We hear it often, “That was one of the best times of my life!” People announce it after vacations, celebrations of monumental events, evenings sitting around with friends enjoying conversation and laughter (sometimes under the influence of a few brews), and activities where adults transform into children again. But, how often do we hear people say it after spending a week at work? And if we do hear the proclamation after that situation, how often do we judge the person to be a workaholic or are we tempted to say, “Get a life.” But why? Why can’t work be one of the best times of our lives? Why do most people look at me strangely when I tell them the work I do for NWP is one of the best times of my life even if it takes me away from my family?
National Writing Project work certainly is not easy, but maybe that’s part of making something a “best time of my life.” It’s the challenge. Late last summer, NWP asked me to spend four-and-a-half consecutive days in a room reading, analyzing and writing about other teachers’ student writing. That’s right, we didn’t look at even a single paper of my own students’ writing. I love being in the classroom with my 8th graders (yes, 8th graders), so why was I willing to leave them this past week to do more of what I do as an English teacher? Everyone in the NWP knows, but how do I explain it to others, including my students? To say I’m passionate about teaching and learning works but is superficial. Cliché’. To say I’m honored NWP Research and Evaluation staff think I can add to the work, is an understatement.
This past week, in two small hotel conference rooms, NWP staff and Teacher Consultants gathered to build capacity. The experts in the room, those I cling to in hope of being more like them, know and expect those of us less experienced, to teach them something too. That’s a piece of the challenge on my part, to add to the conversation even if I struggle to find the academic vocabulary to do so. It is the belief they have in all of us, regardless of our experience, to learn and grow with them, not just from them. Not one of the more veteran staff members or TCs is there to only impart their knowledge; we are all there to learn from each other.
I tell my students, “Our classroom is similar to a gym, but instead of our bodies sweating, our brains sweat.* That’s exactly what my brain did this week, but instead of dropping pounds (we read, we eat, we read, we eat), I built brain muscles. During this past week, I worked on a shared computer with two amazing, intelligent, experienced educators. They taught me to predicate commentary. They shared their own struggle as we mined our vocabulary to explain exactly what we saw in the student writing. Then in true NWP style, they paired me up with another less-experienced, but still amazing, educator to peer conference and fine-tune our individually-written commentary. As Bob and I analyzed the student writing, predicated, and wordsmithed our confidence in our own knowledge and expertise grew. It’s that feeling, the feeling of growing, of learning, and helping each other, that is one of the philosophies of the NWP since its inception. It’s one of the reasons participating in any NWP event is, “One of the best times of my life.”