When I became part of the Writing Project in the summer of 2000, I had already been teaching for 25 years. To be honest, I didn’t learn a lot about the teaching of writing that summer. I had been stealing strategies from my colleagues for decades: I attended numerous inservices and conferences and filched ideas I watched other teachers use. But the writing project did help me in two other ways: it taught me to see myself as a writer and it allowed me to establish some connections with people that I admire and care about as teachers and as friends.
Although I had been teaching writing for many years, I had never really done much writing myself. I wrote a thesis for my master’s degree but that was basically a long research paper. The Writing Project forced me to try my hand at writing other genres: poetry, personal essays, journals—so many approaches that I had used with my students but had not really done myself. And then there were the response groups. I was a firm believer in response groups in my own classroom; I used them diligently. But when I was in the position of having my own peers criticize my writing, I finally felt and understood what my students had been experiencing. It was an epiphany for me. After that summer, I shared my own writing challenges with my students and formed a bond with them that I had not had before. I continued to write because I enjoyed it. I even had a few articles published in California English as well as several essays on teaching strategies in various Writing Project publications. I became both a teacher of writing and a writer.
Probably more importantly for me now, I formed some wonderful friendships with Writing Project fellows. These were teachers who enjoyed teaching and were eager to become better teachers, even though many of them were already stellar performers in the classroom. At various workshops and meetings, we shared our successes and failures and formed unbreakable bonds with each other. Some of them taught me to love the game of golf—a sport that I thought I would never enjoy. Now it has become an addiction and I still play weekly with people I met through the Writing Project. On a monthly basis, I meet with other Writing Project folks to discuss contemporary literature. This group was formed because many of us realized that we rarely set aside time to read what was being written now. It has continued for almost a decade. Once I retired, I found myself “doing lunch” and having dinner with the same people I once discussed teaching methodology at inservices. We share stories and photos of our grandchildren and commiserate with our colleagues who are struggling to continue to bring quality education to their students.
I have not been in a classroom for several years but I will never forget my Writing Project summer and its importance in my life for the last fifteen years. I expect to continue to feel its significance for many years to come.