During my Fall Break, I spent three to four hours a day writing. Although I wrote two non-fiction blog posts, I worked on a young adult novel, wrote some satirical posts about superheroes and spent some time writing about a fictional teacher in the nineteenth century facing an insurmountable battle to provide pencils for students.
On the first day back, a student noticed a difference. “Mr. Spencer, are you okay?” she asked.
“Yeah, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing. You just seem to talk less and listen more and it’s like you are slower when you answer.”
She was right, too. Something about me was changing as a result of writing fiction. I saw multiple perspectives and noticed the deeper motives of behavior. I observed with all five senses rather than jumping to the abstract ideas. I lost something in the process. I had become slower at thinking through systems and ideas, but I had gained something in the process.
Yesterday a teacher yelled at me for how disrespectful one of my eighth graders had been to her. She felt wounded by the randomness of the event and being a compassionate, sensitive person, she couldn’t grasp the seemingly cruel interactions of eighth graders. My first impulse had been to write a blog post about why eighth graders were misunderstood. I had the bulleted points all set up.
Yet, when I chose fiction things changed. Something within the narrative structure forced me to reconsider motives and rethink perspective. I moved into metaphor. I thought about the mystery of eighth grade identity. It became safer to be fully honest by approaching the story from the lens of a fictional nineteenth century teacher.
I often hear people say that all teachers need to blog. I agree that blogging is a powerful tool for reflection. Similarly, I hear people say that authentic education reform must require a better narrative. I agree with this as well. Yet, I hope that in the process of rethinking the narrative, we carve out some room for fiction. I’m not sure what it looks like, but I think there needs to be some fantasy and folktale and epic and satire and realistic dialog, not just because fiction helps change other people’s minds, but because the process of writing fiction helps transform our own minds as well.