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Professional Development: Teaching Writing as a Discipline

From the Pages of Instructor Magazine

September 2006

After young Jessica Atkinson won a creative writing gold medal in the prestigious Scholastic Art & Writing Awards this past May, she was flown to New York to accept a $10,000 prize and meet the press. Who did Jessica bring with her to the Big Apple? Teacher Rene Miles, her writing guide since middle school. Miles heads the creative writing program at the Charleston County School of the Arts in South Carolina, where she teaches students from sixth through 12th grades.

If the Scholastic Awards are any measure, Miles is one of the most effective writing teachers in the nation. She has been named Gold Apple Teacher three times, an honor given each year to the educator whose students submitted the best work.

What's her secret? A passionate yet firm teaching approach is key. "Art is discipline," Miles asserts. She pushes her students to find their unique voices by undertaking difficult and sometimes tedious exercises. "Dance instructors," she says, "don't tell their beginners, ‘Express yourself! Jump around!'" Instead, they lead the class in mastering the basics.

Jessica describes a period during which her writing had too much "flowery, descriptive language" that looked nice but didn't say much. "Ms. Miles cracked the whip on me, saying, ‘What are you saying? What does this mean?' And she kind of broke me out, and I was able to write with my images, but with more direction."

Do you have an extraordinary teacher who deserves to be recognized? Nominate him or her for the "Making a Difference Award." E-mail a letter to info@teacherscount.org.

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