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Student > Teacher

February 9, 2010

The tables were turned a bit on me today, and my writing benefitted as a result.

Not many people read this blog (yet), but I do have a small handful of subscribers. Among them are a few students of mine. I’m sure that their reasons for following along with my ramblings have much more to do with their late-night laughs about dorky Mr. Van Hof than with any genuine interest in what I write, but it is nice to know that they are out there.

It was especially nice today when one of those student subscribers stopped me in class to mention last night’s post. To tell the story, I need to explain that I just finished an 18 week semester of AP Language and Composition with this student. I gave the class buckets of work, including summer readings. One of those readings was “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott. It is a fantastic book that gives thoughtful and funny insight into the world of being a writer. In her book, Lamott gives prospective writers some basic instructions on writing. Her central rule is to simply get something written, then to revise heavily.

All of which leads to class today, when my student told me she had read my post.

“What did ya think?” I asked, turning down my U2 Pandora station.

“I was going to leave a comment, actually, but I was reading it on my iPhone and it would have been a pain to type in the comment box,” she said.

“Oh, right,” I said, wishing I was the one with the iPhone.

“So anyway, I thought I could just tell you in class. Remember when we read in ‘Bird by Bird’ about the ‘shitty first draft?’ Well that’s what you need to do…”

“Right !” I was glad she remembered the book at all, let alone the tips Lamott gave.

“Just get out a shitty first draft,” she said.

She was right. That’s the point I was trying to get to in my previous post. Getting something – anything – finished needs to be my first goal. The revisions will come, but the story and characters will be at a point of no return.

It’s a strange feeling, ten years into a career as an English teacher, to take writing advice from a student. But at the same time, it’s validating. Writing is a challenging craft, and I am by no means an expert. I’ll turn to any source for a nudge in the right direction – even to a teenager.

  1. BriRob
    February 9, 2010 at 17:32


    I’m very much enjoying your blog, this post in particular. I don’t have anywhere near your teaching experience, especially with high school aged students, but this particular entry made me smile. I love it when students offer their opinion. I’ve always made it a point during photo or web site critiques of student work to offer some of my own work for them to review. That way the students have the opportunity to critique my work in a similar manner to how I do theirs.

    All of that said, in short, I guess what I’m trying to say is that I love the fact that you are sharing your story and work with your students.

    I hope they are enjoying it as much as I am.


    • February 9, 2010 at 18:24


      It is fun share this type of thing with students. It’s the same reason I leave my twitter account open for them to follow. I think that if the students see me as someone with a normal existence, they’ll open up more in the classroom and be more comfortable talking about some of the controversial stuff we hit on in English and newspaper classes. The story here shows that’s true – as do, by the way, all your interactions with students at MIPA workshops. These teens aren’t all angst and apathy after all.

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