History of a Writing Project teacher.
Fall 2001 I sit in a very small chair rubbing hard at a splotch of blue paint on my palm to stop myself from crying. It is my first year teaching. The principal has just given me and the other six kindergarten teachers a paper with names and rows of numbers. The names of the teachers whose classes had the lowest scores on the first quarter assessment are highlighted. Since I can’t seem to raise my chin, I keep staring at “Manship,” all yellowed.
Summer Institute, July 2004 I sit in a circle in the English Faculty Lounge with Tony Iannone, Dryw Freed and others. Cindy Urbanski is reading for the second time, Girl by Jamaica Kincaid. As she reads my heart beats a little faster as she gets toward the line, “ you mean to say that after all you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won’t let near the bread?“ This is an image explosion, so when Cindy gets to the word that I chose to write about, I will interrupt with my freewriting. Before she gets there, though, someone else interrupts at “men who don’t know you very well,” and I get caught up in this other idea, and I furiously draw a line through one of my sentences and redirect the words with an arrow. And then at “kind of woman,” I speak into the text with my own thoughts.
July 2006 I draw a spiraling, curving line in my daybook as Tony Scott talks about Discourse with a big D and heteroglossia, marked in my drawing with little arrows. I have joined a group of UNC Charlotte Writing Project teachers in an Urban Sites institute. There have been names and unfamiliar terms everywhere: Bakhtin, Gee, Foucault, postmodernism, third space. The important but illusive language swirls around me and my drawing jumbles away. I nudge Sally Griffin beside me, and show her my graphite whirlwind. She laughs and tells me I need to borrow her copy of The Dialogic Imagination. Bakhtin is worth figuring out.
Fall Writing Retreat 2006 Pen waiting, I sit in the mountains on a writing retreat with other UNC Charlotte Writing Project teachers. I decide to write about something that happened at school:
Jonita called me “Manship” for the first two days of school. I liked that
small difference in her. Now she calls me Mrs. Manship, like the other
kids. I sort of liked being titleless for Jonita. I wonder if I changed
in her eyes when the classroom culture told her to add Mrs.
Jonita came to our first open house with her mother, grandmother, aunt and
sister. So many women in her family. She was assertive right away. When
I shook her hand, she said, “Manship, what are we going to do in here?”
Somewhere between reading into the listening silence of the Nu Wray Inn sitting room and hearing Lil Brannon talk about the Manship story to think with all of us about this idea of third space we had been playing with, I was transformed into an active contributor and a collaborator in the conversation.
Fall 2008 Cindy and I gather our daybooks, extra handouts, empty fruit platter and head into the hallway just as classes are changing at an urban middle school, with which our site partners for professional development work. I am jostled and bumped by boys taller than me, but eighth grade teacher Sarah, smaller by a bit shoves her way through with impressive command. She turns and looks at me with similar force, “What happens when an administrator walks through the door and kids are spread out freewriting? How do I justify that with the NCSCOS, the EOC, the PEPs, and the LEAs?” I nod as she talks. I search for a question that will push Sarah, but not distance her. Since I have begun working more closely with our site’s professional development group, we seem to face this kind of moment often. The questions about authority, choice, and room for play seem to be just as messy in middle school as in kindergarten.
January 2011 Sitting in San Antonio with fellow resource creators for National Writing Project’s Digital Is project, I have spent the weekend writing and talking with others about my first grade students and what happened when they became video ethnographers. Being here I see and am part of at a national level the same kind of relationships that have sustained my teaching locally in Charlotte. I am able to see how the model of the National Writing Project and the network of people and ideas across states has been a part of all the work that happens locally at our site.
March 2011 I am sitting here tonight revising a bit the piece of writing that I will use tomorrow at our UNC Charlotte Writing Project Spring Conference to introduce our keynote speakers, Youth Roots. I have been filling up inboxes of teachers around Charlotte for months, talking about how I found out about Youth Roots last spring in Portland at the National Writing Project Urban Sites Conference. Getting to be part of a session with Youth Roots there, really changed my thinking about what professional development might be like as youth and teachers really collaborate and inquire together. Fellow UNCC WPer, Cindy was as inspired as I was, so at the break we beelined it over to G. Reyes, Youth Roots program director, and while we just missed the last CD for sale that day, we were able to start a plan for bringing Youth Roots to Charlotte that is being realized here tomorrow.
I have so many more Writing Project moments that have shaped that young teacher who sat very alone with her name highlighted in her first year teaching. These are stories about people, the people who have moved my thinking and my practice so many times over the years. I am the writer, the teacher and the thinker I am today because of the National Writing Project. At the conference with Youth Roots earlier this week, G. Reyes talked about being in this thing for the long haul. Writing Project is all about the long haul, too. The long haul of figuring out the kind of people we are and are becoming.