Centre County Teachers Insert Voices into the Educational Conversation
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A group of Centre County teachers called Centre Teacher-Writers are using the power of writing to contribute to the professional conversation about teaching and to benefit their students.
The group consists of local teachers from all grades across all subject areas who meet monthly outside of school to participate in professional learning by independently writing about various topics, including glimpses into the classroom, educational politics and other school issues. Local teachers including Anne Whitney and Bernard Badiali, associate professors of education, formed the group in 2008 to reinsert teachers’ voices into communities.
“What I hope that teachers take away from the group is that their voices really do matter,” Whitney said.
Whitney has led several research efforts addressing teacher-writers. Her findings indicate that writing is a powerful professional development tool for teachers, but it can be intimidating for many teachers because there are limited outlets for them to express their opinions.
“It’s not just that they don’t have time. It’s not just that they lack confidence. There are structural features to the discourse in our field that exclude teachers,” Whitney said. “However, I think it’s on teachers to do our best to bear witness to what’s happening in our classrooms,”
Whitney’s research also suggests that students benefit from learning with a teacher-writer.
“It’s really hard to teach writing if you’re not a writer. [Teachers] really have to jump in right next to them,” Whitney said. “That’s a practice we know from research is helpful to kids, but not that many teachers use because it’s risky and there’s a lot of vulnerability in it.”
Virginia Squier, a sixth grade teacher at Mount Nittany Middle School and a member of Centre Teacher-Writers, said, “The difference being a member of the group has made in my teaching life is that now I speak to the children from the position of a writer. I do the assignments I ask the kids to do. I commiserate with them when writing is difficult, and I celebrate when we, or I, get something right. By writing in front of my students, I believe I became more real to them—more human. I take risks, the same risks I ask my students to take.”
The teacher-writers also share their writing with each other to get feedback, encouragement and ideas for an outlet for their work, Whitney added. She described the group as a community of writers helping writers.
“A teacher’s day is fast and packed with decisions and talk. There isn’t time built in for teachers to do anything contemplative in a day,” Whitney said. “At a typical meeting, we come together, there are a few minutes of socializing, and then we settle in and write for maybe 20 or 30 minutes.”
The Centre Teacher-Writers’ writing has appeared in a monthly column in the Centre Daily Times, professional journals—such as Catalyst for Change, the journal of the National School Development Council—and Writing in and from the Classroom, a professional development resource developed by the Centre Teacher-Writers made possible by a National Education Association grant. Some teacher-writers in the group also produce their own blogs, novels and children’s books.
By Samantha Schwartz (December 2014)