I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, from the age of 5 on. I never wavered and easily chose my college, Molloy, because they were known for having an excellent education department and they were gracious enough to grant me a full scholarship. My favorite courses were my education ones in college and when I was hired to teach 6th grade in the weeks after graduation, I was beyond excited to actually get to be a TEACHER.
Then, reality hit.....rather hard. Teaching was far more difficult, exhausting, heart-breaking, than it ever was all those times I "played school" in my bedroom with far more agreeable stuffed animal students. Parents yelled at me. A student threatened me. I felt alone and unsure and I worked ALL the time, arriving hours before school started, staying hours after school ended and then working at home. I was never done with my work and felt like I was sinking.
After having spent my entire life working towards being a teacher, after one year in the classroom, I was not sure if teaching really was for me. I remembered when I was student teaching, a creative and wise teacher had told me about a group she was part of, the Long Island Writing Project (LIWP). That year, they were holding a Summer Invitational Institute, which was an 18 day, 90 hour course where teachers from all grade levels and subject areas would come together to reflect on themselves as writers, their classroom practice, current research, and share a lesson with each other. I knew I needed help if I were to stay a teacher, because it was clear I had a lot to learn. I applied, was accepted, and thus started my love affair with the Long Island Writing Project.
That first summer, the course was held in the T building, known as "the Tower" at Nassau Community College, on the top floor. On the first day, I boarded the elevator and rose up, not sure what to expect from this group and if they could help me find my way as a teacher. I was greeted by friendly faces, who welcomed me in and showed me to the coffee and bagels. The tables were arranged in a circle, we made name tags, and then the day began. Always, we began with a "shared reading", where someone would read to the group from a picture book, excerpt from a novel, a news article, a poem. After the reading, we wrote. We wrote about anything that caught our interest and nothing you chose to write was wrong. We would share our writing, and I was amazed how one piece of shared text could elicit such incredibly different, beautiful pieces of writing from each person. The reading, writing, and sharing helped our community grow around these pieces of text and our comfort with each other grew day by day as we let more and more of ourselves out through the writing.
The group was diverse. Some seasoned and experienced educators, including the nicest man named Chuck who had been an administrator before it gave him a heart attack and he knew he needed to go back to the classroom. Others were just starting out, like me. We met in grade level groups to plan the lesson we would share with the larger group and we met in writing groups to read the pieces we were writing and planning on bringing to publication at the end of our course.
To call the experience "life-changing" sounds cliche, but it was. I found a group of teachers who loved reading, writing, teaching, talking about teaching, and who were just so kind. This summer is the reason I stayed a teacher and tried again with a heart full of hope and faith that I could do the job. I stayed connected to the LIWP and in the summer of 2004, I interned as a co-facilitator, now getting to be one of the organizers of that amazing summer course. I've often found that experiences are hard to duplicate, so I was doubtful that I would have the same inspirational experience. Wouldn't you know, it was fabulous once again to be with the LIWP and a new set of teachers! The same magic happened. The same type of community developed around this love of writing, reading, and teaching.
I facilitated the Summer Invitational Institute for 5 summers and the teachers I met are among the best I know. I was a demo coach in 2010, the year I was pregnant with my son, and still, the experience was transformational, the teachers I met still counted among my friends. This summer, I am stepping back into the facilitator role. Times have changed much, our hours are less and I know technology will have a greater starring role, as well as some conversation about "the tests." But there will be reading. And there will be writing. And there will be sharing. And I know that I am about to be part of a community that will renew me again.
This morning, I am meeting my LIWP friends. One of our best and brightest, Evelyn, is going to share her strategies for making the Common Core more alive, using authentic writing experiences. Yes, on a Saturday morning, we are meeting to read, write, and think about teaching. We are that kind of group, who finds joy and energy in those conversations. The Long Island Writing Project is my professional home away from home and, as the saying goes, there is no place like home.