Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Writing Project Save Teachers


Earlier, in an attempt to write a blog entry for today, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek essay about why teachers suck and attributed it to the professional development that teachers receive. Sensing that it wasn't my best work and had come from an angry place, I showed it to my wife who failed to laugh even a little. My intent had been to be funny and she assured me that it was anger rather than humor that I had sent out into the world. I knew then that I would have to give it another shot.

This time around, rather than talking about the staff day that is planned for everyone in my school this Friday, I want to talk about a professional development opportunity that I will miss out on.

I belong to the Seven Valleys Writing Project (7VWP) which is a local site of the National Writing Project (NWP) located at SUNY Cortland. The National Writing Project is the only thing other than pay and health care that have kept me in teaching the last five years. It's that simple. The NWP has saved me as a teacher. I have no doubt about it. The 7VWP has put me together with incredibly thoughtful teachers doing some of the best work in education. And every one of them is desperately searching for ways to do their jobs better.

This Friday, several of the 7VWP's teachers will be leading a staff day at a local school. Rather than so-called "experts" from outside the profession, a group of teachers will go into another school to talk about their expertise and, more importantly, encourage the teachers at that school to discuss their own expertise. You see, the NWP model is all about helping teachers see that they're knowledge and wisdom, their accumulated experience and scholarship matter. Indeed, these are the only things that will save education. Teachers are the people who have kept education alive. The NWP honors that and the 7VWP will introduce that incredible concept to teachers this Friday.

I will be at a very different type of staff day, but the less said about that the better.

I was the fourth person on board at the beginnings of the 7VWP but I haven't been heavily involved of late. Just when I needed a shot of NWP energy the most, President Obama killed all funding for the program. This happened about the same time Scott Walker was killing all teacher union power in Wisconsin. It happened as the Common Core Standards, a nationalized curriculum. It happened as a system was being implemented that will pay teachers based on test scores and fire those who don't get their kids to fill in the right bubbles with their number two pencils. In short, Obama killed the NWP funding just as education in America was circling ever closer to the drain.

My hopes for the profession were circling the drain as well.

Since then I've figured out a few things. One, I have to decide whether or not to stay in this profession. There’s no point in teaching if it’s not something I love to do. There’s no real point in doing much of anything if I don’t love it, but teaching is an art as well as a craft and arts require devotion. If I can continue to love teaching despite what is being done to education, then I will stay. Otherwise, I need to move on.

Two, if I’m going to stay in this profession I have to get connected again with the best practitioners I know and those people tend to belong to or are about to join the 7VWP. So I need to get back up to speed with those people.

Three, I need to write about teaching, speak to parents about it, and write to politicians. I need to work for change in schools since I know that we are going in absolutely the wrong direction.

Oddly, my first decision in this is to not vote for Barack Obama in November. I’ve mentioned this before and explained why, but suffice to say that he has been Bush-league if not worse when it comes to education. Arne Duncan, his secretary of education, is beyond bad for kids in this nation. I can’t vote for Arne, I can’t vote for Obama.

What comes next, I’m not sure. I need to decide if I’m going to stay or go. To do that, I have a lot more thinking to do. I also need to be looking at what else there is out there.

Whatever the case, I’m sure to write on.