High school English teacher Teri Hartman (BA/BEd ’02, MEd ’22) explored ways to remove the shackles from writing education in her thesis and, as a result, earned the University of Lethbridge School of Graduate Studies Silver Medal of Merit, Master of Education for 2022.

Hartman’s thesis, titled "Writing as a Practice of Freedom", examined writing education in schools in a new light by touting its value as an enjoyable activity of self-expression rather than simply as necessary preparation for the pursuit of grades.

As someone who has always enjoyed writing, Hartman, who hails from the Peace River area and has taught English at Catholic Central High School since 2004, believed there should be more to writing education than formulaic approaches and exam measurements.

“It’s in that writing moment that a lot of learning happens,” she says. “You can enjoy it as a human activity for the sake of that particular moment.”

Hartman acknowledges that teaching writing structure has its place, but she feels that can be done later, once students have become comfortable with “turning off the inner critic” and letting their thoughts flow onto the page. “It’s this practice of turning on the tap and not worrying about where it’s going.”

By essentially “playing” at writing, “we take away the fear as well,” Hartman adds. “I often use the sports metaphor ‘practise it with no stakes’. You’re building your skills but there’s no pressure.”

Because writing as self-expression is what makes the craft meaningful to Hartman, her vulnerability was apparent in her thesis, and it struck a chord with the award panel.

“I’m flattered and grateful for it,” she says. “I didn’t know that my personal, reflective story about my relationship with writing would resonate so much with others. It was the vulnerability of it, the openness, that pulled people in and made a difference.”

Hartman, who taught in Brooks and at Winston Churchill High School in Lethbridge before beginning her stint at CCH, hopes the ideas in her thesis can have a similar impact in the classroom. “Being vulnerable, that’s where learning happens. Now it can hopefully shape some discussions we have in the classroom.”

Support from people in the Faculty of Education was instrumental in the success of her five-year Master of Education experience in the Curriculum and Assessment program, Hartman notes. “They’re excited for you, as were those in my cohort. I made very dear friends, and we were supporting each other, walking with each other throughout this whole journey. Having a group that believes you can do it is really important.

“I have tremendous gratitude especially for my supervisors, Drs. David Slomp and Robert LeBlanc. They saw a greater potential in my work than I did and it's likely because of their belief in it that I won the medal of merit. I think the scope and rigour of the Faculty of Education's curriculum and assessment theme has opened up a lot of doors for my future, and I see education and schooling in a completely new light because of it.”

Writer: Dave Sulz | Photographer: Rob Olson