Writing and Teaching: A talk with myself
As I was cleaning up one of my bookshelves at home, I uncovered an old handwritten writer’s notebook I had kept. In 1979, I participated in the Bay Area Writing Project in my school district. A number of teachers, from throughout the district, met over the summer for three weeks to learn about the writing process. In doing so, we had to do a lot of writing. One of the activities we did was to explore the use of dialogue. We were to create 2 characters (voices) and then free write a dialogue between them. I created two characters both based on myself. HDH and Self. Psychoanalysts might get a good look into my mind by reading such pieces. As I continued keeping journals throughout my teaching career, I would periodically fall back to this technique as part of my writing. It saved me a lot of money on mental health expenses.
Here was my first attempt at dialogue in 1979:
HDH: Hello Self
Self: Hi HDH
HDH: Well, what should we talk about?
Self: I guess we should talk about writing.
HDH: What for, haven’t you had enough of it this week?
Self: I guess so, but who knows what writing about writing will get us to write?
HDH: That sounds dumb.
Self: I can’t help it. THat’s what I do if you let me free write.
HDH: Why not think of some grand epic to write about, using some exquisite vocabulary and lengthy sentences?
Self: And why not write two sentences as simple as possible and get it over with. Why do you have this obsession with long words?
HDH: It looks impressive and makes me feel educated.
Self: You’re not you know. If you were so educated, you wouldn’t have to make it such an effort to figure out what word to use.
HDH: You mean I could do it without a thesaurus?
Self: You bet. You’ld know all those words yourself.
HDH: Okay. So how do I get educated?
Self: That’s a tough one. I think you have to be born with it.
HDH: That’s dumb.
Self: I know, but it was the only thing I could think of.
HDH: There must be a way. Aren’t we taught to be educated in school?
Self: That’s what they say.
HDH: That’s what who says?
Self: All the people who think they’re educating us in school?
HDH: I wonder if they’re educated?
Self: They must be, they’re teachers aren’t they?
HDH: Well, I’m a teacher and you said I’m not educated.
Self: That’s different
Self: Well, you’re a teacher because you work with kids well. You work so well that they forgot to find out whether you were educated or not.
HDH: You mean I lucked out and wasn’t caught?
HDH: Pretty scary, huh.
Self: What do you mean?
HDH: Imagine if all the teachers out there actually only worked well with people, but couldn’t teach them anything… Wait a minute. My kids learn things.
Self: Yeah, but that’s from manuals and stuff you‘ve stolen from others. None of it’s your knowledge.
HDH: But they do learn things.
Self: Instinct, all instinct. When they’re ready, they learn.
HDH: I’ve heard that junk before. I don’t buy it.
Self: Why not? You’re living proof of put a manual in your hand and you can teach. Where’s the knowledge?
HDH: The knowledge is in how I relate that information from other sources to the kids.
Self: See, then you’re not a teacher, you’re a relaterer. You don’t need to be educated.
HDH: Does that save the teaching profession?
Self: I guess so. You’re either an educated teacher or an uneducated relaterer.
HDH: What if you’re neither?
Self: Then you’re incompetent and probably an administrator.
HDH: I sure hope an administrator hears you.
Admin: Hears you what?
HDH: Oh, nothing.
Admin: Come on, I don’t bite. I can take anything you have to dish out. I’ve been educated enough to know how to take criticism with a grain of salt.
Selt: You’ve been educated?
HDH: In what?
Admin: Well, in how to administer.
HDH: Can you write with big words?
Self: Will you stop that!
HDH: Answer the question.
Admin: When I need to, I can.
Self: See, I told you that if you’re educated you know the words without thinking of them.
HDH: You also said administrators are uneducated and incompetent.
Self: There are exceptions to each rule.
HDH: Why can’t I be one?
Admin: Be one what?
HDH: An exception to a rule. Why can’t I be a teacher yet not be so educated.
Admin: Maybe it’s that you are educated and you just don’t use all your education.
And here is where the dialogue stopped.
This was written after I had only been teaching for 6 years. Now that I have been teaching for over 40 years, I’m sure my perspectives on writing, education, and administrators have changed. But that would require another dialogue with myself to flesh out and I’m not sure HDH and Self are ready to spar with each other like they used to. They too are getting older.