A retired teacher stopped by my house the other day to drop off some information about a writing contest. When I commented that it looked like the contest was only for teachers and that I haven’t been in a classroom since 1972 her reply was, “Once a teacher always a teacher.”
How true that statement is. I think any teacher, current or former, will tell you the same thing. Something about teacher education courses trains your mind how to think. Every task I approach I am constantly thinking how I can break it down to the basics or the core of the project. Although I haven’t been an official teacher for almost 40 years, my whole thought process has been how can I best communicate this plan or thought to someone else. How can I simplify my communication so others will understand it?
This summer I had the privilege to tutor the granddaughter of a friend. She has had difficulties putting her ideas on paper and her grandmother thought I might be able to help. During our last session before school started I asked her why our sessions were important. She gave the usual answer—to get better grades. But my reply was “No.” The purpose was to better communicate.
It has been my experience through life that the person who gets ahead in business or stands out in the community is the person who can communicate ideas effectively and enthusiastically. I have known brilliant people; but, if they can’t condense their extensive knowledge into concise verbal and written sentences, they can never share this knowledge.
When I was teaching, my students would tell me that they didn’t need to know spelling, grammar, and composition because they were going to have a secretary. Well, I wonder how that worked out! Today we have the added luxury of computers with built in grammar and spell check but computers don’t always get it right. Does it know the difference between to, too, and two and which one to use in your context? Therapist and the rapist would appear correct in spell check but it can make a huge difference in the meaning of the sentence.
And, of course, computers can’t do the actual writing. If they could I would have a bestselling book by now. I found that the core of my summer student’s problem was the same as every person’s. Basically it boils down to being overwhelmed at the thought of filling a page or several pages with words. Writers call this writer’s block. I helped her break the task down to several simple steps:
- Don’t try to do the entire task at once. Break it into blocks of time. Go out and play.
- Start with notes or a brief outline. Go out and play.
- Let the idea roll around in your head for a while. Go out and play.
- As highlights or brilliant sentences strike you, write them down. Go out and play.
- Write in shotgun fashion. Throw everything on the page at once and as quickly as possible and don’t worry about spelling and grammar. Go out and play.
- After the ideas are on the page then the real work begins. Edit, revise, and rewrite. Go out and play.
- If you have the luxury of time let it sit for a while before reading it again for additional corrections. Read, re-read, and read again. Go out and play.
- Once it is completed—GO OUT AND CELEBRATE! You deserve it.
It may look like my emphasis has been more on playing rather than writing; but these breaks are important, especially for someone with ADD or short attention spans. However, if you have an attention span longer than fifteen minutes then feel free to continue on to the next step and save your play time for #8.
The thought of having to produce a complete written piece in one short time block is what causes many people to freeze. Even professional writers can feel overwhelmed at the thought of having to produce X number of pages in a brief amount of time. I have found that some of my best ideas, thoughts and phrasings have come to me when I have been away from my desk or just talking with friends.
I hope this approach helps my young student and anyone else who freezes at the thought of communicating on paper. Taken in small steps it becomes an easy task.
Yes, after almost 40 years out of the classroom I am still thinking like a teacher. I hope this writer’s crash course can help those who freak out at the thought of putting ideas on paper. Once a teacher, always a teacher.
PS—extra credit if you noticed that the last sentence is not really a sentence but a fragment.