Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Students Engaged, Writing is Real

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is … the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”—Mark Twain



          Today's challenge is talking about my greatest accomplishment as a teacher. Hands down it would be relationships with students and getting my students engaged and excited at seeing their words in print. 
           Several years ago, the local paper had a section called "Teen Page." Every Monday local teens could see their belabored words, ones they had sweated and probably cursed over, in print. Every Monday! When I began this position I currently hold, I was coming from six years of working as a freelance writer (being a teacher was a pay raise!). When I saw what the paper offered students, I jumped at the chance to sell this. What better way to connect students with the writing process than to offer them a chance to see their names in a byline and their words sent out to the masses.
           This win-win situation afforded students an authentic audience, not just me. It gave them the chance to be recognized for their efforts in writing and helped them become better writers through revision. For me, I benefited from easier student engagement. Students actually asked to write a story and would pitch me story ideas. There were fewer rumblings about revisions. Students learned how to speak to an adult and practiced their soft skills. Plus, they learned how to write a feature story or profile piece and how to use quotes effectively and how to ask good questions. Seriously, "Teen Page" made my job easier.
             On Monday morning when I'd present a copy of "Teen Page" to the student, peers would look on with envy, wanting desperately for it to be their name on the byline or posted outside my door with the others.Published teens' who received that paper and saw their name in a byline for the first time wore a look of elation and pride. It was, as a tv commercial statesPriceless!
Over the years, my students wrote and published over 80 articles for the local paper. I’ve saved all their clips and periodically pull them out to show them to my current students. We talk about writing and publishing and seeing their words go out to a large audience. Sadly, the paper discontinued this practice about four years ago. At a Newspapers in Education banquet I attended soon after the demise of this section of the paper, I lobbied loud and strong for the rebirth of that page to sad shakes of the head and chuckles of  "That's a good one." Financial cuts. Cuts to staff. Cuts to my outlet for students to be published. Unfortunately, it’s still a missing piece of our paper.       
So my greatest accomplishment? Engaging students in the writing process, offering them authentic writing opportunities, and watching them puff with pride at a job well done. Priceless!

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