Home Articles Reader Opinion Editorial Book Reviews Discussion Writers Guide About TCRecord
transparent 13
Topics
Discussion
Announcements
 

The Teacher-Writer: Creating Writing Groups for Personal and Professional Growth


reviewed by Rebecca Woodard - March 27, 2017

coverTitle: The Teacher-Writer: Creating Writing Groups for Personal and Professional Growth
Author(s): Christine M. Dawson
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807758000, Pages: 160, Year: 2016
Search for book at Amazon.com


What happens when we reposition writing in teachers’ lives and foreground creativity and play? What happens when we engage in writing as a social and interactive endeavor? What might we gain when we focus less on how to “be a writer” and instead consider how we might purposefully “do writing”—in whatever ways it works in our lives? (p. 11)


Author Christine M. Dawson sets the stage for an in-depth inquiry into teacher writing by posing these questions in The Teacher-Writer: Creating Writing Groups for Personal and Professional Growth. Her intimate portrayal of how five teachers began an online writing group they have sustained for over eight years offers both theoretical and practical implications for understanding teacher-writers. We see Christine (the author), Karen, Jillian, Christina, and Nell (Christine’s peers) move from teacher-educator and teacher-candidates who worked together in literacy methods courses to K-16 teachers in various contexts across different states. During their first year together as a writing group, they talk and write for personal and professional purposes. However, these are not just stories of texts being composed. They are stories of lives and identities being invented, as Dawson calls it, drawing from LeFevre (1987) and Prior (2004). They are stories of five women figuring out and laying claim to who they are and who they want to be. At its heart, this volume explores how the act of composing together has a great deal of significance on teachers’ lives.

Chapter One and Chapter Two make the case for teachers engaging in writing and the study of teacher-writers. Dawson situates this work in a field of literature that has identified benefits for teacher-writers such as pedagogical opportunities (Atwell, 1998; Calkin, 1986; Kittle, 2008; Murray, 1968) and increased participation in the field (Robbins et al., 2006; Whitney et al., 2012). Teacher-writers also face significant challenges like a lack of time and infrastructure to support writing opportunities (Blau, 1999; Gere, 1980; Jost, 1990). The author then describes how she invited a group of pre-service teachers she had taught for two years to join her in a writing group after graduation. She chronicles how these five women navigated technologies over time by establishing roles and routines as they began their writing group.

The bulk of this volume (from the third chapter to the seventh chapter) offers portraits of the writing group in action during its first year. Chapter Three closely examines one representative meeting from start to finish. Chapter Four and Chapter Five highlight strategies the women use to make space for writing in their lives. Descriptions include how they find ideas for writing, how they sustain writing over time, and how they claim professional work as being a valid writing project. Chapter Six and Chapter Seven focus on the ways these women use writing and their writing group time to compose their identities and interactions. Finally, Chapter Eight extends the themes beyond the first year of writing featured in the previous chapters. Karen’s words nicely summarize the teachers’ reflections on their experience: “[i]t was . . . a nice chance to shift to think about myself as a writer, but to also think about myself as . . . a more complicated human being than just a teacher” (p. 113).

As a teacher and a woman, many of these women’s stories will stick with me. Some of the stories highlight the work of teaching, like Christina battling the monster that threatened to devour her as a first year teacher or Karen making light of the high-pressure communications that took place in her school through parody writing. Other stories showcase their out-of-school lives, like Nell giving a wedding toast for her sister or Christine memorializing her aunt with a found poem. Some stories were deeply personal, like Jillian moving from critique of her body as a young woman to acceptance and self-love as a mother and adult. It matters that the narratives included in The Teacher-Writer are women’s stories. It is also important that they are the stories of new teachers who often struggle with the “precariousness” (p. 44) of teaching. These are the voices of the teaching profession. Unfortunately, these are also narratives that are too often left out of professional and policy conversations. They are particularly important to hear when the current political tides seem intent on dismantling public education. I am thankful for Dawson’s advocacy, generosity, and partnership with these teachers to legitimize our everyday writings, relationships, identities, and ways of being in the world (see Yagelski, 2011).

It also matters that all of these women are presumably white, able-bodied, cisgendered, and heterosexual. While this mirrors much of the teaching population in the U.S., I believe that adding the stories of more diverse teacher-writers will meaningfully extend Dawson’s analysis in the future. I hope that those of us who research writing will take up this charge to intentionally include narratives of intersectionality and the composing experiences of historically marginalized groups (e.g., Alsup, 2006; Baker-Bell, Stanbrough, & Everett, 2017; Muhammad, 2015).

