National Writing Project

NWP Teachers at Work: Micah Lauer

Summary: Micah Lauer explains the transformational role that the Boise State Writing Project's Invitational Summer Institute played at a critical junction in his life, setting him on a path towards becoming a great educator.


I had been contentedly teaching for nine years, but I had a yearning to become a great educator. The Writing Project had to be the right path.

Critical junctions, where travelers experience the interplay of risk and reward, the known and unknown, define journeys. The Lewis and Clark expedition has always captivated me for this reason. One remarkable story from the expedition took place in central Montana. On June 2nd, 1805, the expedition encountered a river confluence where the roiling milky waters of the Marias River comingled with the more rapid and clear waters of the upper Missouri River. The captains had a substantial decision to make: continue north up the familiar trail of milky water that had characterized their journey, or embark south into a different type of river.

I found myself at a similar junction in 2013. I had been contentedly teaching for nine years. While I could have simply stayed the course, I had a yearning. I wanted to become a great educator. Yet I wasn't sure what that could look like. I needed a new path. Two colleagues of mine, teacher consultants with the Boise State Writing Project (BSWP), encouraged me to venture in an unfamiliar direction. At their behest, I applied for the BSWP Invitational Summer Institute (ISI).

At the Marias River confluence, Lewis and Clark hedged a calculated bet. They understood that the clear swift water and rounded cobbles of the south fork were indicators of a mountain river, which would lead them toward the Rocky Mountains and closer to their goal. I recognized in my colleagues, Ramey and Serena, many valuable shared characteristics: student-centric decision-making, highly effective teaching strategies, collaborative approaches to planning, and careful and considerate ways of listening and responding to others. The Writing Project had to be the right path.

That summer, the ISI unfolded as an intense time of productive struggle and great professional and personal growth. My love for writing, which had lain dormant too long, was rekindled. I began writing again and have since authored a number of conservation-oriented articles for a several fly-fishing magazines, a pro-teacher op-Ed for the state's largest newspaper, and I co-authored an article published in an academic journal.

That next school year I served my students and colleagues with renewed energy and a new sense of purpose. My students inquired more deeply and frequently, sought answers to their own questions, applied knowledge in service of problem solving, and ventured into the field with scientists to conduct valuable fieldwork. I began working alongside colleagues as a thinking partner, helping them name principles of their practice and make important shifts in their thinking. As a member of my school's leadership team, I helped shape building professional development goals. I was named my school's teacher of the year.

Last summer I was recognized as a state finalist for the Presidential Awards for Excellent in Math and Science Teaching. I led statewide professional development for science teachers sponsored by the Idaho State Department of Education. Through my involvement with the NWP Intersections grant program I have helped build a partnership to explore the intersections of formal and informal learning spaces and literacy and science. Our grant team has served students and teachers in Idaho, traveled to Denver and Philadelphia to collaborate with cohort members, and presented at a conference in Montreal, Quebec. Most recently, I have been involved in developing and leading a science-focused ISI for BSWP. This spring, I was invited to the White House and recognized alongside great educators from around the United States. The Writing Project has shaped my trajectory as a teacher.

I frequently reflect on the critical junction I navigated in 2013 and the many opportunities the Writing Project has offered. As I wonder about my future journey and junctions yet to come, the Writing Project will undoubtedly be my compass and help me make informed decisions in service of students, fellow educators, and myself.

Micah's story was featured in the 2015 NWP Annual Report.

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