they hate this rule).

I pace the classroom chanting my mantras: Keep pushing your pen across the paper; don’t paralyze yourself waiting for the perfect opening or word, some lousy writing is better than no writing, writing is messy business, create chaos-we’ll find a way to make order of it later, don’t

fret over the introduction-you’ll probably ditch it later anyway. I tell then to read the paper out loud to hear the ebb and flow of their words, to remember their audience and to forget the “cotton candy” words (the words that look pretty, but lack substance).

They whine. “Why can’t I write like Asmeralda? She writes better.” I answer, “Because you’re Fred. Because she’s writing from a different place.” I don’t tell him it’s because she and a younger sibling and their mother lived in their car for two years.

“Don’t over think it. Just keep putting one word in front of the other.” When I say this, they look at me as if I’ve just announced the cafeteria would be serving lima beans for lunch.

I’d wonder why they wouldn’t trust me.

Until I started writing my first novel. Which proved to me, once again, that God does have a sense of humor.

Almost every writing chant I used in class perched on my shoulders and giggled as I stared at the cursor on my monitor. Every blink, a taunt.

I returned to the classroom a humbled writer-in-the trenches with my students. They know I suffer with them. I think they derive a certain malicious pleasure from that if not a grudging respect because they’re aware I’m not asking them to do that which I’m unwilling to do myself.

When my second book was due, they badgered me about my word count on a daily basis. I showed them my messy beginnings. When my edits arrived, I scrolled through my manuscript so they could see that someone bleeds on my papers too.

I don’t teach writing any more.

I learn writing. Everyday.

Special note! Christa's Abingdon is offering Walking on Broken Glass as a FREE Kindle download April 15-21!

A true Southern woman who knows that any cook worth her gumbo always starts with a roux and who never wears white after Labor Day, Christa Allan’s novel Edge of Grace will release in August. Her debut women’s fiction, Walking on Broken Glass, was published by Abingdon Press in 2010. her next three novels are scheduled for 2013 and 2014,

Her essays have been published in The Ultimate Teacher, Cup of Comfort, Chicken Soup for the Coffee Lover’s Soul and Chicken Soup for the Divorced Soul. Christa is the mother of five, a grandmother of three, and a teacher of high school English. She and her husband Ken live in Abita Springs.

You can find Christa at, on Amazon, and Twitter.

Photos provided by:
Image: Felixco, Inc. /
Image: nuchylee /
Image: Felixco, Inc. /

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