Today is my third snow day out the past five working days, which means in the past two weeks I've now been at home more than I have been at school. At any other point in time, this would be a dream for an English teacher: extra days to respond to and grade papers!
Except my students are currently working on their trimester finals.
And I've already done responses on the earlier drafts.
But they're not ready to turn in the finals for me to grade.
So here I am in limbo. What's a gal to do (once she's exhausted Netflix and needs a break from reading for pleasure)?
Write, of course. Well, find (and steal) inspiration for writing, and then write. In the words of teacher-friend and wisdom-sharer Jenny Paulsen, "If all else fails: read, write, and seek enlightenment."
Today's inspiration comes from:
1. A post from Sarah Brown Wessling that I came across this morning, responding to the question What Shaped You?
2. "The Layers" by Stanley Kunitz. Because when all else fails, poetry always inspires thought.
3. Jim Davis. Because he's Jim Davis, and he never fails to remind me to give credit where it's due.
What Shaped You As a Teacher?
The Iowa Writing Project
More than any other organization, class, or experience, IWP transformed my life. I would not be the teacher I am today without IWP. I might not have stayed in the teaching profession at all! Before IWP came into my life, I had lost myself as a writer, and you can never be truly effective at teaching writing if you don't practice the art of writing yourself. IWP Level 1 forced me to find my writer-self again in the most gentle of ways, in the most nurturing environment. Kirstey Ewald, my Level 1 facilitator, not only became a beacon for knowledge and truth in the ways of teaching writing, but because of that experience she will also always be one of the most important people in my life. An unorthodox alternate Level 2 experience with IWP Director Dr. Jim Davis pushed my boundaries beyond any previously held comfort zone in writing and sharing writing. Jim's gentle green-pen scrawl on my drafts will stay with me forever. Learning, reflecting, creating, confronting vulnerability and weakness: IWP does it all. Every time I read the introduction or acknowledgments section of a text on teaching writing, I am never surprised to see a reference to the author's experience in his or her state-level Writing Project. Two thoughts immediately enter my mind: 1. I am in good hands with any Writing Project graduate; and 2. I'm sure their state WP is great, but nothing can compare to IWP. If you haven't had the experience, please find a summer workshop that will work for you.
The Teaching English in Secondary Schools MA program through the University of Northern Iowa happened when I needed it most. I always knew I wanted my MA in English eventually, if for no other reason than I enjoy taking English classes. When the brochure showed up during my fifth (and worst) year of teaching, I decided to apply if for no other reason than to prove I could do what I'd always wanted. Silly me. My first class was IWP Level 1. After a BA and five years of experience, I still had no concept of what I didn't know, and now I'm at least smart enough to realize I'm still nowhere near knowing it all. As much as IWP crystallized the importance of teacher-as-writer, TESS reinforced the lifestyle of teacher-as-continual-learner. Maybe these things don't seem earth shattering to others reading this, but they were to me. I was burned out with the stress and pressure of my teaching life, never looking beyond the local and immediate. Being a part of the TESS cohort gave me fresh ideas and the power to take control of my classroom and curriculum in ways I wouldn't have thought of on my own. There is no going back to the complacency of my early years.
ICTE is the newest of these three, and the one I'm currently an active member of. To meet with these people and share ideas and knowledge is a pleasure. Allison Berryhill is the closest creature I have met on this planet that can compete with the Sun for the light and warmth she radiates on those around her, and presenting with her at ICTE in 2014 was one of my favorite teacher and life experiences. Jenny Paulsen is a friend and mentor who is simultaneously able to make every person in the room smarter and more confident in their own abilities. This group is full of so many people I admire, who are a million times better at this profession than I am in many ways, and they never make me feel inadequate. It's a special kind of magic to come together because of a common passion for teaching English and trying to find ways to share it with as many people as possible.
There are certainly more individuals (and books and articles) who deserve credit here, but these three organizations and the people in them have done the most work in shaping who I am as teacher today.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.