On March 2, all direct funding to the National Writing Project (NWP) was eliminated as part of a Congressional effort to eliminate earmarks – federal funds legislated to support certain programs like the NWP. As a result, Congress has eliminated a program proven to strengthen both teaching and student writing. According to Sharon J. Washington, executive director of the NWP, “This decision puts in grave jeopardy a nationwide network of 70,000 teachers who, through 200 university-based Writing Project sites, provide local leadership for innovation and deliver localized, high-quality professional development to other educators across the country in all states, across subjects and grades. In the last year alone, these leaders provided services to over 3,000 school districts to raise student achievement in writing.”
I could give more examples, but I would be remiss if I didn’t just tell you personally how much I think this stinks. I was part of the Greater Kansas City Writing Project’s Summer Institute in 2010, and it was hands down the BEST professional development experience I’ve ever had. No, let me rephrase that: it was also just one of the best all around experiences I’ve had in general. Period. I’m a preschool teacher with an English degree. I had been taking education classes so that after my own young children went to school, I could teach English at the high school level. I love my job as a preschool teacher, but often felt like I wasn’t using my English degree to its full potential, and as a result, was feeling lost as to where I was heading professionally. Before I attended the 2010 SI, I was dreading going back to my education classes – I was torn because I love working with young children but thought I should be doing more with my expensive undergraduate degree! I entered the 2010 SI thinking I would use whatever I gained from the experience later on as a high school teacher. I could not have been more wrong.
What I gained during the 2010 SI can’t easily be summed up on paper. I walked in on the first day of the SI not knowing if I even wanted to teach anymore and specifically not knowing what, if anything, I could contribute to the group of talented, smart and funny teachers from all over the city. I walked out of there four weeks later knowing I’m doing the right thing, knowing that it’s good and normal to question my motives and my practice, knowing that my very best wondering comes from my wandering.
In the SI, I was allowed to think, to listen, and to reflect. I often wonder what schools in this country would look like if ALL teachers got this kind of opportunity. How often, in the hustle and bustle of day to day teaching, do teachers get opportunities for reflecting on their teaching practice? Part of the beauty of the NWP is that local sites are connected on so many levels. Thanks to the NWP, I have had opportunities to meet teachers from across my state and from across the country. I have gained ideas and had the chance to collaborate with people I would never have met before last summer. I have absolutely become a better teacher, and yes, a better preschool teacher, because of the NWP.
We wouldn’t expect a runner to go into a marathon having never trained properly, just as we can’t expect to win any educational “race” if we are not giving teachers opportunities for the best training skills. How can we expect teachers to do their best work in and out of the classroom if the opportunity to participate in programs like the NWP is eliminated? We must support ongoing teacher training and therefore better student achievement. We must continue to support the National Writing Project.