For a few years now, I’ve been balancing two careers. I am a writer—the author of two books and some magazine articles, and a former newspaper columnist. I’m also an elementary school teacher. Sometimes I have to pinch myself, to check whether or not I’m dreaming. As it turns out, I’m awake and fortunate enough to get to do two of the things that bring me moments of joy. That’s pretty lucky.
It’s tricky to carve out time to write from all the time required to be a strong classroom instructor. If you can pull it off, it’s a great thing because the two endeavours, teaching and writing, nurture each other to a large extent. Without the one I’m fairly certain that I wouldn’t be as successful at the other.
I recognize that it’s a rare opportunity to do both these things I love and even though my areas of work fuel each other, getting them to function in tandem can sometimes be difficult. It’s a little like being in a turbulent yet over-all happy marriage! There are some bumps, a little drama and a whole lot of compromise, but when the day comes to an end, the two are still happy to be together.
When I taught part-time at St. Patrick Catholic School in Grande Prairie, Alberta and wrote a weekly faith column in that city for The Daily Herald Tribune, the balance was ideal. I had lots of energy and creativity for both.
At that time, many of my articles were inspired by happenings at school. One time, when I was substitute teaching in a Grade One classroom, the students were drawing pictures and I was circulating, supervising and giving ideas where needed. It was then that I noticed one little boy drawing a circle at the top of his paper, above a house and some trees. “Is that the sun?” I asked him. Without skipping a beat he told me, “No. It’s God,” and back to work he went.
Teaching gives me two gifts: it inspires my writing and it keeps me creatively sharp. My day job as a classroom teacher introduces me to wonderful stories and new ideas. The chance to see the world through the eyes of children can be a writer’s goldmine! At the same time, teaching is constantly mentally challenging. As instructors we are always problem-solving. The brain has no chance to rest, nor does it have a chance to go soft. As a whole, teachers are mentally fit folks running instructional marathons on a daily basis. I take my fit brain into my writing world and it’s ready to run.
My work with children allows me to write young characters with more depth than I’d be able to otherwise—especially since I’m not a parent myself. My students let me remember what it was like to be a kid and, of course, this helps me relate to them and write for them.
In my children’s novel The Ghost of Northumberland Strait (Napoleon Publishing, 2008) I relate a story based on my own school days. I was an extremely shy, self-conscious kid (I got over it). My Grade Six teacher asked us to write a story and present it to the class. I decided to write about a bionic chicken. As I recall, I began reading my completed story with a shaky voice, my eyes glued to the looseleaf sheets in front of me. Within moments of starting to read, though, I realized that the kids and my teacher were listening and even laughing where the plot was supposed to be funny. I have the main character in my novel also gain success and acceptance through presenting her own chicken story. In this way, my reality really does come through in the fiction I write.
Right now I teach Grade Three full time with Buffalo Trail Public Schools in east-central Alberta, and live in a great little place called Hughenden. I enjoy teaching now more than I ever have. And, at the same time, I’m experiencing more success than ever in my writing career. I’ll strive to maintain this fine balance for as long as I’m able, enjoying the fulfillment of making a life out of teaching and writing.
For more information about Lori Knutson and her work, please visit www.loriknutson.com.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s January 2009 issue.