Narrative as Trouble

It's day 2 of my conference adventures...I'm fighting a sinus infection and am running on about four hours of sleep and lots of coffee. Vegas is incredibly over-stimulating...the lights, the smoke, the crowds of people, the close quarters--it's all a bit too much for this girl. So I grabbed lunch to go today and headed to my room for a little think time with some mellow Iron and Wine tunes. This post is fragmented, but it's been milling around in the gray matter for the last five hours, and I just had to get it out. 

This morning's plenary featured three authors that have a series of books that came out on teaching narrative and argument. One of the speakers, Jim Fredricksen, said a few things about narrative that really resonated with me (all paraphrased from his speech, by the way) but the
one that stuck with me the most was: "Narrative is about trouble and how people respond to it." 

This quote has many implications for the teaching of writing. He went on to mention that when our students engage in writing, they face trouble. As a teacher of writing, I've seen kids freeze after writing one line. I've endured student blow-ups after I've asked them to write. I've coached kids through anxiety and nervousness towards the task. I've calmed down kids who have burst into tears because I've asked them to write. This reaction has caused me to stop and evaluate the way I approach writing in my classroom. I don't think these reactions have come from the tasks I've asked them to do, or the way I've instructed them. Rather, I'm learning that many kids have a fear of writing that is almost crippling. I've also helped kids navigate broken homes, run-ins with the law, helped them cope with break-ups, and have helped them struggle through life and make important self-discoveries all through writing. Jim mentioned that when we look at narrative as trouble, our work will often feel uncertain, and it might even feel like we're failing. This resonates with me because in helping students navigate these unmarked roads, I'll be the first to admit that I often feel like I don't know what I'm doing (despite being well-schooled in the art of teaching writing), and this isn't a fun place to be. 

But this work we do of teaching writing "matters because kids need to walk away from our classes believing they can change" (Fredricksen). Many of my former and current students would diagnose themselves as "horrid writers" or would boldly declare with disdain their hatred for writing. But it's our job as writing teachers to help them overcome these stigmas and help heal those "writing wounds" so they can grow as writers because I believe if we can get them to grow as writers, then we can get them to grow as people. 

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