In Search of Purpose and Clarity

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Revising is hard work. Therefore, I admire Kate’s tenacity for writing and revising 30 chapters of her book while teaching full time and preparing for her first child. She has an important story to share with the world, and by writing her story, it will heal her; and by writing and sharing our collective experiences, it will heal us. What is underneath these passion projects is a story of pain and of catharsis. For some of us, we are unearthing layers of suppressed secrets from our past and trying to learn, share, heal, and grow from these experiences. For me, writing gives me time to reflect. In my attempt to cross everything off on my To-Do List: 1.) preparing to teach my five classes remotely; 2.) assessing my students’ work (I am grateful that I have only 92 students this year); shopping, prepping, and cooking meals for my three children who are also learning remotely; working on my passion project; and trying to take care of myself. At times, I feel as though I am rock, which reminds me of the “I am a Rock” by  Simon and Garfunkel.

I AM A ROCK

A winter’s day

In a deep and dark December

I am alone

Gazing from my window to the streets below

On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow

I am a rock

I am an island

I’ve built walls

A fortress deep and mighty

That none may penetrate

I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pain

It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain

I am a rock

I am an island

Don’t talk of love

But I’ve heard the word before

It’s sleeping in my memory

I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died

If I never loved I never would have cried

I am a rock

I am…

In terms of my story and my contribution, I was a good student in school but never thought I was a good writer. I have always considered myself more of a reader than a writer. During my MA journey, I reflected on the source of my insecurities as a writer as I read about writing theories. Was it the red pen? Did I have memories of the teachers’ red pen? Was I more focused on the number of errors that they were able to find even after my attempts to revise and edit my writing? Was there a lack of positive comments on my papers or was it because I focused more on the corrections rather than the comments? Were the teachers more concerned about grading my paper rather than building my confidence as a budding writer? And, as a writing teacher, how would I use my experience with writing instruction to help my students and other students? I want my students to experience writing success and to build their confidence as writers. I want my students to enjoy writing and view themselves as good writers. I do not want to simply grade an essay and return it to them. It leaves an indelible mark, which remains with me now. The irony here is that I am pursuing a Master’s in Writing but do not feel confident as a writer?

In my passion project, I offer a tool for empowerment, an online grammar checker, that will at least check the students’ grammar. Growing up in the 1980’s and the 1990’s, I did not have online grammar checkers. I had to rely on myself to revise and edit my writing. Peer review was not used in my English classes, so I had to revise and edit my own writing. For important assignments, I would ask my best friend Robyn who was a confident writer and editor to help me revise and edit my papers. Later on in life, Robyn went on to be an Managing Editor for Black Enterprise magazine. Interestingly, Robyn and I both went product of the same school system and went to the same college and graduated with the same major, English. One difference is that Robyn’s parents were highly educated with PhDs; whereas, my parents were political refugees from Vietnam. My mother attended community college in the United States, and my father graduated from high school in Vietnam. Robyn grew up in a household filled with English, while I grew up in a household filled with Cantonese, Vietnamese, and broken English.

I revised and edited my essays and still had pesky errors. Since I did not get help from older siblings nor my parents, I had to rely on my limited revising and editing skills, which was not formally taught to me in secondary school. By using a Writer’s Checklist and by reading, I had to self-teach myself how to revise and edit. Now, as a writing teacher, I schedule peer review sessions for my students and allow them to revise their essays once they receive my feedback. The opportunity to revise for a better grade is always on the table, which helps the student focus on growth rather than just the grade. I also recommend that they use Grammarly Basic to help them with capitalization, punctuation, and spelling. It gives them confidence. 

Recently, an ESL student volunteered to present his Unit I Vocabulary Slides. I was surprised that he volunteered to go first, but he responded confidently, “I used Grammarly to check my sentences.”

I smiled.

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