I’m selfish about writing

As teachers, we are constantly being pushed to write. At any given time, we have mounds and mounds obligatory writing. Things like lesson plans, student evaluations, and email(!!) are always lurking, waiting for us after we collect our exit tickets. Our students leave, we sit in front of our computer, and we’re attacked. Most times, at least for me, writing becomes a chore.

But despite all the rudimentary writing that’s required in teaching, there is hope. Some of us find the motivation to expand the walls of our classrooms through our writing to help start (or join) a larger conversation around tracking or teacher tenure, say. The focus here is on the bigger picture. Often times this includes writing about educational policy. Things like Op-Eds come to mind. Some teachers — and this is becoming more and more common — even contribute to the larger teaching community by assiduously writing a book. Yes, a book!

There is a definite lure to this sort of writing. It can affect change that goes far beyond writing a lesson plan for a superintendent’s visit. Our written words can motivate. It can trigger tough, but necessary, conversations with one another. It helps us to unite teachers from different schools and districts. From some of us, and this has to be said whether we want to hear it or not, it also feeds our ego. It amplifies our own voice.

I’ve never been interested in any of that. I write for me. This blog was born 5 years ago and each post is almost always an intellectual or emotional purge. A brain dump, if you will. I squeeze my thoughts from my head down to my fingertips and tap them out on my keyboard for no one other than me. Is that bad? Maybe. Is it selfish? Definitely.

But I don’t really care. I’ve found that writing for myself helps to clarify what I think I’m thinking and to better understand my own complexities. This is not unlike what Marcus Aurelius did in Meditations. I’m always better teacher after I write. (To get all meta, this post in itself is a great example of this.)

Twitter, originally popularized as a micro-blogging platform, serves the same purpose for me. When I tweet, most times it captures a moment — something that I’m thinking about or want to write more deeply about. I usually carefully construct my tweets. If there are replies, I don’t mind connecting with others, but I usually tweet for reflection. A micro-brain dump.

I’ll even extend this to non-blog, non-Twitter writing. I especially enjoy the hand-written reflections and Friday Letters that I write to students, which have become more and more important to me through the years. Student recommendations letters are also a refreshing change of pace for my writing. While I used to view them as a burden, I’ve come to appreciate their reflective nature. It is there that I can formally channel all of my thoughts into a single student and summarize their experiences with me.

I’ve stretched my reflections further by auditing an English class at my school. Instead of planning my own engaging lessons or replying to the 217 emails that I get each day, I selfishly attend everyday 7th period, take notes, study for vocab quizzes, the whole nine. I’m a student again! It’s a fun and reflective class — and there’s plenty of writing. Right now I’m crafting a profile on my colleague Patrick Callahan. I’ve admired him and his work for a while. Writing about him is not only helping bring me closer to him, but also to the teacher that I want to become. The class involves research and structured reflections that I wouldn’t otherwise do or make time for. I’m thankful for it.



3 thoughts on “I’m selfish about writing”

  1. Thanks for Reading! – NYC – To receive emails with updates from 251 and The American Bystander, click the link above to subscribe to our emails: https://theamericanbystander.substack.com/
    Michael Pershan says:

    I agree but also I disagree! (Shocking, right?)

    I fundamentally agree that you should write for yourself if you’d like to and that this is valuable. (I also think of blogging, in particular, as a release valve.) I also fundamentally agree that too many people in education write what (they think) other people should hear. That’s boring and repetitive, and how you get like 10000000000000 blog posts about the same damn thing.

    That said.

    I think that pretty much all writing is an attempt to reach out and be understood. I think that trying to reach “the masses” usually leads to boring writing; trying to reach a single ideal reader (including yourself, or your past self) seems particularly useful. Because at the end of the day we are hitting “publish.”

    By the way as of a few months ago I am one of those teacher people writing a book, and I don’t think it’s fundamentally different. So many books in education are premised on what others are supposed to hear; so far for me writing this thing (when I’m writing) is about trying to purge a bunch of ideas from my system that are all jumbled and I WANT THEM OUT. (I do also want people to read the book and enjoy it, though. Since I honest to god have no real career aspirations that’s really more about wanting those ideas to have a fair shot. Like, I’d hate to not do right by the ideas.)

    So in sum I agree with your critique but I also think that writing to please only yourself is not quite how I’d put it. I want to please myself, but I also want to please a couple other voices that I really respect — and sometimes those voices are voices that I know won’t read the piece, but I’d want them to think right of me if they could, if that makes sense.

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