Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Hip Hop Write: A Metaphor

I'm a bit of a gym junkie, but I'm not an athlete. Working out just makes me feel better, especially as a middle-aged woman whose joints get a little stiff and whose biological clock stopped long ago. I like the way endorphins decrease my stress level, and at my age I'm concerned about bone density, which improves with weight training.

I prefer group exercise classes to working out alone, although I did hire  a personal trainer for six months when the Gold's gym opened as I know proper use of equipment improves my workout results. My trainer showed me how to use the complicated machines correctly and how to maintain proper physical form to maximize my workout results. 

Gold's Gym, Pocatello, Idaho
Recently, I've attended Hip Hop aerobics classes. Jen, an amazing instructor, helps me forget that I have two left feet. She teaches hip hop by doing hip hop and by breaking down the routine into manageable eight-count chunks.   

Jen is very pregnant, and I marvel at her ability to hip and hop while cueing the class and running around the fitness room. I rely on Jen working out with the class. She is my model, and my eyes follow her every hip thrust and box step. It's the only way I can make my limbs move.

Tuesday, however, Jen ran out of energy. I would, too, if I were a mere few weeks from delivery. About half-way through the class, Jen said, "I just can't do it today. I'm sorry, but all I can do is mark." 

Without Jen's example, without her to follow and model, I was lost. 

Working out in the group classes is like that. I need an instructor present and engaged in the exercise routine, whether the class is Kettle Bell Fitness, Tabata Boot Camp, Body Pump, Zumba, Body Combat, or Hip Hop. I'm lost without the teacher, and I choose classes at the gym based as much on the instructor as the time and class. I will avoid an instructor who treats the class as her personal training time or one whose physical form is flawed. 

Group fitness instructors are my mentors and role models. As a writing teacher, I need to model for my students, too. Writing teachers should be more like fitness instructors.

All of the classes at the gym offer modifications. For example, in Kettle Bell I use a 25 or 30 lb. weight, depending on the exercise, but when I began attending the class, I could only handle a 10 or 15 lb. weight. My skills have improved over time, and Monica, the instructor, graciously points out when I compromise my form. She pays specific attention to new class members. 

Body Pump, Body Combat
Writing teachers do something similar when we conference with students and when we write with them. Several of my favorite pedagogical works make this point, including Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle, What's the Big Idea? by Jim Burke, and Write This Way by Kelly Gallagher. It's the philosophy inherent in Jim Vopat's Writing Circles

Tabata, Kettle Bell,
Body Pump
My gym wouldn't consider suggesting members attend group exercise classes without a qualified, certified instructor. Indeed, at the gym an instructor may not even sub in a class without the proper credential, so the gym only has one Tabata and one Kettle Bell endorsed teacher: Monica. 

If having a qualified teacher present at the gym goes without question, how do our policy makers justify  the backlash against teachers that has resulted in unprecedented firings and a push toward online classes? 

Similarly, language arts teachers need to approach teaching writing with the same participatory philosophy we find at the gym. Without our example and direction, students too often flounder in their efforts to make sense of the various writing routines (read: modes) we teach. They become like me when I must go it alone at the gym, muddling through the motions but unable to maximize their writing workouts. 

It's time to hip hop write and move to the writing groove with our students. 


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this piece, Glenda. What a perfect analogy! I couldn't agree more. Thank goodness for the mentors you mentioned who have encouraged teachers of English to 'write beside' their students.

    1. I should have mentioned Kate Messner's Teachers Write group. It's certainly getting me outside my comfort zone. I know that the experience of playing w/ fiction this summer will make me a better creative writing teacher.

  2. Glenda --

    Imagine how many kids go through English classes with teachers who are not writers or readers.

    Powerful things happen when we share our writing and reading lives with our students.

    Thanks for another thoughtful post.


    Ps. I'm reading Quiet by Susan Cain right now and will re-visit your blog post about it when I'm finished.

    1. I think one of the reasons teachers tend to lock themselves in their rooms is to avoid facing the very real truth that many English teachers neither write nor read. I don't like thinking about this.

      Looking forward to your review of "Quiet."

  3. I like your metaphor here. I exercise by walking my dog. This is a meditative time or a time for talking with a friend. Either way, it can be incubation for writing. As teachers, we should be like coaches, but we also need to respect out students' need for time to think. This is what I think my teaching has been missing. By participating in Teachers Write, I have learned the value of incubation time.

  4. Spot on. Love the workout connection. Instructors matter, no matter where the classroom. Though I'm late to the post, it's perfect timing for me after this morning boot camp. Thank you for inspiring me!

    1. Lee Ann, You inspire me w/ your Gladiator workouts. Seeing your commitment to those intense workouts gets me going, too!