Although it is not the focus of the book, I think this writing group is also a testament to different ways that we might re-envision the transition from pre-service to in-service teaching. Christine’s evolving relationships with her students-turned-peers reconfigures traditional boundaries between teacher-candidates and teacher-educators. Dawson’s lengthy engagement with her group as a co-participant also offers a compelling instance of induction work that seems to have meaningfully impacted these teachers’ lives.

The volume’s practical advice will resonate with all types of teacher-writers, ranging from National Writing Project Summer Institute participants looking to sustain writing throughout the school year to school administrators hoping to foster writing in their school communities. In particular, I appreciate Dawson's advice for prioritizing and building relationships; being generous in our understanding of what counts as writing;  acknowledging the importance of talk in developing relationships, ideas, and writing; and allowing ideas to percolate over time so that we can follow our writing energy. Certainly, there are lessons to be learned for teaching writing here, too—a topic I hope Dawson and her fellow teacher-writers will write more about in the future.

Dawson’s The Teacher-Writer contributes important insights concerning how writing matters for teachers. It takes on the ways the literature documents challenges for teacher-writers, including a lack of time and an insufficient infrastructure for writing opportunities (Blau, 1999; Gere, 1989; Jost, 1990), and offers invaluable advice for educators interested in starting and sustaining writing groups.

References

Alsup, J. (2006). Teacher identity discourses: Negotiating personal and professional spaces. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum and the National Council of Teachers of English.

Atwell, N. (1998). In the middle: New understandings about writing, reading, and learning. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook.

Baker-Bell, A., Stanbrough, R. J., & Everett, S. (2017). The stories they tell: Mainstream media, pedagogies of healing, and critical media literacy. English Education, 49(2), 130–152.

Blau, S. (1999). The only new thing under the sun: 25 years of the National Writing Project. The Quarterly of the National Writing Project. Retrieved from www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/resource/804

Calkins, L. M. (1986). The art of teaching writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Gere, A. R. (1980). Teachers as writers. The National Writing Project Network Newsletter, 2(2), 1–2.

Jost, K. (1990). Rebuttal: Why high-school writing teachers should not write. English Journal, 79(3), 65–66.

Kittle, P. (2008). Write beside them: Risk, voice, and clarity in high school writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

LeFevre, K. B. (1987). Invention as a social act. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

Muhammad, G. E. (2015). Searching for a full vision: Writing representations of African American adolescent girls. Research in the Teaching of English, 49(3), 224–247.

Murray, D. M. (1968). A writer teaches writing: A practical method of teaching composition. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Prior, P. (2004). Tracing process: How texts come into being. In C. Bazerman & P. Prior (Eds.), What writing does and how it does it: An introduction to analyzing texts and textual practices (pp. 167–200). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Robbins, S., Seaman, G., Yancey, K. B., & Yow, D. (Eds.). (2006). Teachers’ writing groups: Collaborative inquiry and reflection for professional growth. Kennesaw, GA: Kennesaw State University Press.

Whitney, A. E., Anderson, K., Dawson, C., Kang, S., Olan Ros, E., Olcese, N., & Ridgeman, M. (2012). Audience and authority in the professional writing of teacher-authors. Research in the Teaching of English, 46(4), 390–419.

Yagelski, R. P. (2011). Writing as a way of being: Writing instruction, nonduality, and the crisis of sustainability. New York, NY: Hampton Press.




Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: March 27, 2017
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21875, Date Accessed: 11/29/2021 10:49:02 AM

Purchase Reprint Rights for this article or review
 
Article Tools
Related Articles

Related Discussion
 
Post a Comment | Read All

About the Author
  • Rebecca Woodard
    University of Chicago
    E-mail Author
    REBECCA WOODARD is Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago in the Curriculum and Instruction where she teaches classes on literacy methods, writing, action research, and research design. Her current research examines equity writing pedagogies, particularly in urban schools. In recent publications, she documents both teachers' and students expansive literate landscapes, showcasing how teacher-writers’ literate engagements inform their writing pedagogy and how students draw from multiple languages and cultures in their school writing. She has recent and forthcoming publications in peer-reviewed journals including Research in the Teaching of English and Language Arts.
 
Member Center
In Print
This Month's Issue

Submit
EMAIL

Twitter

RSS