Inspired to Teach: Writing with second graders

Jillian AndrewsWhen I signed up for Laynie Browne's "At the Intersection of Teaching and Writing" course at the University of Arizona, I didn't expect to fall in love with teaching.  I thought I would get a fun elective credit toward my Creative Writing degree and get to work with cute kids in the process.  The course has forced me to reevaluate this notion of teaching poetry as a fun pastime, and to consider teaching as a career.  I have never been so taken aback by my reaction to a college course, and I have never felt so passionately about an assignment.  Working towards a residency has been extremely fulfilling, and interacting with a classroom of second graders has been nothing short of world changing.  As a writer, it is so easy to forget why I do what I do.  Aren't I just trying to get a degree?  But, as it turns out, I am after so much more, and it took the talents of seven year old children to remind me of that.

Every time I visited Ms. Dunn's second grade classroom, I remembered why I fell in love with writing in the first place, and why it's not just work, but art that has the power to change the world, or at least my small part in it. I was astounded by the raw artistic talent that second graders possess, and the absolute confidence with which they put forth this talent into writing that is shockingly beautiful.  They don't have the same inhibitions that adults have, and their writing is full of vulnerability, but also an incredible assuredness.  They know their imaginations to be the truth, and I have yet to witness one of Ms. Dunn's writers second guess themselves after putting pencil to paper.  What they produce is full of personality and life, a part of their limitless inner self set to words.  Their confidence inspired me to find my own, and their pure delight at creating poetry helped me recreate my own love for something that was rapidly becoming just a major, a subject that I took classes in so I could earn a diploma. Because of this, I am tremendously excited to work with second graders next semester as I begin teaching, and my only worry is that I won't be able to give them as much as they will teach me.

Though the first semester of the course doesn't involve that much time with actual students, the activities we did in class have helped me feel prepared to work with children, and have given me access to the ideas of peers who constantly amaze me with their creativity.   Every week when I leave class I am full of new ideas that I want to use in the classroom next semester.  This class is the only one that allows me to act as both a second grader and as a college student.  I love being able to put myself in the mindset of a seven year old and trying to understand the ways in which I will be able to impact their educations.  I truly hope that the things I have learned so far will help me instill a love, or at least an interest in writing within my students next semester.

Above all, this class has been able to combine intellectual study and pure fun in a way I have never experienced at U of A.  I am genuinely excited about the work we are doing, and yet I know I am learning, though it simply feels like having fun.  The class has taught me to see writing in two different ways.  One is full of life and passion, as I get to do exercises that help me reconnect with my own seven year old self, the person who is just falling in love with poetry.  The second is a lens that helps me see poetry as a highly developed form of self-expression, and all of the ways it can change the world if we let it.  Ultimately, I have used this class as inspiration for the future, because it has prompted me to consider teaching as a career.  The very first time I visited Ms. Dunn's classroom, I went home to look into getting a teaching certificate after graduation.  Since then, I have decided that my calling after my undergraduate career lies in Teach for America or the Peace Corps, where I would get to teach English in a third world country.  Either of these options would help me develop the new zeal I have discovered for working with children, and to further the love affair I have always had with poetry, but had forgotten about until the first day of this class.

Jillian Andrews is a University of Arizona student in Laynie Browne's year-long course, At the Intersection of Teaching and Writing: Creative Writing in K-5 Classrooms.

Created on: 
Monday, March 28, 2011
Arizona Board of Regents