An Uncommon Core: Seven Dreams for My Writing Students

As my day job, I teach students to love words. My work as a one-on-one writing coach takes me into the homes of students who range from elementary to high school. Some of them are in tutoring under duress, to make their language arts grades match their excellence in math and science. Others are there to develop the spark of language love they already have. In both cases, I have dreams for them–and for all who set out on the road to writing.


My students, I dream for you: 

1. A love of reading. We will start with easy, fun books about camping or chocolate factories that I guarantee you will love. Then, as we train, we will read harder books about harder subjects, but by then you will not even notice the difficulty as you get lost in the stories. I dream that you will learn to read fiction and not just analyze plot and theme, but also learn to see literature as a great conversation that has taken place across continents and centuries. Most of all, I hope that you will find your own place in this conversation about love, courage, hope, and sacrifice: whether as a reader, a writer, or just as a compassionate human being in this world.

2. Competence with ideas. Life is full of ideas, and I want you to be able to comprehend, summarize, and analyze them. Then I want you to be able to communicate your own ideas in organized, well-supported arguments with theses that appreciate the complexity and nuance in the world. The building blocks may fall into place slowly and painstakingly, with numerous five-paragraph essays for practice, but I dream that you will grow into people who can communicate your thoughts in a way that commands respect.

3. Curiosity. I want you to learn to ask questions, lots of questions, even questions that may have no simple answer. I want you to think about others’ ideas, and more importantly, I want you to  care. First your opinions may be black-and-white: is the Great White Shark a danger or a marvel? But I hope you will eventually develop nuance as you face the tensions in life: is a world without pain worth the elimination of choice?

4: Creativity. You may never truly love poetry or receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, but still, I want you to try writing stories and poems. I dream that you will learn to play with words and discover the beauty of looking at life a little differently. You may even discover an unexpected gift of expression.


5. A functional vocabulary. Big words can be lovely, but better are meaningful words. I want you to avoid the word “thing” at all costs and learn words that will get you as close to your desired meaning as possible: to find lightning instead of settling for the lightning bug, as Mark Twain put it. I also dream that you will learn to hear the music in words and taste their savor.

6. The practice of self-editing. I hope that you will come to understand that every work needs revision. I hope that you will learn to expand your ideas while economizing your words. If you learn nothing else from me, I really, really hope you will learn the difference between their/there/they’re.

7. In the long run, I dearly hope that you will come to see yourself as the driver of your education. Some of you are very young, and you go to school and do homework because your parents (or your tutor) require it of you. But I dream that as you grow, you will read and write and learn not because you have to, but because your passion and curiosity and creativity become impossible to contain.

I am always cheering for you,

Your tutor

8 thoughts on “An Uncommon Core: Seven Dreams for My Writing Students

  1. Beautiful. So well said, Alina! So much of this is exactly what I try to impress upon my students every day, although much more eloquently put. I am so glad you have the ability, compassion, and gift of reaching these young minds through your tutoring and writing! Keep it up, they all need someone to believe in them!


  2. “Big words can be lovely, but better are meaningful words.”

    “If you learn nothing else from me, I really, really hope you will learn the difference between their/there/they’re.” 🙂

    Yes, amen, and let it be so.


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