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Monday, June 04, 2012


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Maggie Leivas

I could just copy and paste your core beliefs as they are that similar to mine! I'm going back into the classroom after 10 years as librarian/instructional specialist because I want to spend the last years before retirement utilizing the many strategies and structures I've shared with teachers through the years. I want to create a classroom structure and environment in which students can not only succeed but thrive. Your ideas reinforce the ideas floating around in my brain. I'm glad you took the time to write them done, and better yet, to share them with us. THANK YOU!!!


I sincerely believe in letting the students know who you are and what you stand for as long as this does not go too far into the private life of the teacher. Students sometimes cannot distinguish the line between teacher and person. Sometimes, being too familiar to the students encourages out-of-line questions about our personal lives. However, students need to know that we are not teachers in our after-school lives. All of the information you presented, however, make it clear that you are addressing the professional side of a teacher and that's a good thing.
This is a good thing because sometimes, though this is not we prefer as teachers, a student will try harder, might even emulate, in order to please his/her teacher. I'm not saying you have to be liked by everyone, but it certainly does help. Yes, students should be achieving for their own goals and well-being; however, sometimes, students don't "get" that yet and will do it in order to stay in good standing with the teacher he/she respects and admires. Later, as they mature, students work for their own advancement--but early in their education up to later years in college, students often work harder for a teacher they know well enough to know him/her as a person. They don't work hard for an automaton, with little passion or personality.

Carrie Deahl

Cindy, you bring up some great questions here and your point about the imbalance of power is something I feel strongly needs to shift in our educational system. If we're advocates for social justice, then with that comes a lot of sharing about who we are, what we believe, and what we stand for. My students learn a lot about who I am because I choose writing topics that I have strong feelings about. Topics that are sometimes extremely personal.

In Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott writes, “We write to expose the unexposed. If there is one door in the castle you have been told not to go through, you must. The writer's job is to turn the unspeakable into words - not just into any words, but if we can, into rhythm and blues.”

I have the first sentence of this quote displayed in my room, and I completely agree with her advice. If I want to help develop my students hone their skills as writers, and, in turn, help them learn to love writing, I have to allow myself to be vulnerable as a person, as a writer, as their teacher. If I take this risk, I'm able to show my students that I'm a "real" person--a human who is flawed, has failed, and someone who has learned from those flaws and failures. The human condition, the "exposing the unexposed," the ability to connect with my students about personal topics, belief systems, and values--are delicate, but necessary in teaching kids about things like voice and style, about how we're all connected, about themselves and each other.

Because my students have "guided" choices over the books/novels they read and within those books are subjects ranging from drug use, sex, abuse, neglect, violence, etc. I advise my students to only write about those topics they feel comfortable with. If the topic is too personal, they can write about it, but I might require them to only share a sentence or two. I follow this for my own writing as well. There are topics I avoid with my students because they simply cross a professional boundary that would cause controversy, or they might come back to bite me in the butt. There are also those "age-appropriate" topics that I caution my students about as well.

Because we keep portfolios, at any time, their parents, other teachers, or administrators can look at them (however, this rarely happens). I share this with them as well, but many still choose to write about deeply personal topics, which they have strong feelings about. These pieces usually tend to be their best writing.

For my students who were raised in cultures similar to yours, where privacy is a core value, some choose to write about personal topics and others avoid them. A Navajo student surprised me this year with the extremely personal stories she wrote about and shared in our class and in our Creative Writing Program. Many Navajo students I've had in the past have been reserved in what they write and share. For her, it was a release. She was finally given the opportunity to tell her story, and because of that, I think she has begun her road to recovery.

Writing has always been my way of coping with the world, and I've learned that the more I share about myself, the better writing I get from my students. I think that you have decide what you're most comfortable with, and whether or being "transparent" coincides with your beliefs and values or supports them.

Cindy Tekobbe

This is definitely something I'm divided on. On the one hand, I want to be very clear that our classroom is a safe place for students, and one way to do that is, as you point out, be transparent about who I am, what I value, and why. On the other hand, I am a very private person in all other aspects of my life - my culture isn't one that does a lot of sharing. Yet, as a teacher of critical thinking and rhetorical techne, I learn a lot about who my students are and what matters to them. It seems a dangerous imbalance of power to know so much about them and allow them to know so little about me. Do you ever feel over-exposed? How do you handle that?

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