The Atlantic

The Art of Teaching Writing

Pirette McKamey on helping students believe that what they write really matters
Source: Olivia Locher

Editor’s Note: In 1988, a teacher most commonly had 15 years of experience. In recent years, that number is closer to just three years leading a classroom. The “On Teaching” series focuses on the wisdom of veteran teachers.


The first time I watched Pirette McKamey plan an English lesson for her 12th graders, in 2017, the language she used reminded me of a theater director working on a play. Sitting in her office, on the second floor of San Francisco’s Mission High School, she talked about the lesson’s overall story; its emotional impact, rhythm, pacing, and cohesion; and the importance of smooth transitions from one activity to the next.

She explained that the rhythm of the class comes from alternating short lectures, reading, writing, individual practice, and group work. Pacing means not spending too much time or too little on any activity. Both rhythm and pacing would be key to maintaining high engagement with the readings and three writing assignments she had ready for her lesson that day.

McKamey is now a first-year principal at Mission High, but in her 27 years of

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