National Writing Project

2010 Annual Meeting Highlights: General Session Writings

Date: December 13, 2010

Summary: Teachers at the NWP Annual Meeting were asked to write their "from silence to whispering" story—about how NWP helped them find their teacher/writer/leader voice. Here is a sample of their responses.


No Superman Required

I was a mess, and I felt ineffective. I almost gave up, almost threw in the towel after two years of teaching. Honestly, I had never felt more ineffective in my life. The Writing Project gave me a voice, it gave me a place to go to ask hard questions and have difficult conversations. It never let me find comfort in the ineffective teacher's mantra "If only I had better students. If only they had better parents." NWP helped me look inward, showed me that what's right with teaching, what's right with my classroom, starts with me. Writing keeps me in the classroom, keeps me and my students growing. No superman required.

I Do Have a Voice

There is no pill, no magic wand, no potion to make someone a good writer. But there is NWP! I was a quiet child (4th of 6 kids), an obedient student, a docile teen, and a submissive wife. My voice was rarely, if ever, heard above the din of family members and fellow students. NWP gave me an outlet for my inner thoughts and a forum for the sensitive critiquing of my and others' voices through writing. Undoubtedly, I'll never change from kitten to lion or from average American teacher/wife/mother to Superwoman, but I do have a voice.

NWP as Magical Café

I recently shared a book with my students called the Van Gogh Café;, by Cynthia Rylant. In the end, an author who has been reduced to selling phone books (after being advised by publishers to "try diet books–those sell") is overcome by the magic of the café and realizes he is a real writer. For me, the magical café was the NWP. It reminded me that not only am I a teacher, mother, wife, gardener, and baker of pies—I am a writer. I started small with poetry, and now have a novel "pending acceptance" at Scholastic—none of which could have happened without the encouragement and support (writing groups and retreats!) from the NWP.

Writing and the "Math Guy"

I've never had to hide my loathing or fear of writing, for I am a "math guy." No joke, a real live walking talking math person is in your midst. My fear and disdain for writing has not only been tolerated, but it has been celebrated as an essential component to my math worshipping community. That (writing) is something they (you all) do. We are logical, sequential, find beauty in patterns. You, well, you . . . I don't know. We'll never understand why you do it or why, why you would ever want to do that. Luckily you all are patient. You all are accepting. You all know that we are all part of you all. Whisper is spot on . . . I am still a whisperer . . . with a screamer just waiting to escape.

They made me feel like a writer, which allowed me to believe I was a writer.

Writing for the Rural Voice

NWP has inspired me to become a writer for the Rural voice. It has helped show me the importance of giving my rural students a space to express their voice—a voice of struggle, a voice of achievement, a voice for their culture and way of life. A voice where they can express their goals, dreams, and hopes of the future. NWP has shown me that my Rural voice matters and that I have something to say—we may be small, but we matter—our words are steeped in love, religion, family, and tradition—our voices are the ones that set the history of this nation in motion.

From "Sage on the Stage" to "Guide on the Side"

NWP helped me become a better teacher by making me a student again. NWP took me from the sage on the stage to the guide on the side. Never has such an oxymoronic situation paid forth such dividends. I build confidence by being uncertain. I gain self-esteem by looking at my failures as a teacher. I cultivate a love of writing while loathing the process at times. I make lasting friends from perfect strangers in less time than it takes me to write this rambling. I scaffold my leadership by following in others' footsteps. NWP makes me "better" by making it OK to start off as "bad."

Keep Asking Questions

On my best days, in my best teaching moments, I have felt like a master teacher, but it's always followed by the other possibilities. . . . what if I had . . . instead of . . . ? Maybe I could have reached Sam if only I had . . . ? The NWP has helped me know that it's alright to not have all the answers as long as you keep asking the questions. And that's what has allowed me to become the teacher-leader I am today.

