I’m starting to teach a new course this week, and feel both excited and nervous. For starters, I’m not quite sure what to call it. Fairfax County, offering it as an “Academy” course (our name for professional development), calls it “7497- Research in Writing and Learning.” George Mason, offering it via the Northern Virginia Writing Project as a 3-credit graduate course, calls it “English/Education 696.”
I think of it as “Voices from the Classroom,” because it is a writing course for teachers with a special emphasis on publishing. Participants may be teacher-researchers who are ready to share their findings within the professional community, or teacher-leaders with a strong desire to participate in a broader public dialogue about education by sharing their perspective on current issues.
What I do know is that the course will include time for planning, writing and workshopping, with the requirement of completing a piece of professional writing suitable for publication in either educational or commercial venues. It will also feature guest speakers each week from both the teacher-researcher community, and local and national media outlets. The three-week course will have a concentric logic, moving outwards in terms of audience from self>colleagues> public/lay.
Week one, we’ll discuss how to write for ourselves as teacher-researchers, with emphasis on solidifying findings and drawing conclusions. The guest speaker will be Gail Ritchie, a TR guru in FCPS and nationally who has recently left her central office staff development job for a more hands-on gig coaching teachers in the classroom.
Week two, we’ll examine writing for an audience of teachers, in our building and beyond. This might encompass sharing research findings in one’s department or grade level, or submitting articles to a discipline- or profession-specific publication like the English Journal or Teacher Magazine. The guest speakers will be Tammie Failmezger, a Leesburg middle school teacher with a recent article in Library/Media Connnection, and Anthony Rebora, my own editor here at Teacher online (I’m particularly excited about this as Anthony and I have worked together for over a year now but never met in person).
Week three, we will focus on reaching an audience beyond the school walls, including not only parents but lay readers and members of the general public with an interest in what happens in schools. I’ll be excited to welcome Washington Post education journalist Jay Mathews, dean of education writers and (as Certifiable? readers may recall) a mentor in my own writing career.
As I try to do in every class I teach, I will write along with the students (in this case my colleagues). I’ll be working on turning Certifiable? into a 3000-word piece for the Washington Post Magazine, which will appear in print sometime next year. Also as usual, I’ll depend on the knowledge in the room to supplement my own. Being a good teacher isn’t about knowing everything, I’ve found out. It’s about going on a journey with your students, and being open to what you discover together.