The summer institute of the Northern Virginia Writing Project draws to a close, and next week I will be the last presenter from our group of nearly thirty teachers. Being on staff this year has rekindled the transformative enthusiasm I experienced when I was a fellow here in 1997, at that time wondering if this was really the job for me after four years in the classroom. Now, after thirteen years there, both my presentation topic and my relationship to the profession have changed.
The first time my project was called “Jazz Is... Writing Three Ways With Jazz.” I remember best an experimental choral writing activity during which notebooks were passed as each teacher in the “jam session” tried to fill the role of one instrument in a poetry combo: keeping time like a drummer, marking changes like a bassist, providing harmonic structure like a pianist, or soloing like a horn player. I’m not sure how well it worked but at the end of the summer we titled our writing anthology Equinox, the name of a Coltrane tune I’d played during my presentation.
This time around, my project is called “From Query to Clip: Publishing Teacher’s Tales from the Classroom.” I’ve molted from a journeyman with musical aspirations (and the spare time to play in weekend rock bands) to a veteran with a mission to engage in the public debate about education (and two young boys who only see my saxophone come out of its case to play them happy birthday). Here’s the planned introduction to my presentation, answering the question, “Why Publish?”:
You and I are in the classroom every day, doing arguably the most important job in the world. At the same time, there is a large group of people out there in the media who are writing about what we do: “education reporters.” Sometimes, they even get it right. Frequently, we read their stories and grimace, or maybe work up a head of steam and bitch about it in the lounge. If that were all there was to it, there would be no need for this presentation.
Simultaneously, however, these stories are read by the non-teachers of the world-- our kids’ parents, politicians, realtors-- who tend to believe what the “experts” report. And there’s the rub. As the real experts in the room, we need to show people what we know is true about education: how it happens, why it’s so messy, and what real learning looks like.
In this presentation, on the last day of the summer institute and the first day of the rest of your teaching life, I ask you to think of yourself not just as a teacher of writing but as a writing teacher. In today’s educational climate, somebody’s got to teach the world what teaching and learning is all about. I think it should be us.
I’m still tinkering with the choreography for the rest of the presentation. I know I want to wave around a copy of the Writer’s Market, cover the basics of a query, and explain how getting into print is like a Rube Goldberg machine. I’ll leave the rest up to the experts; I can’t wait to hear what my colleagues have to say.