A WRITER'S WIT
Everywhere I go, I'm asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a best seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.
Born March 25, 1925
Gray's Monumental Project
James Gray, founder of the National Writing Project, writes of his many experiences with teachers who are also writers. The idea he develops is to send teacher/writers back to their classrooms to teach writing, not just English grammar. The earlier part of the book—filled with personal anecdotes about his own development as writer, anecdotes about teachers—seems more interesting than later sections about the political nuts and bolts of the organization’s formation.
Some nuggets from James Gray:
“I had thrived in Miss Popham’s class because she was in charge of her own curriculum. She had a wonderful idea and freedom to teach as she wished. I still think hers is the best way to organize a literature class in high school if the goal is to encourage wide reading and the love of books. My own best teaching in high school reflected my attempts to replicate the spirit of that 1943 class” (2).
“When teaching or learning new skills like reading Shakespeare or writing well, a teacher needs to keep at it. One way we learn to read and write is by reading and writing regularly and frequently” (15).
“This was a teachers-teaching-teachers idea, rare for its time  and transparently sensible. Effective and experienced classroom teachers, rather than professors, did the job of teaching and supervising beginning student teachers. I accepted, and every year for the next fourteen years I taught fifteen beginning English teachers how to teach and visited them in their student teaching classes. Year after year, I had groups of gifted young teachers who, I always thought, could have chosen any career, but chose teaching because teaching is what they had always wanted to do” (25).
“I was thinking that I should have listened to my parents and gone to law school. The thought of facing thirty-four sixth-grade students on Monday without the slightest notion of what I was going to teach was terrifying. In frustration, I kicked at a rock partially buried in the mud. Out scurried several small green crabs. One half-dollar-size specimen picked the edge of my shoe as its next hiding place. I carefully kneeled down without moving my foot to take a better look. The obtuse angle of the setting sunlight caused the crab to light up. She was blowing phosphorescent bubbles from her gill slits. I crouched in the mud absolutely transfixed. Each cell of that animal was illuminated in flame. I momentarily lost my breath . . . as if I had been jolted to consciousness. I knew then that if I could share this type of feeling with my students, I would be teaching them something worthwhile” (74).
“During the summer institutes, BAWP [Bay Area Writing Project] works to maintain a balance between knowledge gained through practice and knowledge gleaned through research and literature in the field. As teachers prepare for their demonstrations, they are asked to describe not only what they do but why they do it” (95).
“From the outset, the writing project adopted a different take on inservice. We believed that if school reform was to be effective, inservice programs must be conducted by the folks on the ground. Classroom teachers are the linchpin of reform. School reform can’t happen just by passing laws, publishing mandates, requiring courses, or reading one more book. But real school reform can happen when teachers come together regularly throughout their careers to explore practices that effective teachers have already proven are successful in their classrooms. Inservice of this sort equals professional development, two terms that, alas, have not always been synonymous” (103).
I was heartened by this book even though I left teaching some time ago. Gray helps to reinforce the idea that I may have done a fairly good job of teaching. If nothing more, his book helps me to see that teaching composition was not a waste of time. Instead, it may be the most important thing that I did with my life, topping, in terms of consequence, anything that I’ve ever written.
WEDNESDAY: MORE PHOTOGRAPHY FROM YELLOW HOUSE CANYON