Mentor Text Wednesday: Pause and Reflect

Mentor Text: Pause and Reflect by Melissa Martin

Techniques:

  • Narrative introduction
  • Reflecting as a writer
  • Writing about place
  • Writing about the hard stuff

Background

Fellow teachers. Do you, like me, find yourself wondering how it’s possible that this school year, of the last few “unprecedented” years, seems to be the hardest? Those of us who haven’t engaged in the “quiet quitting,” or have left the classroom more noisily are finding the “new normal” pretty damn challenging.

If you haven’t already read the piece I’ve chosen to share with you this time, you may find yourself wondering if I’m drawing a different kind of inspiration from it.

One of my rituals is to buy the Saturday paper, and, often not until Sunday morning, enjoy it with a coffee. I like the funnies, the book reviews and Melissa Martin’s writing. She shared this piece about stepping away from her work at the Free Press on a weekday last week. I bought Saturday’s paper on autopilot, but knowing that a new part of my new normal is not finding Martin’s work, I haven’t opened it.

via Winnipeg Free Press

However, because I really enjoy her work, after being bummed passed, I realized that the way she announced her hiatus made for a pretty darn good mentor text for us.

How we might use this text:

Narrative introduction – As I’ve shared here before, in our department, we’ve been using the five part essay to provide a structure for our writers, and it has yielded much growth. I especially like that I get to see them taking swings at different kinds of introductions, and almost never get “In this essay I will…” style generic, clunky intros anymore.

With the introduction to their papers being made up of two parts, background and narration, my writers are encouraged to give context, to express themselves, and often, to use anecdote and story. Like this piece I’ve shared with you, Martin’s writing, her reporting, has a narrative element.

The opening two paragraphs to this piece give us an insight to Martin’s life, and she uses that insight to give us context for her work as a whole. She is seeking to explain to us, her readers, the things that draw her to Winnipeg as a place, and as a core element of her work. She tells us why Winnipeg matters to her, but in a way that strikes an emotional chord. It’s one of the best “In the essay I will…”s I have to put in front of my writers to show how it can be done.

Reflecting as a writer – I’m approaching the end of first semester, in that terrible January mode of finishing this semester while planning the next. I hate it.

But, I have my Lit course next semester, where we’ll focus a lot on writing. When Martin talks about her déjà vu, and the realization that she’s fallen into patterns – isn’t that what we want our writers to do? What are their patterns? What do they need to do to break them? In my school, we often encourage students who see writing in their future, either in their role as students, or as a passion they’re pursuing, to take my Lit course. In all likelihood, one of our final pieces is going to be using this piece as a mentor text, saying farewell to our school, and reflecting on their writing.

Writing about place – I am a sucker for someone writing about a place they love with obvious love. Martin does it so well. I live a bit less than an hour north of Winnipeg, but she’s had me consider a move to the city more than once.

And, I think, this is a writing task we frequently give our writers, to reflect and express their feelings about places they live. Martin provides us with a wonderful mentor text for this, that nudges them away from the description of specifics that we might normally get to an emotional connection. She speaks of what she loves, but doesn’t necessarily do so with rose coloured glasses. She acknowledges that there is pain in her emotional attachment, but, and I think this might be worth pointing out to our writers as well, doesn’t get “lost in the weeds” recounting the bad memories.

With students about to graduate, and possibly be leaving the places they know best, our communities, their homes, and our schools, this is a great mentor text for the reflections they could craft.

Writing about the hard stuff – It’s clear that this has been a hard decision for Martin. She’s admitting that she needs a break from things that are home to her. We’ve all done this, and words are damn hard to come by when we do it.

But, as teachers of writing, we know that writing can be a path to figuring things out, a catharsis, a step towards reconciling with the hard stuff. Martin shows us this. This isn’t an exhaustive accounting of all the things that brought her to this place. It’s not a deep dive on one or two of those things. I like this as a mentor text for that reason, as it might encourage our writers to write without venting or ranting.

It is the silver lining of this piece that I love. Yeah, Martin, like all of us has had a tough couple years. She’s fallen into a series of patterns in her writing. But he has seen that there is a path to change, a way to refresh. She isn’t dwelling on what’s hard, but is to doing what she can to make things better.

Maybe I love this as a mentor text, because that’s a message I try to send students myself, to exercise the controls that you can in your life, and it’s written wonderfully.

In closing, one of the things that makes me consider something for use in my classroom, or to share here, is that it strikes a chord. Maybe it’s an emotional response. Maybe it’s some beautiful craft. When it’s best, it’s like this piece, which I think has the ability to move their hearts and their pens.

This piece is very reflective in nature. What mentor texts for reflective writing do you have? Are there other farewell, or hiatus pieces that we could explore?

Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy!

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