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Study Break: Sarah Fine, Ed.D. Student

By Lory Hough, on September 4, 2013 4:42 PM

Sarah FinePhoto by Martha Stewart

Program: Culture, Communities, and Education Tool for Change: Writing Hometown: Newton, Mass.

When Sarah Fine left the classroom in 2009, after four years as a teacher, department chair, and instructional coach at a Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy in Washington, D.C., she saw herself becoming an education writer. She had always been drawn to narrative writing, especially after attending Middlebury College's famed Bread Loaf School of English every summer while she was teaching. Fine also felt there weren't enough education "insiders" writing about education issues for general-interest audiences. She started writing, getting her pieces on community schools, accountability, and students left behind published in influential publications like The Washington Post and Education Week. She also applied to the Ed School, where she jumped into an ethnographic project with Associate Professor Jal Mehta that would lead to the ultimate achievement for an education writer: her first book. Tentatively titled In Pursuit of Deeper Learning, Fine says the book-in-progress is an attempt "to map the landscape of approaches to engaging high school students in cognitively ambitious tasks." She and Mehta visited more than 20 schools to see what deeper learning could look like, including San Diego's High Tech High, which serves as the book's anchor case study. Fine says that although she misses the "doing" part of the education equation — teaching — "part of how I process experience is through narrative writing."

Educators or writers in your family: My grandmother taught fifth grade in the Boston Public Schools for almost 30 years. She used to occasionally pull out projects, photos, and cards from her former students and show them to me.

Narrative writing role model: Atul Gawande
Why? He practices and teaches medicine but also writes narrative articles and books aimed toward laypeople.

Favorite Gawande book or New Yorker article: "Big Med"
Better "Letting Go"
Checklist Manifesto X

Favorite piece of literature: Unfair question! Faulkner's Absalom, Absolom! When I'm deeply involved in intense academic reading and writing, British detective mysteries hit the spot.

One thing you miss from your teaching days: Trial and error.
Why? I loved how as a teacher I had endless opportunities to improvise, tweak, and improve what I was doing in real time — and how my students always let me know in no uncertain terms how successful my efforts had been. Now I sometimes feel that I have far too much time to reflect and far too little pressure to actually try things out.

What's harder? Coauthoring a book X Working on your qualifying paper
Writing your own articles

You just had your first baby. How has this changed your working process? I took the summer off to get used to being a parent. In the fall I'm hoping to be working the equivalent of only two days a week. Come January, though, Jal and I are planning to work intensively to draft the manuscript of our book, so that will bring a host of new challenges in terms of work-life balance. Luckily, Jal and his wife have small children too, so we'll be in similar boats!

Advice for someone wanting to be an education writer: The best advice I got was from Michael Dirda, formerly of WaPo's [The Washington Post] Book World, who told me to just "give it a whirl."