Our recent article Tips for conducting school-based research included advice on sharing your findings with the wider education community. Here, Teacher contributor Hedley Willsea draws on his own experience to offer insights to fellow educators hoping to get their work published.
‘If you can't do it, teach it.' As a teacher I cringe every time I hear this. And as a teacher of English Language and Literature, I am a stereotype - a frustrated writer.
While at school I openly encourage my students to write and to experiment, at home I secretly and cynically hope they never get published before I do. Which is ironic, considering the fact that my all-time favourite novel, Frankenstein, was written by a 19-year-old.
I haven't yet written that best-selling novel which will miraculously change the face of modern literature and let me retire early, but I like to think I show an occasional glimmer of writing skill. Three years after my second teaching position, I looked back at my final teacher training assignment which was based on a series of classroom studies and decided to recycle it. I took the research and the main content, and rewrote it in a form and style specific to a teaching magazine that I'd found on the table in the staff room.
To my surprise and satisfaction, it was accepted. I'm not sure why, but it took me five years to write another article; I tried writing a novel but it fizzled out and so did my enthusiasm. I like to tell myself it was due to a lack of time but my students would say it's my tendency to go off on a tangent (well, I suppose you could describe getting married and having a child as ‘going off on a tangent').
By the time I came to write another article, I had more teaching experience and more ideas. By the time my second article was accepted, I'd already written new articles for various publications related to the field of education and three out of four of them were published. I've always approached editors with completed articles but I was recently given a commission, which is a new and slightly different challenge for me.
Writing an article about an area related to my career is invaluable as a form of professional development because of the amount of research involved. I'm writing about an area I know of and have experience of. And to put it bluntly, it just looks good. For a teacher who teaches secondary school students how to write in a variety of forms, it has undoubtedly enhanced my CV and it always goes down well in an interview: I can practice what I preach. I'm displaying at a professional level the very skills I am seeking to develop in my students.
Here is my guide for teachers writing articles about education.
Choose a publication
Start by typing ‘education article', ‘education journal', ‘education magazine' and similar terms into a search engine. Many subject associations also have their own publications. Remember, while some publications are general, others will be for a specific audience (principals, librarians, teachers of English as a second language, or teachers of students with special needs);
Some publications are for specific countries while others are more international in their scope. This will affect the terminology you use; don't assume a teacher in the United States will automatically understand what you mean by ‘Key Stage 3'. Similarly, ‘genre' means ‘form' in some education systems.
Narrow down your ideas
As a professional educator you will have specific areas of specialisation, interest and frustration. All of these are a source of ideas.
When choosing an idea it is important to be as up-to-date as possible. Focus on current issues or debates and support your writing with facts and opinions that contain anecdotes.
If your writing is heavily focused on a particular lesson, include with your submission the lesson plan and any resources. While the editor might not choose to include them, it will help them visualise what you are writing about and this could influence both the decision to accept your work and how to edit or present it.
Contact the editor
When first contacting the editor (for example, Teacher editor Jo Earp), address your email to a human being, even if the email address you've obtained is general (in this case, firstname.lastname@example.org).
Expand briefly on your background and previous experience. This gives you credibility and it enables the editor to check your credentials. You can either write the article and submit it, or contact the editor and explain your idea prior to writing. Either way, don't forget you are writing to persuade.
Know the publication
Read your chosen publication and take note of the writing style. Is there a specific length? Are submission and formatting guidelines given in the publication? Remember, as a rule, journals tend to be more academic than magazines.
Give the editor time to reply (two weeks seems reasonable) before following up. The editor will need time to consider your proposal before you consider moving on to another publication and offering the same work.
Aside from professional courtesy, it's worth bearing in mind that [editorial teams] don't work in a vacuum, and the faux pas of offering different publications the same article at the same time will not be beneficial to you.
It is important to also be aware of how often a publication is released, as your timing could affect the success of your submission. An editor might already have published a similar piece very recently and might require you to resubmit your idea or rewrite your work by altering the focus or the length.
Editors like a focused and precise piece of writing with specific examples. Make sure those examples are factual. You are responsible for the accuracy of your content. Cover yourself (use phrases such as ‘At the time of writing…'), use direct and indirect speech depending on your source and list your sources at the end of your article. The editorial team will decide if they will be included in the final version.
Be prepared to include your contact email address at the end of your article. I always use my school email address rather than my personal email address. This is often published as a part of your work; it enables readers to refer back to you and it makes you accountable for the content of your writing.
Finally, don't assume you will be paid because while some publications will offer payment, others will not. But if you've done your homework (pun definitely intended - sorry, I couldn't help myself), you will know by now the publication or publications you are writing for. Even without payment, you are creating your own professional development opportunity, showcasing your writing and building your reputation as a professional writer.
Are you interested in sharing your work through Teacher? The editorial team welcomes reader submissions from all members of the education community - whatever your role, sector or location. Visit our How to Get Involved page for information about word lengths and formats, and to download our guide to reader submissions. To view examples of previous reader submissions click on the links below or visit the Teacher archive.