How I Spent My Summer Vacation (SI in the Valley – Week 4)

This final week was hard. Nearly every one of us was caught off guard by tears at some point as we realized we only had 4 days…3 days…1 day left. Although it is difficult to describe the experience to someone not in the room with us, I think it all comes down to community.  That is a buzzword nowadays but for the Writing Project it has always been foundational. Even in the late 70’s, before that word was used to describe what writers need to thrive, it was an essential piece of the NWP puzzle.  What amazes me is how quickly that community can form when the participants are committed, passionate, and eager to improve their practice.

We need to engage in the big ideas of teaching, argue about what matters, listen closely to an opposing view, and thus form our opinions with evidence and reflection.  Hmmm – sounds like something our students should be doing too, right?  That is the part of the Summer Institute I love most; the idea that until you experience what your students go through, you cannot really teach them.  The ‘I’ becomes a ‘we’ and that changes everything. Now you are on a journey of inquiry together, both learning as you go.

Diversity matters, too.  Our lone non-English teacher, Julie, is an art teacher at an alternative school.  Our cheerleader, she brought us joy every day with her boundless enthusiasm and deep compassion.  She helped us not to fear the blank page, not to fear art, and ultimately, how to be brave. Sometimes our students need us to be brave for them and with them. Thank you, Julie.

Margaret was our rib-splitting, non sequiter spilling, hilarious release valve.  From her innocent use of ‘Hit it & quit it” to “How’s your eyeball?” she helped us laugh every single day.  She is also a gifted writer whose voice is strong enough to identify her writing within the first paragraph. What a gift she must be to her students. What a gift she was to us. Thank you, Margaret.

Amy, a 4th grade teacher, was our deep well.  Quietly, she took everything in, then released it back in gorgeous poems or prose. We would nod our heads and think, ‘Oh, now I get it…” She helped us feel not only what she was feeling, but what we needed to remember.  She got to the heart of the matter every time and added depth to our experience.  Thank you, Amy.

So willing to share her journey, Meghann gave all of us encouragement to share our own.  She was the open door through which we traveled to new learning.  Her total commitment to her students reminded us of the standard we should be setting for ourselves.  Always open to new ideas and strategies, she was the role model for listening. She heard each of us and we knew it.  Thank you, Meghann.

Spicy Julie added to our experience by the wealth of her own. From stalking James Taylor to hosting our first social afternoon, she always provided interest to our days. A fountain of resources, she shared willingly and her lively manner captivated all of us.  I know her students cannot wait to come to her class because we couldn’t wait for her to come into ours.  Thank you, Julie.

Our warrior was Nicole, an AP English teacher who shared her strength in fierce, powerful, eloquent poems and prose. She made us think more deeply…about everything. She was intent on making meaning from her students from every presentation and every experience during the summer.  Her focus centered us. She is a force for reckoning and we all benefited from knowing her.  Thank you, Nicole.

Responding to the needs of her high school students, especially those reluctant boys, Mallory taught us about responsive teaching.  She reminded us that the only ones who really matter are the students sitting in front of us and our only responsibility is to reach each of them, whatever it takes. Her coaching mentality was infectious and hilarious, a winning combination. Thank you, Mallory.

Jennifer amazed me in her presentation with her ability to reference every other participant, either by their presentation or personality.  Such care she took in noticing our uniqueness and showcasing it for all to see!  I’ll bet she does that with her students, too. Our connector, she was rightly chosen as our continuity contact, the one who will keep us in touch in the months and years to come. Thank you, Jennifer.

We were lucky enough to have a resident poet, Rhonda, as well. She synthesized our learning into lyrical phrases whether through a response to beautiful words or a dedication in our anthology. She captured the essence of each and elevated all of us in the process.  A veteran of 40 years in education, she continues striving to better meet the needs of her students. What an inspiration she is. Thank you, Rhonda.

Our founding mother for our SI site, Mary Tedrow, shared a statistic with me recently; 98% of teachers who participate in the National Writing Project remain in education throughout their careers. Spend a summer with educators like those described above and you will understand why. They just don’t come any better.