I’ve always been fascinated with bats. I remember reading Stellaluna in Mrs. Mead’s third grade class and wanting to learn more. We learned about fruit bats, vampire bats, echolocation, wingspans, and all sorts of other facts having to do with bats. Though my research does not extend much farther than what I remember from my class in 1997, fifteen years later I still love bats. I’ve had exactly two real-life encounters with bats in my entire life. Call them close encounters of the bat kind, if you will.
The first was in my dance studio circa 1999 (?). I was in the middle of one of my dance classes when we discovered something was in the window, and it was alive. To my delight, we were able to distinguish the form of a small bat climbing up the window. Though I was enchanted by the little creature, all the other girls were quite unsettled. In the last five minutes of class, the bat zoomed straight out at us! Everyone else screamed and ran for the door, but I thought it was mesmerizing. I had never seen a real-live bat before! I was excited to do some studying up-close; however, someone yanked me out of the door before I could observe it for more than a few seconds.
The second time was June 25, 2011 – my first wedding anniversary. My husband and I had escaped for the weekend to spend some time at my Granddaddy’s cabin in Arnold, CA. We had enjoyed a fantastic dinner, taken a walk in the woods at dusk, and had just gotten back for the evening. We were in the middle of setting up the Scrabble board when a bat started swooping, flying around the perimeter of the living room. Having no internet or cell phone connection, we used the land-line to call my family so we could figure out how to get it out of the house! After a few hours, we couldn’t find it anymore, so we assumed it had flown out the window we left open in the upstairs loft.
I liked the bat. I decided to name the bat Bruno. Little did we know Bruno hadn’t escaped after all. We later learned that he had flown into a wall sconce, getting stuck under the light bulb. When my Granddaddy went up to the cabin during the following week, he trapped it with a heavy book and let it die. It still makes me sad when I think about. Even though poor little Bruno experienced a poetic death, I never imagined that a bat could write poetry.
I have attempted to write poetry in the past, but let’s face it – I have several redeeming qualities, and writing poetry is not one of them. The Bat-Poet by Randall Jarrell is a charming tale of a lonely, little brown bat. This is no ordinary bat. He stays awake during the day and writes poetry. Though I am fully aware of my own short-comings when it comes to writing poetry, this poor little bat doesn’t know where to start. When he writes his first poem, he is so proud to recite it to the mockingbird, his role model. I was disappointed with the mockingbird’s critical review.
If you go into a kindergarten classroom and ask, “How many of you are artists?” nearly every child will raise his or her hand. If you follow that same class for a few years and ask again in third grade, about half the class will raise hands. But if you ask again when the class reaches high school, you will see only a few hands raised. Even though the exact same children are in the class, what is it that caused so many to stop believing they are artists? It’s because sometime, someone in the world looked at their masterpiece and told them that it wasn’t good enough.
We, as teachers-in-training, must learn to find a way to encourage students while teaching them to write instead of only offering criticism and corrections. We cannot be like the mockingbird, only pointing out things that “aren’t good enough.” We must allow them to learn, grow, and improve their writing as they mature as writers.
How can we technical grammar Nazis begin to transition our thinking to nurturing students to become writers, rather than being legalistic in our approach to how writing “should be done”?