Last week I fell in love with writing again. I didn’t think it was possible. It had only been a couple of weeks since my return form UT Austin’s Heart of Texas Writing Project, and in my mind, nothing more could add to that experience. I was wrong.
The impact of the CSISD Writing Project was more than I expected. Coming home from Austin, and becoming a part of a team that has worked hard for years to bring writer’s workshop into the lives of the students in our district was… well, it was an honor.
It was my first time helping to present. I’d never presented to teachers before, and it was quite nerve wrecking, but I chose to do what I’ve been doing a lot lately, putting my fears away and taking on the challenge. I am determined to continue on this journey of growth of mine, purposely keeping an open mind and an open heart to push forward.
The team I joined must be five of the most gifted human beings around. After spending time planning, talking, sharing, reflecting, getting to know them, I came to understand their gifts. We all have them yes, but after getting to know my team a little more, I see that they have clearly learned to mine their gifts better than most of us who are still treading the surface.
Many educators joined us, sacrificing five full days of well-deserved summer vacation to be here with us. And for one brief moment, I wondered why? I think that maybe they all had one thing in common… they wanted more for students. I hope they were as impacted as I was by the end of the week-long event. I witnessed adults trusting to share their thoughts, opinions, and their own writing before a group that, for the most part, were strangers the week before. They trusted the room, and shared their writing anyway. Humans are amazingly brave sometimes.
Something, however, continued to roll in my mind. It presented itself at one point during Friday’s session, and stayed with me as I sat in my car, ready to drive home that afternoon. My mind was being pulled in different directions… wondering about a writer’s work. I was left a bit confused, questioning myself about what we were trying to teach at one point in the session. This question kept tugging at my mind… Does every piece of work call on us to push forward, to make better?
I’m well trained in telling my students… “even if you are the best writer in the world, there is always room for all of us to grow…” Yet, on Friday, I was forced to rethink that belief. If writing is an art form, then… then maybe, no. Maybe some works of art should be left alone… the Sistine Chapel, David, a tree, the ocean… sunlight. Yes, those are much bigger works of art, but they carry the same message… sometimes, at some point, it may be best left untouched by any revision or edit. And writing… the art of writing can very well reach that point as well. I do realize that this level of giftedness will most likely never happen in my 4th grade classroom, or with students in our district… maybe. However, some work may require nothing more than our silent appreciation… that at awe, jaw dropping, mic drop moment of silence. The moment the student is master, even if he doesn’t feel himself to be.
I had to put away everything that I learned, and then bring it all back, rework it in my mind again and again and work it out anew, to find my own answer… one in which I believe, and others may not. I don’t care what others think sometimes… I sometimes use my own common-sense decision-making skills to come to conclusions. That is exactly what I did this time.
It happened the moment I heard the written work of my peer, “…and snatch bite-size morsels of my dreams…” Maybe I didn’t remember his words exactly as he read them, but it’s all I could remember, after only having heard it once. It made me think that maybe, just maybe, some pieces of writing cannot, should not be pushed forward. Some works of art are perfect as they stand… a work of art. Maybe for some pieces, our only obligation is to be the appreciative lens, because it is truly all we can muster after hearing these things called words put together in such a way that they breathe life into something made only of ink and paper. This most likely will not be an issue presented in my classroom, but it left me in deep thought and challenged what I thought was true. This is what writing does… it forces one to think, and think deeply.
My experience last week, with the room full of educators and my team of peers who work hard to invite others into this deep intellectual work, continues to impact me. My team, the people who have trusted me into this small specialized group, have only encouraged me. They are my mentors. From that first Saturday, back in September, as two of them offered me, a perfect stranger, a carpool ride to Austin, to last Friday, when we finished the week long CSISD Writing Project. Still, I battle insecurities like any other, but I learned too that I am not the only one fighting these same battles. We all have our own battles to win… all of us.
There is so much to learn, and I have so many to learn from now. I often feel like Forest Gump, “I’m not a smart man, but I do know what love is.” I am no perfect teacher, or person for that matter, and I know I will struggle to remember all that I’ve learned over these last summer months, but I know what love is… I know how to love kids, to appreciate them for all that they are and all that they can become. I know the hope and fear in a parent’s heart, the worry parents feel for their child to be safe, welcomed, free to learn, to grow, explore, and experience all that is good; to fail in a safe environment where instead of crushing them, makes them feel compelled to try again and again. I know how to help students find their voice and become writers.
To my CSISD Heart of Texas Writing Project team, Kiesha, Amanda, Grace, Jackie, and Daemon… I dedicate my next year of new adventures and loving students as much as I know how. Also, a special thank you to Amy Anderson, the person who help send me to Austin, helping to give me an experience that changed my life. With a sad, but grateful heart... thank you, Amy.
Marina Rodriguez is a California native, living and teaching in Texas, and a National Writing Project, Heart of Texas Writing Project, Teacher Consultant.