Category: Journey to publication

Where the Teaching Life and Political Life Meet–What Does the Law Say?

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I’m excited to share an article of mine that was published in this month’s issue of  Wisconsin Lawyer  magazine, entitled “Speaking Up: The First Amendment and Wisconsin’s Public Educators.” The article is the result of a special graduate project that I completed as part of my ongoing master’s coursework at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Special thanks are due to Dr. Pritchard from the Journalism and Media Studies program at UWM, for his mentorship and feedback during my research and writing process!

The article explores both historical and current law surrounding the intersection between public educators’ jobs and their political actions, with a focus on Wisconsin cases. I set out to answer the question, “How much protection does the First Amendment extend to the speech of public school teachers?” In other words, what can teachers legally say and do to participate robustly in political life… without getting in trouble for it? What does the law really say, and why?

To find out, check out the article by clicking here.

Thanks for reading!

Teacher as Academic: Why it’s Worth It to Work Toward Getting Published

Earlier this school year, I accomplished one of my longtime career goals–submitting an article for publication in an professional academic journal. The Wisconsin English Journal ran the article that I wrote this past summer, which was based on the work I did with the UW-Milwaukee Writing Project in 2013. For anyone who’d like to read it, here’s the link to the table of contents for Vol. 56, No. 2. You’ll see the link to the .pdf of my article entitled “Crucial Creativity: Addressing State Standards While Fostering Creative Student Authorship” toward the bottom of the page. In her letter from the editor, Mary Louise Gomez previews the article as such:

“Amy Harter provides a strong
argument against a perceived call of the
Wisconsin Common Core State Standards
(CCSS) for more non-fiction writing and less
creative writing. Harter argues that creative
writing is indeed a powerful and engaging
genre into which students can be inducted.
This author presents powerful arguments for
the writing of poetry, plays, song lyrics, and
other so-called “creative writing” that also
are key ways to form arguments and affect
one’s audiences.”

 Words cannot explain how proud I am to have my first journal article publication under my belt. It not only represents many, many hours of impassioned research, writing, revising, talking-out, and polishing, but it also represents a step toward “making it” as a professional who contributes meaningfully to the academic side of our profession.

Isn’t it strange that, as educators, we still sometimes have a hard time viewing ourselves as academics? For me, seeing my name in print brought me to tears–it gave me a soaring feeling of professional validation. And  it cannot be overstated how important professional validation is for teachers–for the many of us who were asked back in college to justify why on earth we’d choose this career over others of greater promise, for the many of us who have been casually scoffed at for our small salaries, for the many of us who wonder how we might hope to be viewed as professionals in a culture that doesn’t always respect or understand what we do. For us, a sense of validation and celebration of our research, ideas, and achievements, is huge.

Here’s the thing about that–writing is the path that allows us to explore, define, and share our ideas about our profession. For this reason, I think far greater numbers of practicing K-12 teachers need to be lending their voices to the field of education through professional writing. Maybe it’s an article for a journal. Maybe it’s a conference or workshop session proposal. Maybe it’s an editorial or letter to a public official. Maybe it’s a piece of original curriculum. Or, hey, maybe it’s a blog! 🙂

The message is this, fellow teachers: You can, and should, do it.

Why?

Because teachers deserve to learn about things in their field from others who are currently practicing within it.

Because you already do action research in your classroom every day as you introduce new teaching techniques and observe their effects on your students. You are, by virtue of your position, making observations and tracking data. Teacher = researcher.

Because the expertise lent by your experience in the classroom, especially when put in the context of current educational research, is invaluable.

Because you are a professional, and have the capacity to influence and lead in your profession.

Because it can give a meaningful focus and purpose to your professional reading.

Because it is a way to earn the validation that you deserve as a professional educator. 

Because you already have the support you need to write and publish a piece of professional writing, even if you don’t know it yet. Talk to your peers, talk to presenters at conferences, get involved in a National Writing Project site near you, or send an email of inquiry to a publication you’d like to submit to. Many of them have very responsive editing staffs who, even if they don’t accept your piece, will send you a response with suggestions to make your future writing more successful.

There are many, many opportunities out there for teachers to offer their voices to the conversations surrounding what education can and will look like in the future. Consider offering yours. If I can do it, so can you. 🙂

Book Celebration and Review – Teaching With Heart

I got very excited a couple days ago when I saw this brand new book arrive in my mailbox. It’s called Teaching with Heart: Poetry that Speaks to the Courage to Teach (S.M. Intrator and M. Scribner, editors. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2014).

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I had known it would be coming for quite a while–about a year and a half ago, I submitted a contribution to the editors because I was inspired by the mission of the book, which is to pair poetry with real teacher anecdotes, reflecting important ideas about the life and work of teachers. I was lucky enough to become a contributor. (In fact, my anecdote is the one that closes the collection–you’ll have to turn to page 198 to find it!)

