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Becoming a Teacher Who Writes

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Nancy Gorrell leads educators into her own decades-long journey of becoming a teacher who writes and who nurtures students and colleagues as writers and co-learners. The chronology moves through the author’s evolution as a creative writer, a teacher-writer, and then a teacher-artist, all the while writing and learning with her students in English classes and reaching out to students and teachers across the curriculum. The book serves as both an inspirational account of Gorrell’s personal story of becoming and as a guidebook for teachers to reflect on and create their own analogous story of becoming. Each chapter includes an illustrative teaching story or poem and the author’s reflections on her evolving journey, along with model student writing intended to both instruct and inspire readers and their students in their own writing. It also contains reflective exercises for teachers to work through and teaching activities that they can use in their classes. An additional feature of the book is its attention to writing across the curriculum and its inclusion of interdisciplinary models and applications. The book incorporates the work of the author as well as that of her many collaborators, including a number of interdisciplinary contributors and former students.

Published: Jul 30, 2024


Section Chapter Authors
Acknowledgements Nancy S. Gorrell
Series Editor’s Preface Martha Pennington
Prologue: The Grasshopper in the Window or What Keeps Me Teaching Nancy S. Gorrell
Foreword: Musings upon on a 10th Muse Mark Gutkowski
Introduction: Becoming a Teacher Who Writes Nancy S. Gorrell
1. Works in Progress Nancy S. Gorrell
2. It Takes Creativity and Windows Nancy S. Gorrell
3. It Takes Courage and Heart Nancy S. Gorrell
4. Knowing Where You Come From: Writing Memories Nancy S. Gorrell
5. Discarding Baggage: Reframing Myths Nancy S. Gorrell
6. Knowing Where You're Going: The American High School Nancy S. Gorrell
7. Knowing Your Students: Times of Transition and Transformation Nancy S. Gorrell
8. Knowing the Creatively “Gifted” Student Nancy S. Gorrell
9. Balancing Freedom and Structure: The Paradox of Boundaries Nancy S. Gorrell
10. Breaking Boundaries Within Your Discipline Nancy S. Gorrell
11. Discovering the Creative Writer Within Nancy S. Gorrell
12. Discovering the Poet Within Nancy S. Gorrell
13. Discovering the Professional Writer Within Nancy S. Gorrell
14. Discovering the Power of Audience Nancy S. Gorrell
15. Discovering the Creative Process Nancy S. Gorrell
16. Discovering the Teacher-Writer Within Nancy S. Gorrell
17. Writing About Your Students and Your Discipline Nancy S. Gorrell
18. Discovering the Teacher-Artist Within Nancy S. Gorrell
Epilogue: “The Students in the Window” Nancy S. Gorrell
Conclusion Nancy S. Gorrell
Afterword: On Musings Nancy S. Gorrell
End Matter
Notes on Contributors Nancy S. Gorrell
References Nancy S. Gorrell
Appendix A: Poetry Watch and Hawk Watch Resources (Chapter 2) Nancy S. Gorrell
Appendix B: “The Weight of Nothing,” by Amy Uyematsu (Chapters 3 and 8) Nancy S. Gorrell
Author Index Nancy S. Gorrell
Subject Index Nancy S. Gorrell

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Applause to Nancy Gorrell for affirming the vital shared roots of writing, teaching and art.
Robert Pinsky, poet and author of Jersey Breaks

Nancy Gorrell’s creative gifts have found form in her teaching and in her writing for fifty years. A passionate high school English teacher, she created the program Poem Pals, and then developed Science Poetry. She engaged her students (including my two sons) and turned them into eager writers. She contributed her teaching ideas to journals and book chapters and then wrote a book on science poetry to dispel the myths about the incompatibility of science and literature. Imagine a teacher who finds rhapsody and inspiration teaching students how to write. Nancy Gorrell, an educational and literary powerhouse for fifty years, lassos energy from the universe and transforms it into mesmerizing explorations for her students. This highly skilled master teacher uses her passion and understanding of the creative process to ignite her students’ interest and skills in becoming writers themselves. But the author doesn’t stop there. Using Holocaust stories written for children, she teaches her youngest students empathy, to step into the characters and imagine what they feel and then to write from that point of view. And THAT is the noblest endeavor of all.
Barbara Gilford, author of Heart Songs, A Holocaust Memoir

Being gifted the passion for poetry and creative writing by Ms Gorrell in high school proved to be a precious guide throughout my life and career. During some of the most challenging times navigating the immense personal challenge of dealing with the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001, and then later as the Founding President/CEO of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, I was able to emotionally recharge by escaping to poetry – both reading it and writing it. The impact of such a tremendous creative writing teacher was nothing less than the gift of empathy, and I am so grateful for it.
Joe Daniels, former Founding President/CEO National September 11 Memorial & Museum

Every teacher should get this book, read it, and use it. Here, Gorrell chronicles her development from novice English teacher – through New Jersey State Teacher of Year, through full maturation as a teacher-writer self and teacher-artist self – and she shows in vivid detail by personal example what it takes to courageously apply the principles and methods she outlines for others. As a scientist, I look for evidence before firmly declaring a point of view. In Becoming a Teacher Who Writes I found such evidence, in the form of multiple student responses to Gorrell’s teaching methods, and in her ability to speak from the heart, time and again. Now, in these fearsome post-Covid times – now, as we teeter, ready to melt under the barrage of climate change, unprecedented technological advances, and future pandemics – all teachers – science, mathematics, English – MUST be courageous and step up. There is no time to hesitate. Teachers, take this as the call for action. Actions can release creativity, and creativity reinforces courage. As Gorrell states, we must step up and act. Now.
Arthur J. Stewart PhD, ecologist and poet, former Senior Scientist Oak Ridge National Laboratory

This book, like Gorrell's teaching, is full of creativity and energy. For readers who, like her, find themselves compelled to both write and teach writing, Gorrell swaps perfectionism for interdisciplinarity, and encourages us to reach beyond our perceived boundaries. Packed with useful classroom exercises from a master teacher, the book is a pleasure to read and will enrich any teaching and writing practice. It makes a timely intervention into today’s test-linked and assessment-driven public schooling, reminding creative writing teachers that by encouraging joy, they have the power to transform.
Sarah Beth Kaufman PhD, Trinity University, professor/writer and former student