Oh, the Readers…

Well. The outpouring of interest for my article, The Mountain and Me, has been pretty impressive.  About three hundred people have read it in the last two days.

This is about 4 times the usual traffic to this blog.

And this is the part that blows me away when I think about it.  Because nearly everyone of those people read a second entry on this blog; perhaps some of them read a third or a fourth. The day’s statistics demonstrate that the number of people who came to read The Mountain and Me also stayed to read something else, like Wiki and the Conversation, or Failing at Cooking, or Helping Out! Which is to say that some people are genuinely enjoying what I have to say about teaching.  Some are even digging deeper, looking for things like Paperless Friday.

And almost as many are going on to my colleagues at other schools, like TeachPaperless, and Moving at the Speed of Creativity.  Even Dangerously Irrelevant got some hits today from me.

Well, what do you know?  Isn’t this the way reading gets done, after all?  We read something we like, and then we delve into other things that writer has written.  We dig into their catalog and find out what other tricks that author has up his sleeve.

My friend Phyllis says that one of her clients was amazed that she built a very powerful database for his plant business in such a short time.  He said:  “I only gave you the assignment yesterday! how long did it really take you?” Her response: “About 45 minutes of build-time, and 10 years of practice.”

The skills necessary to guide that girl down the mountain on Saturday came from being a hiker myself, and from more than ten years in the classroom, and from a lot of meditation and focus exercises, and not a little T’ai Chi Chuan.  The skills necessary to write the story down came from ten years of practice as a poet, essayist, short-story writer, and occasional role-playing game player.  And the skills to build an audience for the writing about the climbing? Nearly ten years of keeping a blog, plus the invention of technologies like Twitter and WordPress.  And the human contact with people like David Warlick and Shelly Blake-Plock, and the contact with KDWashburn or Ira Socol through Twitter?

Those come from fourteen years of deciding not to be afraid of the Web, and getting involved with new technologies as they appear, and abandoning them if they’re not useful, keeping them if they are.

But it’s good to get a reminder that this is the right track to be on.  When you, the readers, respond to a post of mine like you did today and yesterday, I take heart.  Three hundred people took the time out of their busy days to say, “you produced something worth reading.” There are lots of people in my school who think tech is a bad idea for learning-challenged students.  I think the contrary is true; that students are capable of becoming great learners through digital (and other) tools, like the Labyrinth.

But as I learned from conversation earlier today on Twitter with Ira Socol about handwriting, italics, and writing tools… we have to think about our students as budding artists.  Maybe they’ll be great mountain climbers, great cooks, great scientists, great sociologists, great historians, great gadgeteers, great whatever.  But it takes time and patience to get them there, and exposure to a lot of different tools and materials.  Sometimes it’s the mountain underfoot, and sometimes it’s only a potato.

But the readers (and the eaters, and the engineers, and the scientists, and the mountains) only show up for your best work.  There are over 1700 posts on this blog and most have been read by fewer than 10 people.

You have to produce a lot of work to be read by 300 people. It’s the only thing that makes it possible — produce.  Show up. Be an artist. Make stuff.  Make mistakes.

We live in a world in which the range of arts and crafts open to students for creativity is nearly limitless, and the imagination of our teaching force is being limited by statute and regulation every day.

When my uncle Steve graduated from college with a BA in painting in the late 1950s, his painting teacher took his class aside and said, “you know everything there is to know about technique now.  How to stretch canvas, how to lay down paint, how to build a scene. Now you need practice. Only thirty years of daily practice lies ahead of you to become the greatest painters of your generation.”

As a middle school teacher, I don’t often get to see where my students end up.  But I do hope that some will go on to become artists. And I thank you, readers, for occasionally showing up to praise my work.  It’s humbling, indeed, that I know who so few of you are, or where you come from, or how my work has touched you.

It’s nice to know — occasionally — that you’re out there.

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