Practicing to Be | Nurturing Wisdom Tutoring

Practicing to Be

Kristi Harreld has been tutoring for over a decade. She holds an M.A. in English from the University of Illinois (Chicago). When Kristi isn’t teaching or tutoring, she enjoys kayaking, riding waterslides, and of course, taking photographs.

Teacher. Tutor. Writer. There are many words I would use to describe myself, but I recently encountered one I wasn’t so comfortable with. After opening the Easter card I’d made for him, my father-in-law exclaimed, “I didn’t know you’re a photographer!” I managed a smile but mentally protested. A photographer? I just took a photo of a lily and pasted it to a white card! I then toyed with the new label. What does or does not make me a photographer?

I often experience such confusion, except I’m usually the “labeler” and my students are the ones who are confused or even sometimes insistent. “I’m not good at writing” turns up frequently in sample paragraphs. “I’ve never liked to write” typically masks a lack of confidence. Many times, though, the self-proclamations run deeper; the worst of them are simple yet profound: “I’m not a writer.” Students usually laugh if I point out that they just turned in a typed something, a thing called a piece of writing, which makes the individual who produced it a writer. Still, the declaration lingers: I’m not a writer. Why not?

I’ve been writing since I could hold a pen. In the third grade, I was “published,” if you count the two slim short stories I bound together using scraps of hideous, discarded wallpaper samples (still good reads, if you ask me). Early on, I identified writing as fun, a task that gave me a sense of myself. And then I practiced. A lot. Hidden inside the polished writings I produced were hundreds of errors, revisions, and newer, better things that grew from those earlier attempts. In short, it’s the act of writing that has made me a writer. The quality of my writing has been described in various ways; nevertheless, I continue to identify myself as a writer because I keep writing. Many theorists believe that if we want students’ writing to improve, we must teach them to value the act of writing by having them do a lot of it. I’ve seen this theory proven many times, but I’d add a little twist: it helps to accept any labels that go with that practice, even if you can only do so temporarily. It may further help to tell students to try on such labels like those red-and-white “Hello my name is” stickers and see what comes of it.

Since the Easter card incident, I’ve applied this theory to myself a little more. A few weeks ago, I cleaned out the flash drive full of photos I’ve taken in the last six months. Several hundred shots were deleted because they didn’t hold value for me anymore. Actually, I realized their value wasn’t in their clarity, focus, or beauty, and it wasn’t meant to be; it was in helping me practice to be something new. Teacher. Tutor. Writer. Photographer. I kind of like the sound of that.

Photos copyright 2011 and 2010 by Kristi Harreld. Copied by permission only.