I found early on in my career that to teach writing well I had to write hard myself. Also, before and beyond teaching spelling, punctuation, grammar and the writing process, I had to earn the trust of my students. Writing with them and for them helped me do so.
My students wrote daily journal entries to improve both their confidence and fluency. I’ve included a student piece below written twenty-five years ago by a fourteen-year-old girl (let’s call her Maria) in response to a topic I offered to get minds working. At the year’s beginning she never wrote more than a fragmentary sentence or two. This was a mid-year, mid-week entry:
Well, about poor. I know a lot of people that are poor. I'm poor; most of my friends are poor. That's why we all came to America. My dad brought us here not to be rich, but to have at least what we wanted.
When we got here for the time we lived here in King City. I was like about one year old. Here we suffered because of my dad and mom. They worked in the fields and then my dad got hurt a lot of times for being chased by the border patrols, the ones that throw you out of the state to Mexico if you are not from here. He got thrown out only once.
From here we moved to a lot of other places and we were really well off. We owned two big houses in Santa Ana, California and had one of our own, but then my dad sold them.
We moved to Fresno. After my dad got all the money from the houses, he wasted it in uneatable things. He later didn't know what to do, where to live and what to eat. We moved then to Los Angeles with an aunt of mine there. She lended us her garage to sleep in and use it as a house.
Those days were cold and it had been raining a lot. The garage leaked an when we would wake up our blankets would be very wet. My dad would get up and go to places to look for food. We never knew until he told us later that some food he got from the trash cans around the town.
My mom by that time was pregnant and got very ill because of the weather and little food. It was such a sad life. I would remember when we were well off and my mom would always tell us not to throw away the food because we were soon going to need it. She'd sit down and watch the poor children that come out on programs on TV and she would cry a lot for them at that time. But now she was crying for us. I would go and calm her as I could because we have always had lots of faith in God. I'd tell her God's going to help us. I know it. I'd hear her prayers every night and she'd ask God to help us. Although he didn't help her.
The food that my dad would bring, she would give it to us. She wouldn't eat.
Now that we're not as bad as before, I think of people who are and suffer with them too because I remember. And also because I have a heart for everyone, although they don't even know it.
Much is made now of the possibility of a post-literate world, a world in which media/tech-connected people will no longer need or use the written word. Bosh. Writing – good writing! – becomes ever more vital as the sensory scatter of modern life increases, exponentially so. We writers are important as long as we mind our duty to those who seek clarity. The contributions to A Certain Kind of Freedom count toward fulfilling that duty, I am happy to say.