[This post is written in support of the National Writing Project, a recent victim of federal budget cuts.]
For twenty-three years I answered this question the same way: I worked with the Bluegrass Writing Project Summer Institute for public school teachers. I spent four weeks, all day, every day, with twenty other teachers. I coached teaching demonstrations. I prepared teaching demonstrations. I argued pedagogy. I read books and scholarly articles. I gave feedback on ideas for research projects.
Over doughnuts and coffee, at break time, during lunch periods, I talked about the art of teaching writing. Beginning with the first thirty minutes of each day, I wrote every chance I had. I kept a writer’s notebook. I met with a writing group. I revised my work. I practiced reading it aloud. On Friday afternoons I sat in a circle and listened to everyone read pieces aloud. I laughed, I groaned, I passed the Kleenex box. I created a portfolio of my own writing. I selected my best piece for the annual anthology.
When the month was over, I felt both drained and replenished. And I could not wait to see the teachers at our first Saturday renewal meeting that fall.
Just as I experienced the same rhythm for twenty-three summers, so did teachers all over the country who participated in a writing project at their own local universities. I knew that all over the country public school teachers were living at the same high level. I knew we were experiencing the most powerful professional development model available to teachers. I knew we were becoming writers.
I knew the ripples from our summer gatherings were spreading deep and wide as each of us shared what we had learned with colleagues. I knew we made an impact on the teaching of writing in our classroom, our districts, our states. I knew our students were changed as they discovered their writing voices as modeled by that rarest of creatures: the teacher who writes.
This summer I’ll be writing and reading because the habit is firmly established. However, I’ll miss the opportunity to flesh out my ideas through debate with other eager professionals. My growth will be slowed without the opportunity to behave as both believer and doubter, to practice the habits of mind that make a thoughtful teacher.
And I’ll be writing letters to my elected representatives, asking them to reconsider this grave error they have made.
If you are interested in reading other blog posts supporting the National Writing Project, click on http://coopcatalyst.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/the-blog4nwp-archive/.