The Experiences That Shape Us by Juliette Awua-Kyerematen
Juliette Awua-Kyerematen is a fourth grade teacher in Ghana, West Africa and has been a part of the Time to Write Workshop for several months. Here she tells her story of becoming a teacher who writes.
How it all Began
Growing up in Ghana in the 70s, my grandmother shared many stories with us. I remember sitting on wooden benches with my siblings and cousins, many evenings, in the dark backyard of our house with our legs stretched out. She’d tap our legs, singing a song to create a pattern before starting the story.
Her repeated call and response followed and it went like this:
We would respond, ”Nanaaa,” in a drawn rhythm.
She would use her imagination and add to an original story, making the twists even more elaborate. Grandma’s stories were told in Twi, one of the popular Ghanaian languages. Those were great times. I wish we had written all those original stories down or recorded them.
Interestingly, I can’t recall being a writer at school. All our lessons were taught in English as that is the formal language in Ghana. I remember the major emphasis on letter formation and handwriting. I also remember being taught to write essays with restricted outlines, using the teachers’ format. I can’t remember writing poetry or any non-fiction texts, although we used to memorize many poems and recite them with exaggerated gestures and expressions. Most of the writing activities were from textbooks and proved to be very prescribed.
At my elementary school, our spelling lessons were ‘drills’. We had a list of random words to learn by heart and as I was really good at memorizing, I turned out to be one of the best spellers. I can’t remember if we were taught any morphology, but I know there was no word I could not spell.
Mama bought us diaries in which we were supposed to record our daily adventures. As this was unsupervised, the diary did not see many words. I must have occasionally scribbled something in mine and ended up using it to doodle as part of our play.
Writing became quite tedious when I was in secondary school. It was all too specialized and sometimes meant copying someone else's words from a chalkboard. I really did not think that was a good use of our learning time but that was what happened then. There were only a few occasions when we could express ourselves as writers.
Growing as a Writing Teacher
As a reader with a certain taste, any book I read turned into a mentor text. During my college days in the United Kingdom, visiting bookstores became my hobby. I searched for books that would give me that next learning opportunity. What was the author doing with words and how or what could I take from their writing style? This is a life-long inquiry. I remind myself and my students, ‘I am still learning.’
With my interest in writing, I knew I needed to find ways to expand my knowledge, for myself and my teaching of writing. I am therefore grateful for the opportunity to attend a few of the Summer Institutes at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. That is where I learned a lot about the Writing Workshop and teaching different genres. Many professional development courses challenged me to stretch my teaching of writing, especially when I moved from second to fourth grade.
At that point, I realised I had to write myself in order to experience what my students were being asked to do. In March 2017, I found out about the Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life Challenge on Twitter and decided to join the month long challenge and have been participating ever since.
Writing with other teacher-writers in the Teach Write Time to Write Workshop community continues to be another learning platform for me. I continue to learn from comments, activities and resources that are shared.
The time given for writing during the workshop is also very valuable. It is more like being handed a gift. A gift of time to write and grow as a writer. This filters through to my students and improves my teaching in many ways.
I am still traveling with a lot of support and, thankfully, opportunities.
I am now encouraging my friends to write the stories of their lives so we don’t lose all those words and stories like my Grandma’s era.
This is me, continuing as a writer and hopefully influencing the writers in my classroom and beyond.
Juliette Awua-Kyerematen teaches Fourth Grade at the Lincoln Community School, Accra. LCS is an American International IB School in Accra Ghana, West Africa. She has been an Early years and Elementary school teacher at LCS for 13 years and have been teaching for 18 years. She trained and taught (Key
Stage 2) Years 2 and 5, in the United Kingdom before returning to Ghana.