By Maureen Gardner, Middle School English Teacher
Each year, narrative writing plays a key role in our Middle School English curriculum at Forest Ridge. In fifth and sixth grades, students focus on telling stories that are true. They take small moments in their lives and expand them out with dialogue and detail so they become pull-you-in, bit-by-bit stories that leave us all, readers and writers alike, a little clearer on what matters. In seventh and eighth grades, students move into the realm of fiction narratives, continuing the practice of storytelling and meaning-making by layering in more advanced craft techniques and literary elements. I love teaching these lessons on narrative, and each year I am delighted by what our student writers create.
This past October, Forest Ridge gave me the opportunity to attend a local writing retreat and workshop. Feeling like my own writing practice needed some attention, I jumped at the chance. One of the retreat requirements was that each participant bring a piece of original writing with them. As the week progressed, we would workshop pieces for feedback and have time to improve them.
I’ll be honest: despite being a teacher, and a teacher of writing no less, I was nervous. In fact, during the group and workshop sessions, I found myself shaky at times, voice-quivering when it was my turn to share. And, as I internally fretted over what the other writers would think of my work and whether I should toss it in the bin, it was hard not to smile and shake my head. Even with my experiences of teaching and talking to students and remembering the vulnerability of growing up and being a student myself, how quickly I can forget what it really feels like to share yourself in a narrative form. It’s nerve-wracking. It’s terrifying. And, when you finally do it, it’s exciting and brave.
More than once that week, an image of a student who had overcome a writing challenge in this or that piece during the fall came to my mind. In each instance, I looked at them with a renewed sense of admiration, and I found in their resolve, a model of what I, their teacher, could do, too. Just the week before the retreat, I’d sat next to a student anxious that she had nothing to write about and later watched her quietly choose an everyday, ordinary moment from her life – as small as they can get – and start to draft out her story even though she had no idea whether it would work or if she really had something to say. (She did!) This is brave. And exactly what needs to happen when we create.
So, though I left the writing retreat with a newly workshopped piece, some added tools in my toolkit, and a fire to keep my practice going, in the end my biggest inspiration that week actually came by looking back at the young writers I work with every day right here at FR—and my biggest takeaway was a renewed sense of appreciation for their creative courage, determination, and resilience as they work to tell their stories. These are experiences they will take with them far into their writing future.