Teachers as Writers
Teachers as Writers-Why They’re a Good Fit
by Jewell Tweedt
Exactly 30 years ago I was a disillusioned young teacher looking to make a career change. Searching through help wanted ads I came across a job listing for a Merchandising Assistant. Now I didn’t know what that was but I did have some retail experience and a lot of chutzpah. I applied for the job, was interviewed by the president of the discount chain, and got the position. I spent fifteen years with the organization and received several promotions. Why was I successful? Because as a teacher I had skills that transferred: I was organized, I was creative and most importantly, I could follow through.
The skills that are useful as a teacher also help in business and writing is a business. It’s creative and fluid but also a business. Writers produce a product and market it, if they finish the darn book.
Organization- Teachers juggle curriculum, meetings, parents, discipline and instruction. Most of them are trying to get better at their profession. Writers juggle their stories, interviews, signings, self-discipline (sometimes I’d rather go outdoors), writing and re-writing. They are always trying to improve their product and themselves.
Creativity-Teachers are always looking for new methods to interest their students and themselves. They research new sources, and collaborate with others. Writers are always looking for new ways to tell a story, write it better and collaborate with writers through local groups and national organizations.
Inspiration can come at any time and any place. This year as I was teaching a unit on American westward expansion I told my students about how women made money during the California Gold Rush by cooking and sewing for miners. Some women became quite wealthy. As I looked out over my group of teenagers I asked, “What if a teenage girl got stranded in a rough camp. How would she survive?” The ensuing discussion led to my latest book, Gold in My Pocket-A Gold Rush Diary. Laura Webb is a fifteen year old who is stranded in Black Gulch, California with no family, few friends and gold in her pocket. Over a three year period she defends her honor, supports herself and finds her own way (and some romance).
This book was easy to write and to finish: I had the background knowledge, primary sources and about 75 female students to pull character traits from. Plus I’ve written a series called The Back to Omaha Adventures so I had some experience to draw from.
Follow-through- Not only do teachers plan, they instruct and assess. That takes preparation and time. Then assessments are given, work is evaluated and recorded. That takes follow-through. This past year I had 140 students under my tutelage. How did I manage that AND write a book? By having a plan and setting a time to write. Each afternoon after school and before I started chores and dinner I’d write. For 45 minutes I’d write as much as I could in the diary. After dinner I’d edit and rewrite. Then I put it away. Life balance is important otherwise it’s too easy to get overwhelmed.
Effective writers know that too. Everything takes longer than it should. Work needs to be edited and the darn book must get finished! Changes occur with titles, covers, even agents and publishers. But isn’t that true in most endeavors? It doesn’t matter if you’ve never earned an educator license, everyone teaches someone or something and can develop these qualifications. Take a look at your organization, creativity, and follow-through and you’ll see why you as a teacher and a writer are a good fit.
Jewell Tweedt is the author of the fictional series, The Back to Omaha Adventures, and the newly published diary, Gold in My Pocket. She is a field editor for Our Iowa magazine, teaches American History and loves reading, old movies and anything Okoboji.