I’m taking deep breaths, visualizing myself next to a babbling brook or some
other alliterative serene setting.
I’m steeling myself to be patient and understanding and forgiving
tomorrow as my seventh graders take the long composition portion of their state
exams–not because they can’t write well when they carefully complete the steps
of the writing process, but because invariably at least ten percent of them
will pretend like “writing process” is a term they’ve never
encountered. But of all the careful
teaching that will be thrown out the window tomorrow, there is one thing that
will make me wish the book closest in the back of my room was both sound proof
and padded: not planning. Every
year I hand out the tests and at least one cherub, who is totally unfazed by
taking the English test in the room with his English teacher, opens up the
booklet and, without half a second’s thought, begins his draft. And like the good MCAS administrator
that I am, I must sit behind my desk, shoving my fist into my mouth to keep
from screaming, “You need to plan first!”
well-developed plan gives us a sense of direction. It’s a failsafe to revert back to when we become unsure of
our path or when we need a push to start us off towards our destination. Doesn’t this twelve-year-old understand
to get the most out of nearly everything in life we need to plan? We go to school to plan for a
career. We buy travel books to
plan our vacations. We pay a
double-digit percentage of our salaries into pensions to plan for when we’re
too loony to work (that last part may just apply to teachers).
again, we also change majors a semester into an over-priced college education
to pursue a career that won’t pay the student loan bills. And we forget the travel books at home
and wander aimlessly through Dublin in the rain, accidentally ending up in the
Irish version of the projects while looking for the Guinness factory. And we turn on the news only to find
our pensions are likely to go the way of unions and bargaining rights (okay,
that also may only apply to teachers, but I couldn’t pass up griping).
perhaps planning is only useful to a point. I’ll admit, some days I’m an over-planner. When I’m focused on being healthy I
plan all twenty-one meals for the week before grocery shopping. I post a workout schedule on my fridge
(which I’m straying from by writing this much tonight). I even plan my weekend days by making
excessively long to-do lists I could never hope to complete. And, yes, I do plan out my
writing…usually, normally after I’ve already started a project. And I stick to my plans…sometimes, because
once I’m in my characters’ heads, I let them take the lead. I like to see where they end up, even
if it’s far from the place I had originally envisioned. Almost always the final product is better than the plan. The discrepancy between the two just goes to prove that though plans are useful, they can also be
stifling. If our master plans in
life don’t allow us the freedom to just get in the car and drive some days,
then we’re likely to miss out–on the most imaginative ideas, spontaneous
side-trips, and memorable wandering the world has to offer.
these past years I’ve been too hard on that kid who sits down and immediately
writes. Maybe he was so inspired
he couldn’t help but spew the beginnings of his genius onto the page. Who am I, a mere mortal, to silence his
muse by insisting he plot out his paragraphs first? Oh, right, I’m the teacher, the realist, the one who knows
this particular darling has been known to get lost on the way back from the bathroom
on occasion. I think I’ll stick to
pushing the plans while they’re young.
They’ve got a lifetime to see where the unmarked roads take them.