‘Writing Is My Self Care’: An Arlington Teacher And Published Author Shares Her Thoughts on Remote Teaching and Representation in Writing

Ms. Jette is a Arlington fourth-grade teacher and published author

Ms. Jette is a Arlington fourth-grade teacher and published author

Samantha R.

When teacher and local author Sarah Marie Jette was growing up in Lewiston, Maine, there weren’t many places where she saw representations of herself. “I’m Mexican-American and I grew up in Maine, and was the only student of color in most of my classes,” she explained over a Zoom call. “As a child, there were some books that I loved–Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry–I love that book; it’s one of my favorites. That, and Corduroy–the only books of my childhood where there was a character of color; a girl of color; in there.”

In 2018, Ms. Jette published her first book, a middle-grade novel called What The Wind Can Tell You. The book features a Mexican-American family living in New England, and is told from the perspective of 12-year-old Isabelle Perez, whose teenage brother Julian has a severe form of epilepsy and uses a wheelchair. I asked Ms. Jette if she felt like she had channeled her own identity into Isabelle’s character. “That’s a big part of who I am,” she said of her Mexican heritage, “and there wasn’t representation. And when I would see Mexican kids in books, they were often in, like, a city, or the Southwest, and I grew up in Maine. You might see parts of yourself in a book, but not all of it. We have so many parts of our identities, so you may not find your exact self in a book, but this is a representation of some of my identities.” Of Isabelle’s brother, Ms. Jette said “The boy who inspired the older brother, Julian, who has epilepsy, was a boy I nannied for, Mateo, who is also part Mexican, and I was inspired by this boy that I cared for for a number of years and his little brother, so there’s elements of them in the story as well.”

Along with being a published author, Ms. Jette is a fourth-grade teacher at Thompson Elementary School. When inquired about how being a published author influences the way she teaches writing,  Ms. Jette provided interesting insight into the harsh environment of the  publishing industry and what it’s shown her about criticizing her fourth-graders’ work. “I try to stay really positive, because even if it’s essay writing, or it’s persuasive writing, writing is something…that…can be very personal, and critique doesn’t have to be harsh criticism,” she says. “This past fall, I did a remote writing conference, and the agent who gave feedback was really harsh. She was yawning sometimes when people were doing their readings, and that was really–it’s hard!” Ms. Jette goes on to say  that she understands that the publishing industry is rather selective and not generally friendly, but that it’s important to remember with her nine and ten-year old students that criticism of their writing should be sparse and gentle.

Another important factor in teaching students writing, Ms. Jette notes, is recognizing that different people have different styles pertaining to how they tackle writing. “What’s hard with writing is, people approach it in so many different ways,” she remarked.  “They’re all working on different things. I have students who have incredibly strong ideas, but their ideas are so big that to complete the story as they want to do it, they won’t have time in their youth, so part of what I try to talk to them about is that if it’s for school writing, we have deadlines; we have due dates; things need to end. And so part of my role with that is helping them structure and plan their story; maybe they end it with “to be continued” or they end after a chapter and there’s more things they can work on. But that’s part of my role with them–for students who have really big ideas–to contain it.” On the other hand, Ms. Jette adds, some of the kids have trouble getting off the ground. “For some students, it’s getting them started–the blank page or the blank screen can be really intimidating. So, when I’m working with my students I’m trying to see how they’re approaching storytelling, and to help them get started, and then complete their stories.”

At the end of her interview, Ms. Jette touched upon something that’s been on everyone’s minds lately–remote learning. Ms. Jette says that it’s been much harder finding time to read and write as a remote teacher due to her loss of an in-person teaching schedule.“It’s been transitioning the way I used to teach at school to teaching from home,” she said. “[when school was in-person,] I could lesson-plan in the shower. I could think about my day, what the lesson is, what I’m doing for math, reading, writing, social studies, science…I had that all figured out, so it came very naturally because that’s how I’ve taught for the past 12 years. This year, teaching remotely, it’s a totally different way of lesson-planning.” She also talks about how grading and feedback takes much longer now than it used to, detailing how before remote learning began, it was easy to have her students’ work in front of her and reviewed at a glance. However, now that she is teaching entirely online, Ms. Jette says, she has to open up each individual student’s work on Google Classroom, allow it to load, look through the assignment, and repeat with every child. “Even the process of looking at student work is so much more time-consuming,” she says.  Despite all of this, Ms. Jette emphasizes that writing and reading can be great ways to cope during the stress of the pandemic. “I’m a mom; I have three kids, and I also have my job that I love, but the writing is my self-care. Finding time for writing is important for me, [and so is] reading. In order to be a good writer, you have to read a lot; read things that inspire you. If I’m reading a book that’s also fueling my writing, it’s inspiring me, it’s helping me look at the craft. It’s been really helpful to have the time for writing, but I don’t always have the mental energy or readiness to be on the screen, so I’ll be reading.”


Sarah Marie Jette lives in Belmont, Massachusetts and teaches fourth grade in Arlington Public Schools. She has three kids, four cats, and enjoys reading, writing, and riding  bikes. As previously mentioned, she has a novel published, called What The Wind Can Tell You.