For an outsider to look at my life on paper they would not be impressed or even want to switch places. It is not pretty. It is better than some and worse than others but it is mine. In spite of what has been, I continue to move forward. And one of the most vital driving forces is writing.
As a writer I came by it naturally. The love of words instilled in me from an early age of lap sitting and story tellers. Arms enveloped around me, snuggled in just the right spots, while someone read or told a story with all the voices and dramatic flair the story required. Leading me into learning to hold the pencil just so and form my letters all pretty. Combining those letters into words at Tuesday school where my Aunt Ora taught me how to write and read before I turned four. It was then that I knew I would be a teacher. Aunt Ora told me I had the handwriting of a teacher.
As I progressed through school, all of my language arts/English teachers were always my favorites. They all fostered the love of reading and writing. They all challenged my thinking, broadened my reading horizons, questioned the phrasing of my poetry and journaling.
As a secondary English education major at the University of South Florida I was fortunate enough to fall under the tutelage of Dr. Joan Kaywell. Not only was she totally immersed in her craft she expected no less from you as well –no matter what your level of learning was at the time. She was involved in the upper echelons of the National Council of Teachers of English and the Florida Council of Teachers of English. She expected her students to join their professional organizations as students to take advantage of the opportunities available. Kaywell also got me involved in the Florida Council Teachers of English where I served as Executive Secretary for six years. In those six years I had the joy of hearing many authors present at state and national conferences and feed my need to write and pass that desire on to my students. She was my advisor and we became quick allies in the English education field. I was an older student having returned to college as a single parent after a failed marriage. I was commuting from Fort Myers to Tampa to take classes, working full time, and raising—with the help of my parents—a two year old. She began a pilot program for secondary education majors so we could have a full year multi-stage internship similar to that of elementary teachers. I was in the first round of the pilot program and was placed in my alma mater with a supervising teacher that was another blessing in my life.
Ruth Rigby was a National Writing Project Fellow from the Florida State University Summer Invitational Institute. She was an American Literature teacher at Fort Myers High School and my supervising teacher for the full year internship. Her ability to get students so far into the writing process with their thinking that they had no option but to finish the writing to see what they had to say, mesmerized me as I watched her the first few weeks of my internship. Students did not balk at doing a journal. Students didn’t groan at the mention of an essay assignment because they never heard the phrase until after most of the essay was crafted through other creative avenues without their being aware. Students didn’t avoid the reading assignments because they wanted to experience another writer’s craft. This is how a NWP teacher operates; stealth mode instilling a love of writing as a writer not as a result of mandate or discipline.
As a result of having Rigby as my supervising teacher, I was invited to attend the Summer Invitational Institute at Florida State University during the summer of 1989. I was the youngest attendee and had the shortest teaching career at zero years. Five glorious weeks immersed in writing with other teacher- writers, reading about writing, experiencing a true writer’s workshop with our personal writing filled the days and nights of those five weeks. But let’s not forget the ultimate assignment: to pull together the latest in theory and practice and present a best practice complete with student exemplars and presenting to them to the other 20+ much more seasoned teachers certainly was baptism by fire. But what a way to go! For those lucky enough to have attended a National Writing Project Summer Invitational Institute they know just how life changing it can be and what metamorphosis takes place in the depth of your whole being.
The transformation drove me to stay involved in NWP in various ways. I became a presenter for the district staff development department, for the Lee Council Teachers of English, for beginning of year or mid-year in-service. I worked with district level administrators twice to write a grant to secure our own National Writing Project site and finally succeeded with the approval of the NWP @ Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Florida. I served as the Co-Director for the FGCU site for the first three years and helped compile the anthology. Having worked with Dr. Patricia Waccholz and Dr. Lois Christenson was an awesome experience in how to establish a site that will follow and foster the established precedent that NWP set forth in 1974, all while maintaining the love of writing and forging forward.
And now there is the blessing of Kevin. I have gone from a four year old with pretty writing through wonderful fostering teachers to zero years of teaching to the zeroes of cyberspace and this wonderful man who is guiding me now through all the technological ways of getting my writing out to wherever the ones and zeroes land. He is helping me build an audience to hear my thoughts that hopefully won’t result in the nothingness of zero but the somethingness of ones—one reader at a time. I am so blessed!