In the Trenches of Education Together

I would rather walk through hot coals than disappoint the teachers in our project. So, at midnight, the grant, the proposal, the report are tackled—all which I hate to write. But without which teachers' important voices would not be heard. More important than the alphabet I struggle to put on paper is the need for a positive comment, a gentle nudge, an encouragement—all framed heart to heart, teacher to teacher—whispered around and through me as I tackle one more report that sustains our work.

The Confirmation of Community

NWP has helped me find a voice by giving me a group of like-minded colleagues who value voices. So often we are told by others that we are valued professionals, but we are not treated that way. Here at NWP, words are matched by beliefs and actions that confirm the talk: we are not just teachers, writers, and leaders, we are professionals whose thoughts, opinions, and experiences matter. It is not a complicated message; it is merely one that needs to be confirmed by its own community.

I would rather walk through hot coals than disappoint the teachers in our project.

Write and It Will Come

When it gets to "crunch" time in the classroom and loud administrative voices are chanting "the test, the test, the test," I hear my heart and the voice of NWP saying "write—it will come," and every time it does. I have found my own calling to share this with others. Through my work with Puget Sound WP, I have the good fortune every summer to find new teachers and share with them the brilliance and constancy of NWP.

Writing Matters

NWP reminds me that writing matters and critical thinking is at the heart of it. I get to experience what my students experience—the terror, vacuum, excitement of capturing an idea. NWP sneaks in quietly supporting, informing, encouraging. NWP reminds me I can do it. No one will laugh. Someone will offer guidance, a direction, the perfect question to open up the blind spot. My voice is needed. My voice matters.

From Anger to Love

Sitting down at our first writers group I remember anger seeping from my pores. Why did I have to share my writing with these strangers? Who did they think they were? I came to the invitational summer institute to learn to teach writing, not to become a "writer." But I did it. Not because I wanted to, but because I had to! Yet over the course of the next two weeks that writing group became my favorite part of the institute. I looked forward to it, longed for it, and needed it every day. I was surprised people liked my writing. Even more important, they asked about it and encouraged me to continue. They made me feel like a writer, which allowed me to believe I was a writer.

Everything Is a Writing Opportunity

After the invitational summer institute ended, my world opened up and I saw a realm of possibility I never knew was possible. Suddenly, everything was a writing opportunity, not just the initial ten minutes of freewriting to begin my class. My students write in order to organize their thoughts before a discussion. This is a beautiful and profound exercise that seems so obvious, yet I never considered it before my summer institute. I am a writer myself, and NWP has empowered me to write every day. I started my own website so I could share with others: . Most of all, I understand that students must be given opportunities to write in class because they never will on their own. In order to better their relationship with writing, we must provide fun, safe, intelligent opportunities to combat the antiquated and idiotic use of writing as punishment.

Opening Up Wounds

The NWP came to me at a time when I was recovering from losing my home, school, church, and community in Hurricane Katrina as well as breaking from many aspects of my life that were all I had known. I was ready to heal, to open up wounds, and give a voice to my pain. Ruie Pritchard of the CAWP at NC State told me of the WP. In the summer of 2009, I walked into the basement of Poe Hall and was able to tear open myself, operate on areas that were raw and mangled, and heal all in one setting. I heard. I was heard. NWP was my healing place and all that I learned there that summer continues to resonate in me and through my writing as well as in my practices with students and other teachers.

I'm Gonna Turn into a Chicken

This past summer at the ISI for Cherokee Rose did change me. My frustrations with teaching writing had hit a wall. I had done all the "right stuff" but didn't enjoy writing, didn't want to write, and surely didn't want to be a writing teacher. It was during the ISI when the ridiculous thought crossed my mind. My cohorts were discussing chicken recipes and my mind wandered to my husband's predictable comment after every chicken meal we had: "I'm gonna turn into a chicken!" Suddenly, from nowhere, I thought I should write a story about chicken. Absurd idea, right? I agree. Don't worry about hurting my feelings. But the point was that the thought crossed my mind that I should be the one to write the story. Me!?! So I'm thinking like a writer, and my classroom now has a teacher who acknowledges how something you hated can be something you never expected to touch your life, to change your life, and to allow you to touch the lives of those around you.

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