I spent a couple of years teaching middle school Language Arts. Although my writing career is much more up my alley, I’ve found a lot of crossover from the professional jargon we were inundated with, specifically the three R’s: relevance, rigor, relationships.
In the world of education, this is about being able to respond to the proverbial snotty-nosed kid (and we’ve all been that kid) who wants to know when he’s going to use what you’re teaching him in his life. The trick is to make associations with real-world applications, since trying to explain the importance of abstract reasoning to a 13-year old isn’t going to fly.
In writing, this has to do with making sure that your work is appropriate for your audience, or that you pick the correct audience for your work. But it really can affect every area of your life, from what you choose to consume or who you spend time talking to, and what you talk about. There is certainly a time and a place for pure entertainment, but there’s also the ongoing work of perfecting your craft.
As a writer, I get access to some of the best minds of this generation. As a born extrovert with a wandering mind, I need to constantly to find the discipline to ask relevant questions, instead of blowing the opportunity with habitual mediocrity. I also have to touch base with people outside of my sphere of influence, at times, and get back in touch with what is really relevant for the very specific group of people I might be writing for.
As a teacher, I was inundated with a workload that was unmanageable, for lack of a better term. Many obstacles presented themselves: lack of material and equipment, large class sizes, too many classes to prep for, getting caught up constantly putting out fires and constantly changing instructions from up high. Add a constant, underlying resistance to education and it becomes far too easy to hand students worksheets or give them art projects, but what students often really need is a challenge.
In writing, this rigor has to do with the quality of our content. Pumping out mediocre articles or blog posts for cash or prizes (SEO) may seem like an effective short-term solution, but it is my opinion that readers deserve much more than that. In education and in journalism, rigor is an uphill battle.
This is probably the most important aspect of teaching and also the one in which I had the most difficulty. Although I cared deeply about my students and went out of my way to help them in individual circumstances, my primary objective was always educational.
The emphasis on being a likable or popular teacher rather than an effective one is always ripe for debate, but nobody can deny the importance of creating a climate in which students at least feel safe and respected. The crossover for this principle in writing is often behind the scenes. It is about treating sources with respect rather than using them as a means to an end.
Luckily, it is possible to both write relevant and thoughtful posts and do so with integrity, honesty and respect. It may take a bit more elbow grease and fact-checking, but the results are well worth it.
How do you use relevance, rigor and relationships in your work and life?