Our Struggles are Our Greatest Gifts to Teaching: A Rocky Writing Identity Turned Author

I have not been shy lately about sharing that I wrote my first book: Feedback that Moves Writers Forward (Corwin 2017). In fact, I recently told my parents I wanted to hang the book around my neck like Flavor Flav wears clocks (here’s Flavor Flav for those who didn’t grow up in the 80’s).




I am simply bursting with joy about this publication for so many reasons and, perhaps, the most emotional reason is because I never believed myself a writer.

The red pen, like many of you, was my primary source of feedback. I remember needing to consult a translation guide to figure out the corrections from one of my teachers. No writer should ever need to refer to a “rosetta stone” to figure out the hieroglyphics of corrections. Years of fix-it response did a number on what I believed about myself and about writing:

  1. I thought I would never be able to write no matter how hard I tried.

  2. Grammar was the only important part of writing well.

  3. Writing was meant for other people who simply have the gift.

And now I have a book?! The past two years has completed reshaped my writing identity because of so many, most especially because of Wendy Murray, my brilliant editor and greatest writing teacher. I learned so much about myself and about writing as my identity strengthened. The most important lesson I learned:


Our struggles are our greatest gifts to teaching


All of those years of feeling like writing was hard (because it is) and working through difficulties was worth every second. These struggles are now my tools for teaching. The more struggles I had, the more equipped I have become. In turn, if you have ever struggled in writing (or in anything that you have had to learn), bring those struggles into your teaching repertoire. If you grappled with anything hard, that probably means that you found a process to work through that stumbling block. Share that process with your students.

When we share what is hard for us in writing, we normalize the challenge of writing. Writing is not magic (though it can be magical) and it is difficult. Our students are more willing to stick with writing through all the ups and downs when we support the journey as one that is often tricky.

Struggle is a positive word. Struggle is not the opposite of easy, in writing anyway. Struggle is the opposite of apathy. We want struggling writers, not apathetic writers. We can model this for our students. Teachers often define themselves as lead learners in the classroom. Could we also define ourselves as lead strugglers? I argue that the rocky road of learning is not for the faint of heart. Strugglers are champions of learning.

So, if your writing identity as a teacher is feeling a bit bruised or flimsy, smile widely with pride. You’ve got all it takes to teach the writers in your life. And wear those struggles around your neck like Flavor Fav wears clocks.

Patty McGee