March 19, 2015
I love you, Nancie Atwell. You were one of my first mentors from afar that taught me about writing and inspired me on my path to be a writing teacher and a teacher of teachers. I remember hearing about Writers’ Workshop from you and from other early workshop advocates when I spent the summer in Berkeley, Calefornia in the early 1980’s learning at one of the first National Writing Projects. I remember how this learning changed my teaching and thinking about literacy learning forever. I remember how “choice” in writing formed my thinking and how thinking about myself as a writer became critical in my own understanding of what it meant to be a teacher of writing. I remember learning about poetry from your books, and back then, when I was afraid of the genre, your generous lessons, taught me, not only how to teach poetry, but how to write and read and love this genre. I thank you, as one of my mentors, for this inspiration. I celebrate with you as you are honored for a much-deserved award as a teacher and as a leader in our field.
Yesterday I watched a video of an interview you had on CNN when you said, when asked whether you would counsel a young person into our profession, that you did not think this was the time for young, innovative, creative people to enter into our profession unless they would go into a private school, because schools in the private sector did not have the constraints of the Common Core Learning Standards and the assessments that go along with those standards.
I respectfully disagree with you, Nancie. Now, more than ever we NEED, our children NEEDS, young, creative men and women to go into the public sector of education. We need young adults who are passionate and who have a deep belief system about the power of education that is built on choice and the motivation to love reading and writing that grows from reading and writing in many ways across a school year. We need young leaders who believe that literacy is a pathway to liberty and that want to mentor our children as they grow competently and confidently on their pathway to becoming literate adults.
I understand. The Common Core Learning Standards are weighted down by an evaluation process that unfairly assesses teachers. Assessment is often too often and high stakes enough that pressure seems insurmountable. I worry about the stress that both teacher and child endure in preparing for “the test”. The flaws in this system are many.
And I choose to work in this system to cause change so that an unbalanced movement toward “one-size-fits-all” and “one-test-measures-all” can be rectified and brought back to a place of balance. So that schools can be a place where the love of learning is nurtured and all students can be recognized as unique individuals.
The writing and reading that you speak about in your school is a lovely model that is a beacon to all of us who love all that you have had to offer in the area of reading and writing. I must say, I see teachers and classes in many contexts through my current educational roles, and literacy and workshop is being nurtured in public schools across the country, despite "the test". Today I worked with teachers as we looked at information texts for second graders and had a deep and rich discussion about ways to develop this kind of writing for students. We talked about the motivation for some as they wrote non-fiction texts and how narrative texts motivate others. We spent the afternoon delving into poetry. Teachers were writing poetry and learning about themselves as writers as well as developing their teacher of writing toolbox so that they could motivate young writers to create poetry of their own. I witness this kind of passionate work for students almost daily. I am privileged to be a part of working with many teachers—teachers teaching pre-school through graduate school, all passionate about literacy and all with a deep desire to create environments and instruction where their students also ignite in passion around literacy.
These same teachers muddle through the demands of an assessment system that measures and names “success” in a way that is, at times, trivial and demeaning to both child and adult. They do it because they know there is nothing trivial and demeaning when it comes to educating a child.
Nancie, we are not on different ends of a continuum here. We both believe in the importance of literacy and choice. And we see fatal flaws in the assessment system our schools and politicians have created that do not nurture learning or the child. Your answer to young people who might heed the call to education is to stay away from the public sector because of this pressure. My answer, actually my plea, is to enter in. We need young, innovative, creative teachers to step up to the plate and help lead. We need their ideas, we need their passion and most especially we need their courage to help us create schools of balance, schools where all children learn and love learning, schools that celebrate and measure learning in meaningful ways for the students and the school community.
I am so glad you won this award to put the spotlight on instruction that is best for children. You are a role model for all of us. Well done, Nancie. Thank you for all that you have done for education, in the private and the public sector alike.
Below is the link to the CNN Nancie Atwell interview referred to in my letter:
Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for dedicating space and time for teachers and teachers of literacy to come together to share ideas, practice and life experience.