So crows Steve Martin as nebbish Navin R. Johnson in a line from The Jerk when he discovers his name published in the phonebook (the plot is propelled when a killer opens his own newly delivered phonebook and plops a finger down at random on Navin’s name). Not sure why this is still kicking around in my head, but I felt a Navinesque sense of elation when I clicked on the podcast of my recent talk to teacher researchers of Annandale Terrace Elementary. In the spirit of 2.0 multitasking, pop it open for a listen while you’re reading the rest of this blog.
Here’s a recap. To start, I gave two compelling reasons why teachers should publish.
1. To crystallize your ideas, achieve some measure of closure, and find out what you think.
2.To have a voice in the public dialogue. Why let wonks and politicians control our destiny, when we are the experts who do it every day (and, in the case of teacher researchers, document it)?
Once you buy into it, how do you do it? Here are five ideas.
1. Write with your students. Teach writing as a writer, not a teacher.
2. Write when you can, and when you can't. Because there’s never a good time. Freewrite often, with students and alone, to promote fluency (theirs and yours).
3. Write for free: community newspapers, self-published newsletters, blogs… just get it out there, and get clips. Aspire high, but aim low. You’re not getting into the New Yorker anytime soon (but maybe some day!).
4. Once you’ve got clips, write queries. Herein a bit about the mechanics of how to pitch a piece to an editor (who, by definition, doesn’t care about your feelings). Write on spec and query with a completed piece, or, write a letter with the first paragraph being your lead for the proposed piece.
5. Do the Northern Virginia Writing Project (go to 9:22 in the podcast for a testimonial where I proclaim that the Project is the single most important professional development I have done in my career, and that it has made me the teacher and the writer that I am today.)
Bonus Point 6 (our thank you gift for reading this far):
6. Recycle, repurpose, repackage. Example given of how Eduholic’s predecessor, Certifiable?, became a Post article became this talk.
What could I have done better? From 60,000 feet up, I mentioned a couple of local markets where an education writer might start trying to sell something, specifically Teacher Magazine and smaller sections of newspapers (at the back of Outlook in the print edition of the Sunday Washington Post, regular folks talk back about recent stories). I also mentioned The Writer’s Market as a good $50 investment in your freelancing career, for more national markets.
I wish that I had a few more to toss out for journeymen, but I simply don’t have that many easy-to-break-into publications in my back pocket (hence number 3 above, write for free). The limited success I’ve had as a freelancer thus far—in other words, stuff I’ve sold—has generally fallen into my lap because of a Rube Goldbergesque sequence of events. (Remind me to tell you about the time a boatbuilder I know got me a paid gig penning a math book for carpenters.)
What did I learn? You’re listening to it right now (maybe): the power of the pod. I am a podcast. And now I want to have my kids to do one.
The assignment we’ll use in my class is the newsletter, sent home to parents every month or so. Our last version was done in Publisher, looked and smelled like a conventional newsletter, and was a vehicle at that time to introduce the idea of writing workshop. Now we have an authentic writing task, complete with audience, and a new form in which to experiment. Stay tuned as my students and I figure it out.