I once was a teenager who could have been a poster child for awkwardness. I was uncomfortable that my height made me stand out when what I most wanted was to disappear. I was sure braces and glasses put me on the bottom rung of beauty. My biggest challenge in middle and high school, however, was my painful shyness. I would rather duck into an empty classroom than pass someone I knew in the hall who might ask me a question. Words stuck in my throat and when they did come out, they were weird and awkward. Learning to communicate was not easy for me.
Those who have ever sat in my eighth-grade composition class probably do not believe these words. I love my students. I love teaching. I stand before students everyday, and I never seem to be short of words. What happened?
Deep in my shy teenager were buried the seeds of communication. In fact, I believe God plants these seeds of communication inside every person because human beings are made in the image of God who communicates. His first words? “Let there be light.” All of creation came into being by God’s spoken word. God still speaks to us through His written word, the Bible. Communication is intrinsic to the human experience because it is intrinsic to God.
Admittedly, some of us are born with a gift for words and communication. Others, like me, are more reticent and inhibited. But all of us were made to communicate. This is our God-intended design.
Writing instruction nourishes the seeds of communication inherent in every student. As an eighth-grade writing teacher, I have the privilege of helping nurture those seeds of communication. Years before they arrive in my classroom, Caldwell students receive instruction in the structure of language: how to write words, construct complete sentences and analyze the parts of a speech. In sixth and seventh grade, students receive instruction in the structure and style of writing as they develop stronger, healthier sentences. By eighth grade, students are ready to tackle harder subjects. I bring more critical thinking skills into the structure of writing provided by previous teachers. I instruct students in the persuasive appeals of Aristotle and the ways to effectively construct arguments and use evidence.
Acquisition of knowledge is of limited value if we do not learn how to communicate that knowledge. In a cultural era in which skilled and respectful communication is co-opted by harsh rhetoric and loud insistence, there is a dire need for strong, God-honoring communication. Writing instruction is a crucial step in that process. Writing allows students to practice many micro-skills: research, reading, organization of thoughts, evaluation of sources, use of evidence, choice of language, analogies, metaphors, and a whole list of persuasive techniques. These same skills are foundational to persuasive speaking, which our eighth graders will practice through a mini-thesis presentation, and our high school students continue cultivating in the Rhetoric School.
Writing takes time, but it helps germinate the seeds of communication in our students. Learning to write and speak is what made the difference for me as a teenager. Patient teachers gave me the skills, opportunities, and coaching to overcome my shyness and find my voice. Writing in English and history classes gave me practice at organizing my thoughts and defending arguments with evidence. Eventually, my English teacher nudged me onto the speech and debate team where my writing skills helped me learn to speak persuasively and confidently.
I appreciate that God has granted me the opportunity to provide the same cultivation of communication in Caldwell eighth graders. The irony is not lost on me that the shy eighth grader has become the enthusiastic eighth-grade teacher. I am but one link in a strong chain of Caldwell teachers who equip and coach our students in the art of communication, both written and spoken.
Read more from Mrs. Childers at https://deborahchilders.org.