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The Challenge: You Have No Other Choice But To Be a Writer

The following text by Andy Fogle is an excerpt from his contribution to “Teacher to Teacher: How Has Your Own Work as a Writer Helped You as an English Teacher?” from the January 2009 issue of English Journal

poetrypensMy status as a poet and book critic has certainly led to an assortment of classroom experiences: workshops, discussions of my poems, a behind-the-scenes look at the evolution of one of my book reviews, a project where students submit to publications outside our community, anecdotes about writers I have been lucky enough to know, and applying writers’ statements on craft to what we’ve read.

But those are all little day-to-day issues; what has really mattered has to do with philosophy and attitude.

Most importantly, my writing life has given me the confidence to challenge and extend notions of what student writing is allowed to be and do.

My students complete an independent writing project each semester: There is a sequence of parts to the project, but the form and content are up to the student, as is the pacing and schedule (except for the final draft).

My challenge to them is: You have no other choice but to be a writer of some kind, but you may be a writer of any kind. What choice do you make?

In all kinds of other assignments, from argument to autobiography to research to literary response, I let—often insist—students use “I”; I allow purposeful one-sentence paragraphs and sentence fragments; I push them to include quotations from friends and family.

And in terms of preparation for state tests, I do just a bit more than the required minimum because I know if I have students reading and writing regularly, widely, and authentically, then the only real challenge they’ll have with the state’s demands is the fact that those demands are at best counterproductive, at worst ignorant. The writing itself will be far beneath them. 

When they’re done with those silly hoops, they can get back to their real work. And so can I.