I have been wading. Wading, swimming, in the words of my colleagues. While reading the blogs and following the streams, I am once again amazed by the work of those in the National Writing Project. I am proud of my UPWP colleagues, Kara, Amy and Jan as they lend their voices to this cause. Continually inspired by Bud, Paul and of course, Troy as they share their thought provoking posts. Kevin and Chris and Andrea and Aram–thank you for always putting things in perspective. A special thank you to Pam and Ira for joining a conversation from the perimeter and supporting good teaching practice. We are such an amazing collection of people.
I’m not going to tell my story tonight. Many of you know it. It goes something like this: Teacher does the summer institute. Experiences community, friendship, respect. Gains (and shares) solid pedagogical knowledge. Is forever changed. In addition, there is the wonderful on-going, sustainability of professional learning. Teacher may fall, but is always supported and able to rise again. Sound familiar?
No, that is not the story I am going to share with you tonight. Tonight I am going to change perspective. Picture me now–as a mom. (Got that? Five kiddos, a wonderful husband, house, laundry, oh–and now I am sitting at parent/teacher conferences…Do you do any writing?, I ask…)
Education has always mattered to me–I am one of those people who can’t remember when they didn’t want to be a teacher–but education never mattered more to me than when my first child set foot in a school. All of a sudden this education reform debate became a ticking time bomb. It wasn’t enough that we were working for change–that change would come eventually. My “technology is an evolution, not an revolution” mantra didn’t seem as comforting now that my children were in school and their lives were being wasted by trivial worksheets and basal readers. I didn’t have time for things to evolve–they needed to change now. (Sometimes I think being an educator and a parent is one of the most difficult things–because things are never quite good enough–despite all the wonderful teachers that are out there–you always want more.)
My story, as many of you have heard, crosses over from a professional relationship with the NWP to a, well, more personal one. For this Hicks Family Household, the NWP = Love. Within that love is my role as a mom–to five wonderfully chaotic brilliant children. These days I am not just a teacher of writing, employed by a public entity–but I am a mother, looking over the shoulders of my children, peering into their backpacks and watching the papers slide from their Friday folders.
I have a front row seat to writing instruction in our schools–and let me tell you–it makes a difference whether or not your child’s teacher has been influenced by the National Writing Project. When one of our children is in a writing rich environment, they don’t say things like, “We had writing today” or “I have an topic sentence due”. We hear things like, “That’s a small moment, Mom!” or “I’m going to start my piece with a snapshot, Dad, just like Gary Paulsen does.” They have several stories going at one time and talk about writing each and every day. It isn’t just during “writing- time”, but it is carried through everything they do, throughout the day. They confer, they reflect, they revise and they edit. They publish. They share. They are aware of their audience, their ability to help others, and most of all–they are excited about learning. One of our sons, who has experienced both a NWP-influenced teacher and a non-NWP influenced teacher back to back years, complains about not writing at school–luckily for him, he writes at home. He has a topic list that he made with Dad’s help which he refers to for ideas. I bought blank books and he literally sneaks them out of the cupboard to create story after story. He asked his teacher, “When are we going to write a story?” This is not to take away from the skills and commitment of his current teacher. The classroom is well organized and cheerful. The teacher, relatively new to the profession, would benefit from some NWP-influence–if only it remains available.
Our children have been so very lucky to have teachers, both from the Upper Peninsula Writing Project and the Red Cedar Writing Project, that have inspired them to use their words in thoughtful ways, to dream big, write it down and publish it anyway they can. Our daughters experienced writing as an extra-curricular when they attended the first annual Chippewa River Writing Camp. Parents need to pay attention and support programs that support teachers. As parents we need to lend our voices–in support of teachers. We need to cast our vote behind politicians who will support the very people who are with our children day in and day out–we need to support programs that value, respect and encourage teachers. Programs like the NWP.