It's been a disheartening week for me as an educator. Besides the alarming conditions in my school district, the reality of the National Writing Project being defunded hit home with me yesterday after the leadership team at my writing project, Southern Nevada Writing Project (SNWP). There's a project to encourage teachers to blog in support of trying to get federal funding back.
Over the years, since I went through the summer institute in 2005, I've reflected many times about how much SNWP and NWP have impacted my life. It's only been six years since fateful summer that changed my life, but I am not sure I can easily articulate how it's impacted my life because writing project experiences have woven themselves into my life in so many different ways that I cannot pick out specific threads. The Writing Project continually helps me grow as a teacher, and that is in itself awesome, but because it keeps me going as a teacher, I am able to keep my students going, too.
I was a fairly experienced classroom teacher before I joined the Writing Project, but I have always been a humble teacher who feels she can always learn more and do more to be a better teacher. That summer I attended the summer institute, I had wanted to be a better writing teacher. I'm an secondary English teacher. It's a big part of my job. Now, I don't remember what I used to do, but I know what I do now, and I can think of specific things that I picked up that summer, such having response groups modeled from my experience, that are mainstays in my classroom. I'm pretty sure that my constant encouragement for students to be writers--be thinkers--is much stronger after my experiences.
A big part of my job is helping students pass writing exams. My 8th graders take a big exam, and my high school seniors are desperate to pass their exams for high school graduation. I have three frustrated seniors who have just found out that, 7 weeks from the end of the year, have still not passed their writing exams. I am frustrated, and they are terrified, but we are still working away. Just recently I was reminded that as often I can help my students with tips and tricks, I do not allow them to take too many short cuts. Unfortunately, it's not much consolation to my students when I say, "I know you didn't pass, but you have some so far since August." The proof is in the portfolio. It does give them hope to keep growing.
Two of my students recently found out that they passed their exams. Neither of these boys have had an easy time of high school, and writing class is never a class anyone wants to take. Because my class is structured for students who need to pass their exams, and we are just a few weeks into the quarter, both of the boys had the option of leaving my class, moving onto more popular classes such as art or P.E.
At separate times, I spoke with both of the young men, and told them they could transfer out if they wanted. OR, if they were planning on attending community college, they could stay, and we could continue to work on their writing so they could be better prepared for college.
"Nah, nah, Miss. I'm staying."
"Are you sure?" I asked, "You know the schedule this quarter. Some collaborative brainstorming. Independent work. Peer evaluation. Back to your own writing. Of course, I'll help you, too. A topic a week."
"Yeah, yeah. No, I'm staying. I want to be even better."
Super score! Not only have they passed their proficiency exams, I have convinced them to keep growing past the exam. Not only am I teaching them to pass their tests, which is frustrating, but I am teaching them to be writers and thinkers, too. What are they thinking? Oh, they think a lot, but the theme of this week is thinking beyond yourself to be better than you thought you could be.
Yes, in July of 2005, I was very much interested in how to be a better writing teacher. I almost didn't make it that far because in the January of 2005, I was searching for jobs outside education. I was frustrated with being a classroom teacher, and from students to administrators, it felt like all the forces were against me. I'm one of those people whose life was "changed" from being in the Writing Project. I'm not going to pretend that it's been a cakewalk in the years since, but I am thankful for opportunities and support that I get from the amazing professional community I've found.
Tonight, one of those boys, so excited and relieved that he passed his exam insisted on giving me a big hug.
"Miss, nobody ever helped me with my writing before," he told me. Of course he could write before he came to me, but I helped him fill in the gaps.
This is what it comes down to:
The Southern Nevada Writing Project and The National Writing Project helped me.
I help students.
It's no small thing.