Thunder rolled. The lightning stuck. And I woke up 40 minutes before my alarm was set to go off. Woke up widely with the same giddiness I feel upon waking on a party/big event day, or a painting/redecorating my house day, or new-project-that-you-know-is-going-to-rock-at-school day. Why — in the name of Garth Brooks — why?
I just wanted to sleep for 40 more minutes, but my brain turned on and immediately stopping, planting, and pointing like an Irish Setter, I was focused on the list I had made the previous day… You are about to read the best top 10 list (This is not the list that woke me up; keep reading.) of reasons why you should take part in any National Writing Project Invitational Institute. (Find one here!)
10) Remembering what it feels like to be a student. The chairs are really uncomfortable, sitting still is really hard, and listening and focusing simultaneously for any length of time is also really hard.
9) Having lunch out with other adults. It takes a while in the summer to feel again like a real professional instead of an overworked automaton, scarfing down your warm, soggy, sandwich while waiting for the copy machine and the bathroom-ready to dart for whichever one opens up first.
8) Finally having a moment reserved for your brain to mellow and think and just write. A moment to just write so that you can figure out what you really think about something after so many months of reacting instantaneously, almost instinctively.
7) Having access to your department. If multiple people from your department or building attend the institute, the time you spend at the institute while everyone’s brains are creatively tuned in, can be spent talking about the things that REALLY matter in your classrooms: teaching and learning.
6) Solving classroom problems. The institute offers fresh perspectives using your creative brain that turns on once the juices are flowing from any of the many writing opportunities that present themselves each day.
5) Walking away with so many solutions! At the institute, without even meaning to, any or all of your classroom problems could be solved. Further, you will hear viable, helpful, solutions to problems you didn’t even know you had!
4) Laughing and crying together. You might write a brilliant parody of Romeo and Juliet as a “log report” and have everyone in the room understand, appreciate, and pay you for your labors with all-out laughter. Or. You might write a poem for your students that you cannot read all the way through because you are silently sobbing.
3) Meeting, for real, some of your colleagues. Working on your words offers plenty of opportunities to recognize that some of your colleagues are a lot more like you than you thought they were. Sharing your writing in a room together is a great way to break down “walls.”
2) Learning from teachers who are intelligent, passionate, and driven writers.
1) Losing sleep. Stay with me; all will be made clear. The reason that my brain turned on and immediately stopped, planted, and pointed like an Irish Setter, was that I was thinking about the list I had made the previous day during my CRWP Institute. The list consisted of the many writing projects I had half started, and the others that were newly assigned to me for the duration of the Summer Institute. Apparently, as of that striking moment, I really wanted to finish them all. As a busy wife/mom/English teacher/yearbook adviser, I always have some writing projects lying about that never seem to get the attention they need and deserve to find a comfortable place in the known wide world.
Because of the intelligent, passionate, and driven writers who were chugging along in their own writing, and offering critiques and celebrations of mine, my lack of motivation to finish my projects was magically transformed into a burning buzzing desire (think that first scene in Transformers when Bumble Bee changes…) The CRWP made me fly from my snuggly cocoon and head to my laptop on a rainy morning when I should have just wanted to stay in bed and recuperate from the school year.
That is the number one reason why you should sign up for a Writing Institute — to lose sleep.
And, also to gain: confidence as a writer, a deeper appreciation of your colleagues, and a deeper understanding of the art of teaching writing.
Tara Donzell is an English teacher at Cadillac Junior High School where she teaches mostly eighth grade Language Arts. She is also the Cadillac High School and Cadillac Junior High School yearbook adviser. Tara is a big reader and is working on becoming a bigger writer so she can “walk the talk” with her students and workshop right along with them whenever possible.
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