In the summer of 2017, I attended the Heart of Texas Writing Project Summer Institute at the University of Texas at Austin. It was at the completion of my 12th year of teaching 4th grade dual language, in College Station, Texas. What happened that summer was simple. I learned to become better at what I already loved. I learned to become a writer, a stronger guide for the learners in my classroom, a leader for my district, and a growing voice in the world of education.
I was not always a teacher.
Having started a career outside the realm of education gave me a unique perspective. I came into the profession already having had many life experiences. In addition to my life before teaching, much of what my then 12 years of teaching taught me was that there was a clear need for change in the many classrooms of the many districts, in the many places across the United States. It became clear to me that our school systems were creating groups of followers, children confined to too many limits, too many restrictions, and receiving too many forced formulas for the art of writing. Our young learners were losing opportunities to lead their own learning. What I knew for sure, after attending the summer institute, is that that change would begin in my classroom.
The Heart of Texas Writing Project Summer Institute provided me many opportunities for continued growth. In my 12 years of teaching, I have had little to no experience in leadership for my district. I'm sure that was mostly my own doing, trying my hardest to survive every new rule and every new change a teacher is fully responsible for in the classroom. Only, my responsibility was to take it on in two languages. However, something changed one year ago. I became a learner, explorer, and experimented with new concepts, not because it was required, but because I became inspired.
Within the past 12 months, I have lead three summer sessions at our Region VI Bilingual Conference, in Huntsville, Texas, and have been invited to return next summer; I have produced three webinars and three podcasts on blogging with students for Kidblog.org, creating the first Kidblog webinar and podcast with a student; I was selected to attend the 2017-18 CSISD Teacher Leadership Academy and innovated a project, called You Matter to me @ SK, for my campus to highlight good teaching practices, build positive school culture, and value phenomenal teachers; I have helped to launch and lead our district’s LEADS project, a student leadership project; I have twice volunteered to lead sessions at our district’s professional development conference, prior to the start of school, and the first to co-present sessions with students, seven of them, ages nine and ten; I have become a blogger, sharing my knowledge and experiences with writing, blogging, and learning, online and on Twitter; I have been an invited guest blogger on two professional blogging websites; I took on a Student Teacher for the first time… ever; and as a new National Writing Project, Heart of Texas Writing Project Teacher Consultant, joined my CSISD Writing Project team and now help lead summer institutes for our district, as the only bilingual teacher on the team.
It is enough to make any sane person's head spin, and I did it all with great passion and great fear... presenting is no easy task. And fear, I've learned, is a part of my fabric. I push forward in spite of it.
Discovering my own voice at the summer institute was for me the most important gift. Gently, carefully, respectfully, I use my voice… often. I find myself speaking common sense, when common sense seems to have been locked out of the room; I am the voice of children, when children seem to become numbers and test scores; I am the voice of writing, when writing is twisted and tortured into formulas; I am the voice of the classroom, when classrooms are confined into minute by minute schedules; I am the voice of poetry, when poetry is deemed useless because it is not the most important part of a test; I am the voice of students who lack opportunities to lead, because they do not fit the idea of what a leader looks like. I’ve learned to use my voice, my writing, and do my best to model everything I have now become. I walk the walk, so to speak.
What I’ve learned is to empower novice humans to lead their own learning, to make choices, to decide if something is good or bad. I’ve learned to push learners to think deeper and on their own, to help them understand that their voice, their decisions… matter.
My workshop, my writing, my work, my leading… is a work in progress.
I am still learning.
I understand well that I will continue to stumble, fall, and fail, as I work to learn more and more each day. What I know I can do well is inspire, dream... dream big, experiment, set the bar high for myself and for my students.
We will continue to experiment and continue reaching for the stars. At my reach are a team of six other passionate National Writing Project, Heart of Texas Writing Project Teacher Consultants, Kiesha, Grace, Amanda, Jackie, Daemon, and Kristen, who patiently offer their hearts and time to this work in our district.
“Today Is The Last First Day We Will Ever Have”
My heart and mind hold a plethora of new knowledge and I continue to plant what I have learned with firm feet into everything I do. This year, I have been invited to join a group of educators out of the University of Texas at Austin to study, research, and write. We will be working to explore this work for multilingual, bilingual, and dual language classrooms.
I am excited for what the future holds and empowered to continue learning, growing, and leading, both in the classroom and beyond.
“Today is the last first day we will ever have,” confessed one of my new students earlier this week. That is a truth I now live each day. Every day is a day for a chance to learn. Because of the Heart of Texas Writing Project Summer Institute, at the University of Texas at Austin, I am anew. Evolved. Transformed. Changed. However, “I am who I am not yet.” So, off I go…
Marina Rodriguez is a California native, living and teaching in Texas, and a National Writing Project, Heart of Texas Writing Project, Teacher Consultant.