I’m about to leave for my vacation. So today, I am giving you a guest post by my friend and colleague, Deanna DeBrine Mascle. She directs the Morehead Writing Project and teaches writing at Morehead State University (KY). Her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric is from Texas Tech University. In addition to teaching, she has worked as a professional writer for newspapers, magazines, and web publications and is a published novelist. You can follow her on Twitter (@deannamascle) and on her blog Mascle Metawriting. Her research interests include organizational communication, agency and efficacy, and digital rhetoric. I asked her to write this post because, finally, I wanted to share some good news, even if it isn’t mine.
This has been a hard year for teachers at every level from preschool to university. I know a lot of teachers in a lot of different teaching situations and I have never heard so much discouragement and exhaustion. I am not certain why, mostly I’ve been fighting too hard to keep my own head above water, but I suspect it is a perfect storm of ongoing national, state, and local budget crises which have strained, or even broken, programs everywhere combined with an ongoing focus on assessment to the detriment of learning then blended to a froth in a hot political climate that has raised teacher-bashing to a new level.
I know personally this has been one of my most difficult years in this profession. I have felt used and abused with no end in sight. The last time I felt this discouraged and angry I was ready to become a Wal-Mart greeter. Unfortunately, in this economy I’m not sure that career move is even open to me. The real tragedy is that my story is not unique. It is not even unique at my institution or in my department. But that is not what I wanted to write about. Reading about my depression and anger will do nothing except make you depressed and angry too, and chances are, if you are involved in education, that you are already depressed and angry without my help.
Instead, what I want is to give you hope. We have had crises in our educational systems before and we will again. However, there will still be amazing teachers and awesome students creating magic in classrooms in defiance of budget cuts, government mandates, and political machinations. I know this is true, because, against all odds, I witnessed the creation of magic this summer thanks to the National Writing Project. I have worked with more than 20 teachers from kindergarten through college – on- and off-line – as well as worked with more than 30 young writers from fourth- through eighth-grade. I have witnessed the magical transformation to writer in both young(er) and old(er) writers and experiencing that magic first-hand has reminded me why I do this job for such little pay and recognition.
I have an 11-year-old son who just completed fifth-grade. That means he faced a gauntlet of testing here in Kentucky and this, combined with constant administrative upheaval including three principals in one year, left scars on him I am not sure he will ever recover from as a student. I know his view of formal education has been forever damaged despite the heroic efforts of his teachers. However, although he spent the year focusing on-demand writing, he still is interested enough in writing to create a blog and keep a journal. This is in part because writing camp is healing the damage created by school. During the Morehead Writing Project’s Global Graffiti: Writing for Change summer writing camps, young writers discovered the power of rhetoric to change the world in both small and large ways. They created blogs, web pages, and wrote page after passionate page about topics as wide ranging as factory farms and art. They wrote, they shared, they published and most important of all – they believe they are writers. So yes, dear discouraged teacher, there is still hope for our students. The system has not entirely crushed their spirits yet.
That is certainly reason for hope, but as a parent and an educator I was truly inspired by the teachers I have been privileged to work with this summer. All across the country, at the nearly 200 National Writing Project sites, teachers willingly, even eagerly, gave up a significant part of their summer to participate in the life-altering experience of an NWP Summer Institute. The goal of the National Writing Project is to improve the teaching of writing and the Summer Institute is built around that goal. First, and foremost, we focus on writing because of our fundamental belief that a teacher who writes – who is a writer – is a better teacher of writing. For the past four years, I have researched the power of the Summer Institute to transform teachers into writers and I have come to believe strongly in the magic of the Summer Institute community to change teachers and their classrooms. Just as the young writers did in camp, we write, we share, we publish, and we become writers; however, we also model and share lessons and strategies as well as research in a room of fellow educators. We share across grade levels – from kindergarten through college – and content areas – from foreign languages to social studies – and the energy in the room is electric. This is the future of education in America.
I believe in magic and I have hope.