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Teachers As Writers

by Betsy Gilliland |

With the summer holidays fast approaching for many of us in the northern hemisphere, teachers may be looking forward to doing nothing at all, or to getting caught up on sleep and exercise. But I assume that many of you are also interested in your own professional development. (You’re reading this blog, which is a good start!) Besides taking courses and reading books, you might consider developing your own writing abilities. In this blog post, I describe some ways that teachers can get more engaged with writing.

Why Should Teachers Write?

I see two primary reasons for all of us to pursue our own writing. First, teachers of writing should also be writers. Although you can explain writing to your students without doing it yourself, when you are actively engaged with creating written work, you better understand the process and the struggles that it entails. Being a writer allows you to share your process with your students, showing them what it’s like to decide on a topic, brainstorm supporting ideas, experiment with alternative endings, and overcome frustrations when you get stuck. In addition, you can experience the joy of publishing for other people to read your work.

The second reason for teachers to be writers is that the world deserves to hear your voice. Teachers have amazing stories to tell about their work and their own lives. Readers may not know just how much effort it takes to become a teacher and to maintain a professional identity. Many of you have crossed continents or oceans to get to your current positions. You have had adventures that ordinary people have never experienced. And along the way, you have developed engaging activities that help your students learn to use language and succeed multilingually. You can share your own stories, and you can also share your teaching ideas.

What Should Teachers Write?

If you’re conducting some form of research in your classroom, or if you’re pursuing a graduate degree, you are generating data you could write about in a research article. Even if you write from an academic position (as a researcher of language learning participants, for example), you can still bring in your experience as a teacher to inform your interpretation of the findings and implications of the study. Another form of research that centers your role as a teacher-researcher is action research, where you write about an intervention you have tried out in your teaching and how it worked with your students. My blog post from 2020 explains a bit more about the kind of research writing teachers might do.

Academic publishing is not necessary for many teachers, however, so you might be wondering if there are other ways you can share your thoughts. Of course! There are many different ways that teachers can contribute for other audiences. One is to tell your stories in creative ways, such as through poetry, memoir, or fictionalized narratives. Draw on the emotions that your work as a teacher has generated for you. Another is to share resources you’ve developed through your teaching. Whether you’ve created an entirely new game or found an innovative use for an old standard, you can describe what you did and explain how it worked with your students.

Where Can Teachers Publish?

Although some academic journals are strict about only accepting larger scale research study articles, many now have a section dedicated to shorter articles about classroom research. For example, Language Teaching Research has a section called Practitioner Research, which publishes “articles by practitioners about their own practices and includes findings/insights that are directly related to what they have learned from conducting their research as well as practical applications to the teaching of languages designed specifically for practitioners.” The Journal of Second Language Writing has a similar section they call Teaching Reports, which is for “short reports that might describe a new pedagogical approach or the results of a small classroom study. They might also describe the teaching and learning context in a particular country or region.” These articles usually go through the journal’s peer review process, which means they need to hold up to rigorous standards and appeal broadly to the international standards set by that journal.

For writing about lesson and activity ideas, many TESOL affiliates have newsletters that welcome short, practical contributions. If you are not yet familiar with the TESOL Resource Center, check it out. The resources on this site include lesson plans, activities, and assessments that users can download to use and modify in their own classrooms. TESOL also publishes feature articles about teacher experiences, classroom practice, and teaching trends in their member newsletter, TESOL Connections. A wide-reaching publication that accepts activity write-ups is English Teaching Forum, published by the U.S. Department of State and distributed worldwide. English Teaching Forum also runs a series called My Classroom in which teachers from many different countries give a tour of their classroom and school, talking about their students and teaching experiences.  And if you’re reading this, you’re obviously familiar with the TESOL Blog! You can submit a single post or series of posts, or you can apply to be a regular blogger. Blogging is a great way to share your perspectives on topics you care about in our profession.

I also want to suggest that more teachers get involved with creative writing. Although we may think of academic writing and teaching-related publications as more important, I think that writing poetry, personal essays, and fiction can provide a valuable outlet for many other aspects of our professional experiences. A wonderful place where you can read and publish is The Font: A Literary Journal for Language Teachers. This online journal focuses entirely on creative writing done by and for language teachers around the globe.

Finally, you could start your own blog if you are a prolific writer (or want to become one). With your own blog, you can share your writing whenever you create something new, in a variety of formats. This is a great option if you write a lot or like experimenting with different approaches, topics, or modalities. Most blog platforms allow you to set access parameters, so you could start out with a blog that is restricted to your family and friends (or even restricted from your family and friends, if you don’t want them to see what you are writing!). You can design the platform to reflect your own aesthetic, select photos and colors that you like, and even choose your preferred fonts.

In closing, I would also like to give a shout-out to the National Writing Project, a U.S.-based organization that promotes teachers as writers. If you are living in the United States or a handful of other countries (Canada, Malta, the Dominican Republic, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Norway), you can find a local affiliate and learn more about not only the professional development the NWP offers teachers, but also how you can become a writing teacher leader.

About the author

Betsy Gilliland

Betsy Gilliland is an associate professor in the Department of Second Language Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi Mānoa, where she teaches courses on second language writing, teacher research, and qualitative research methods to undergraduate and graduate students. Co-editor of the Journal of Response to Writing, she was chair of the TESOL Second Language Writing Interest Section (2019-2020) and has published in TESOL Journal, Journal of Second Language Writing, and ELT Journal, among others. She was a Fulbright Scholar at the Universidad de Atacama (Chile) in 2018.

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