Kafka wrote, "One can never be alone enough when one writes�there can never be enough silence around when one writes�even night is not night enough." I need to create the possibility of night for every writer-solitude and quiet, so students may listen to their own voices."

"If I am loud, the room becomes loud: it never fails." (P.143), Nancie Atwell, In the Middle. I am particularly excited by this classroom observation, except in this case I am observing myself and perhaps evaluating what I have learned over the entire cycle in my English 4 class at East New York Family Academy where I work.

I must confess my students do talk a lot from the moment they enter my classroom. In fact the last quote above seems to be directed towards my class. When they are loud, the room becomes loud. I do need to create silence when I read and more importantly when they write. If I read aloud, they talk; if a student reads aloud, they talk; if they are supposed to be reading independently, they talk; they always seem to be talking, but when do they listen? On the other hand, I have always found that people tend to ask me to repeat myself when I speak. In fact, I often wonder how I managed to become a teacher. As a child, my mother urged me to speak softly if I wanted my listener to pay close attention. She even said jokingly, that if I wanted boys to be attracted to me, it was imperative that I speak softly so they could draw closer to hear. In fact they might even smell my scent. My students do complain that I speak too softly but I insist they need to listen. There can never be enough silence for me: when I think, write or read. I find it impossible to think when a room is noisy. I also realize that if I ever shout, my students become louder. After reading Nancie Atwell's chapter "Getting Started", I decided to employ some of her strategies in my classroom and in my life and do just that- get started. I began with her idea of "writing territories" which I liked immensely. Just as she suggested, I wrote my territories on the board and as I wrote, I talked to my students in my soft voice. Little by little I began to feel the silence as they grew quieter, and after a while there was some aspect of "night" in that room. I began with one of my favorite genres: e-mails to my favorite nephew who is studying in Puerto Rico. I emphasized that I only write e-mails to people that I admire and am proud of. The immediate response from a girl in the class was a request for my e-mail address. I wrote the address on the board anyway since I wanted them to write. I continued talking about my nephew who is on a scholarship studying Spanish. I was talking not only to sell the idea of writing territories, but also to encourage them to strive to be their best by following my nephew's example. They asked about his age and I responded. I was pleased that I had started a conversation that might set them thinking and writing. I wrote some of my other territories: letters to my three-year-old niece, at which point I forgot the spelling of the word "niece" and asked. One girl responded promptly with the spelling. I doubted her but she insisted, so I wrote what she said, something of the formalist theory of composition here. Today as I write this journal, I spell "niece" with a confidence (transfer value) that I gained with a student's help.

Nancie Atwell defines the teacher's role as writer, reader, teacher and learner; the latter was what I was that day. I have found that while reading aloud, I usually stop to comment on a particular word or phrase that I find cute or compelling. My comment will be "That's a lovely phrase!" or I like that word-"pugnacious" to describe the bully, it makes me think about a "pig", or someone with a nasty attitude. What I am doing is showing the student how to become sensitive to language. To return to my territories, I thanked the student for the correct spelling of "niece" and explained that I had always had a problem with that word. I wanted my students to realize that even the teacher sometimes forgets a word and could benefit from their knowledge.

As I continued, my territories included poems about a friend of mine who had died of AIDS. I talked about him for a while without realizing that I was actually talking his obituary, which was long overdue. I added to my list- writing obituaries. Coincidentally, my deceased friend had been an excellent literature and Spanish teacher and as undergraduates, we four friends had spent long and arduous hours together, studying and dining on crackers and cheese and corny jokes. I dwelt on him for a while because he was a dear friend and his death was a great loss to the literary community. I even quoted from William Wordsworth's poem "Songs of Innocence and Experience" and told them he had liked it. I explained to my students that talking about him that day was a way of remembering him and allowing them to meet him, but writing his obituary would make this moment permanent. This experience was great for me, as I did not realize I had almost forgotten him in the cut and thrust of life.

That day I was quite productive: I got one student who never participates to write three lines on the topic "the significance of dreams." She even asked and was allowed to finish the writing at home. Another student who had never read before, explained about his stuttering and not liking to read in public. I was able to talk to him about the possibility of many people having an "Achilles heel" that they wish to hide from the world. I explained that it was unacceptable for him to sit in the class for weeks without trying to improve his reading. That Friday, December 1, 2000, Shon read and stuttered and read again for the first time in months.

Reading territories or writing territories, my plan worked. I was able to redirect their attention to the novel "Of Mice and Men". We discussed the dream George and Lennie had, I allowed a few of them to relate their dreams then had every child write on the assigned topic: "Dreams are a good way of dealing with loneliness", using the social-epistemic theory of composition. Since they were expected to continue their list of writing territories for homework, I know that my students will never be starved for topics or genres. Most of all this teacher has discovered, what she has known all along, that she has a lot of writing to do and needs to get started.


we thank all the teachers who agreed to share their personal writing with us. We hope that their writing may inspire our students to write more. If you have a comment about someone's work, please e-mail a comment to [email protected]

This essay is from Mrs Thomas English teacher at East New York Family Academy