My teaching career began in 1987 in Ansonia High School in Connecticut then after teaching in New York State for six years I became a Kentucky educator. For most of the past 25 years I have taught writing at Morehead State University. I love teaching and I especially love teaching writers. I know that what I teach is essential to the success of my students, both in school and out, because comprehensive literacy and critical thinking are important skills for students, for professionals, and for citizens. The seats in my classes are filled with future nurses, engineers, scientists, and law enforcement professionals and most of them need not just the skills that I teach them but they specifically need a teacher like me — a teacher shaped by the National Writing Project.
My work with the National Writing Project began in 2008 when I attended an Invitational Summer Institute offered by the Morehead Writing Project where I spent four intense weeks developing as a writer, a reflective practitioner, a researcher, and a leader in a cohort that included teachers ranging from kindergarten through college with classroom focuses from math to special education to art. That experience changed the trajectory of my professional life and brought me into a professional network that continues to impact my classroom more than a decade later.
A Unique Professional Network
The National Writing Project network is unlike any other professional development network for teachers. We are the only professional development network focused on comprehensive literacy across all levels and all disciplines. Our primary focus is writing, but we recognize that reading and critical thinking are essential to writing and so we teach comprehensive literacy. Our classes involve a lot of close reading of texts, both fiction and nonfiction, and we teach our writers to think critically about those texts and the ideas they offer to both readers and writers. NWP supports comprehensive literacy instruction across all levels of education from kindergarten through college and includes all disciplines in our work. The breadth and depth of the NWP network has made me a better teacher because it has helped me understand the role of other disciplines in shaping my students and the challenges of teachers at other levels and in other content areas. I am a better teacher by working with and learning from teachers whose classroom experiences and content focus are different from mine and that is what makes the NWP network so powerful.
Many of my students at Morehead State University come to me with the belief that they are not good writers and most enter my classroom with little experience with complex reading and writing tasks because we live in the era of standardized testing. As a result my students need a lot of intense support to develop the critical thinking and comprehensive literacy skills necessary to succeed in college and beyond. They also need a writing teacher with a deep toolbox of lessons to excite their interest in reading and writing. I am unique among my colleagues in that all of my post-secondary degrees (BA, MS, MA, PhD) focused on rhetoric. Most teachers – at every level – receive very little direct instruction about the teaching of writing. Many teaching programs include only one class focused on writing pedagogy and some include zero. This is true even for programs training English teachers and many teacher programs for other disciplines include only a nod to content literacy (at best). Then once teachers are in the classroom there is very little professional development to support content literacy for their discipline — despite the fact that research has long established that best literacy practice includes practicing reading and writing across content areas. Because NWP work begins with the belief that teachers who write are better teachers of writers I have found a community of writers and writing teachers who consistently inspire me as both a writer and a teacher of writers. NWP has made me a better teacher by introducing me to research-proven methods and programs to expand my teaching toolbox from the innovative College, Community, and Career Writers Program to the interactive Writing Our Future program. My NWP peers have supported me personally and professionally and this is essential to my survival as a teacher in a climate that is increasingly more hostile to teachers. Despite three decades in the classroom, NWP continues to make me a better teacher and continues to make it possible for me to teach.
A foundational principal of NWP work is the reflective practitioner. We know that teaching comprehensive literacy is complex and complicated work. There is not a textbook or boxed curriculum that can transform students into writers – that transformation can only happen within a community of writers and NWP teaches teachers how to create that community. NWP teachers are consistently reflective about our teaching practice and the research that undergirds it while also directing our professional development to transforming our teaching, our classrooms, and our students. It is this unique combination of professional development where teachers teach teachers to reflect on how the lessons and structures offered can be adapted to that teacher’s unique teaching context and students that make NWP professional development such a powerful and life-altering experience. I am a better teacher because NWP has made me a consistently reflective practitioner and every professional development experience I attend or lead has taught me something about myself and my practice.
My NWP experience has transformed me as a teacher and rippled through my classroom for more than a decade of teaching writing at Morehead State University as well as working with dozens of other educators every year. However, my experience was only possible because the Kentucky Writing Project brought the National Writing Project to the Commonwealth and specifically to Morehead State. Now KWP leaders are engaged in fighting for the future of the Kentucky Writing Project. Without state funding the KWP network will not survive 2020. If you care about literacy in Kentucky and/or have been impacted by the work of the Kentucky Writing Project please contact Kentucky legislators and urge them to fund the Kentucky Writing Project.