What Teach for America can teach writers

Following my usual Sunday ritual, I spent a couple hours this morning curled up in my favorite reading chair devouring french press coffee and the Sunday paper. I always find something that makes me think. Really think. The stimulus today was an article titled “What makes a great teacher” in the St Pete Times.

I felt drawn to read it for several reasons.

A. I was a teacher. Maybe not always a great one, but I did strive to make a difference. The year my profoundly gifted and profoundly deaf 9 year olds tested out reading at the high school level…,well, that was a proud moment indeed.

B. I’ve been frustrated to the n’th degree by the range of quality of teaching my son experienced in his education from pre-school to college from superb to god-awful.

C. I have a gut feeling my son will be a teacher of some kind some day.

And D. I still teach. I just teach deep soul writing and working in The Intersection instead of third grade.

So I read the article. As I read, I stumbled upon a paragraph that popped off the page. It spoke directly to me and to all writers, that is, all writers who are commited to being great. The paragraph distills Teach for America’s findings on what made teachers great. See what you think:

“…great teachers tended to set big goals…. They were also perpetually looking for ways to improve…. Great teachers constantly re-evalaute what they are doing.

Superstar teachers had four other tendencies in common: They avidely recruited students and their families into the process, they maintained focus…, they planned exhaustively and purposefully–for the next day or the year ahead–by working backward from the desired outcome; and they refused to surrender to the combined menaces of poverty, beaurocracy and budgetary shortfalls.”

What does that have to do with writers trying to write well and get published? Everything. When we work in The Intersection we are accessing the creative power of the universe, but that doesn’t mean that it flows to us without some effort and action on our part. The upcoming telecourse Plug In! The Intersection for Writers is about what actions to take to ensure endless access to that glorious creative flow.

In the last few blogs I talked about my real job for 2010. My job is to create the conditions that allow that flow to happen. And creating those conditions does take focus–relentless repeated focus. Every day we writers rise and renew our commitment to write and write well.

We do the same things Teach America, we
set big goals (getting published in todays world is a HUGE goal)
perpetually look for ways to improve
constantly reevaluate what we’re doing
recruit our friends and families into supporting our writing life
maintain focus (this shuold be number one)
plan how to get to what we want by working backward from it (to get a contract, I need an agent, to get an agent, I need a proposal, to write a proposal, I need….)
refuse to surrender to all the menaces around us

Are you a writer? Is this the year you create your writing life? Find your voice? Get published?

If you’d like to know more about working in The Intersection, visit Writing Down Your Soul and view the course outline for Plug In! We begin on February 2nd.

Whether you join Plug In! or not, take whatever wisdom you can from the Teach for America research. Are there any parts of it that resonate for you?

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One Comment on “What Teach for America can teach writers”

  1. Shawna Koder says:

    Dear Janet- You know I am a great fan of yours. I finds something missing from your blog you may want to consider. I see no place for “Promises”. When people have nothing, no gold, or power only their physical bodies and the power of their mind and heart, they have only a promise to give. What is a promise? What if the promise is never fulfilled? What does that make the promised one and the promiser? Are they both or one a failure. Or was it mean’t to be so. Maybe the promise will be fulfilled in another way, one that neither could have dreamt of. Are promises old school? The fluff of dreamy times? Or are promises more than ever in mankind needed to be clearly etched into a daily life, showing strength, grace, humility, and kindness so uncuttable, that inside your heart you fall to your knees and repeat the promise over and over until it is fulfilled, until you become the
    promise. Read this, my

    *Love Letter to The World*

    Somethings in the world in your life are so unique, so brutally fragile, that naming them is too much for them to bear.

    Some things do not need words.

    I write this love letter and send it from deep within my heart out into the world. A mother releasing her child into the world.

    To soar past time, now, before, and the ancient.

    Pushing back from the unseen world from where all time began to the other side of the known world.

    A finger flickered above your soul and all that you understand as time, space and love commenced.

    If I could take all the tears, all the pain, and all suffering sweep it into my arms like heather from the cliffs of Ireland and push it all deep into my mouth, thru my stomach down into my legs upon which I stand.

    I would slit open the souls of my feet and fill them with the broken dreams, hearts, and promises all fragile, all like so much broken glass, sew the slashed soles back together. I walk around the world and when I could no longer walk, I would crawl, and when I could no longer crawl, I would lay upon my back and send my love letters from my dimming eyes, and cracked bleeding lips up into the heaven above me.
    What tears remain, would water a garden around my body.

    From where my body decayed, from my heart would grow a Joshua Tree.

    Children can fall asleep beneath me, animals can eat me for food, butterflies can rest upon my limbs as the migrate back before the dreaming time began.

    And I will not be lonely, I will not cry out for love, I will be love, for all to see, and for all who need love.

    And forever and forever when you need the answer
    Read this, my love letter to the world.

    By Shawna Koder


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