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As I paged through Teaching with Heart, I was touched by the power of the voices gathered here. There are contributors with big names that many teachers will recognize–Parker J. Palmer, Taylor Mali, and Sarah Brown Wessling. But there are also stories from nearly a hundred different teachers from across the country woven into this collection, which is as rich with a variety of emotions and perspectives as is the act of teaching itself. Paired with poetry that has stood the test of time, the reflections of these educators remind me of the sheer volume of good people–strong people–that share this profession. In an era where teachers are sometimes devalued by society, it is important to let these strong voices anchor us, to help us refuse to be swept away by a current of negativity. This book does that. It’s an anchor, and a beautiful one at that.

The best way, I think, to read a book like this is in small doses, here and there, when inspiration is needed; and then reading a little, a lot, chronological, or not. I’m going to share my copy of Teaching with Heart with my department colleagues. The book will live in our office, to be opened and contemplated whenever it’s needed. I’ll start you off here, with a small selection from my own anecdote about the poem “The Real Work” by Wendell Berry. May it inspire you to head over to Amazon and check out the other voices in this fiery, courageous compilation.

 “The Real Work” brings with it a simple, ringing truth that echoes my experience: hardship inspires innovation, honesty, and a desire to persevere enough to fight through. It is when we reach a dead end that multitudes of previously unseen paths open up to meet us. Thinking back on my own teaching paths, I realize that I am my career’s cartographer, drafting a map rich with color and experience.

The poem also makes me think of my students, many who shoulder unthinkable burdens, yet still manage to employ their minds and spirit in the journey of learning. Students show bravery every time they put their own voice to a page, despite the uncertainty that can come from all directions without and within.

So much of teaching is doing the work of standing back up—knowing with profound certainty that our “baffled minds” are meant to do this “real work” of journeying together, to teach our students and ourselves that the struggles we overcome help strengthen the voice of our song.

 Consider picking up a copy for your favorite teacher friend, mentor, or mentee. Royalties from Teaching with Heart support the Center for Courage & Renewal, a resource network dedicated to renewing and sustaining those in the career areas of education, health care, ministry, and other positions that positively impact communities.

Teachers as Writers: My Five Weeks with the Writing Project

This summer, I had the most transformative professional development experience of my career. My work with the Writing Project was intense, engrossing, and very productive. Five weeks spending each weekday working closely with 22 other colleagues to develop our own writing repertoire and our teaching practices turned me into a thinking writer-teacher machine. It lifted me out of my unemployment murk and up into the world of ideas. I remembered why I love writing and why I love teaching. It’s all about creating and studying and making a change in this world. It’s also about scholarly inquiry and research. I did plenty of each.

The Writing Project gave me the opportunity to really consider my own practice as an English educator, to reflect on what works and why. It also gave me countless pathways to discover how I can make my teaching more engaging, effective, and fitting for the 21st century learner. It made me recommit to conducting a classroom that acknowledges social justice concerns. I learned about dozens of new technology tools and applications. I gained a powerhouse arsenal of teaching resources as each new day brought new things to discover.

The greatest resource of all, though, were my fellow teacher consultants. Each participant had to present a 90-minute teaching inquiry workshop, in which he or she would present the origins and process of research, findings, and practical classroom applications through a hands-on workshop. Through these presentations, I learned fresh new ideas about a wide variety of topics: how the writing process differs between individuals, teaching grammar in new ways, using spoken language in writing instruction, gender differences in writing instruction, use of non-standard dialects, creating rubrics, writing workshop, teaching self-revision, infusing writing with imagery, bookmaking, writing conferences, and blogging just to name a few!  Being able to present in front of the cohort was also one of many leadership opportunities that affiliation with the writing project can provide.

Meanwhile, we were also working tirelessly on our own independent writing products. The final portfolio included 3-4 original pieces in different genres and a polished piece of professional writing in addition to the research document and bibliography for the teacher inquiry workshop. We wrote like fiends for five straight weeks—starting, reworking, abandoning, twisting language in ways that were scintillating, serpentine, or surprising. The sheer joy that I got out of this luxurious time to write freely was one of the biggest payoffs of all the hard work. The supportive network I had of other teacher-writers (not just here but also around the country via the Internet) was also instrumental in creating my original written pieces.

I am certain that my brain gained an additional fold during the five weeks of the Writing Project. My deepest thanks to the facilitators and all the teacher consultants who made my summer into something that will improve my teaching and writing all year long.

Writing Project Work-  My best accomplishments from the summer experience are detailed below. Please comment if you are interested in any of the detailed pieces, and I’ll be happy to speak with you about sharing them with a wider audience.

Teacher Inquiry Workshop:

Workshop Powerpoint <Click to view

Writing With a Camera: Teaching Student Authors to Compose Both in Words and Images <Click to view

This hands-on workshop leads participants to investigate parallels between composing photographs and composing the written word. Explore the world of 21st century texts and come away with ideas for utilizing images and words side by side during writing instruction. This presentation honors the complexities of the technology-savvy student writers that make up our classrooms.

Professional Writing

“Take Compassion out of the Closet.” This social justice activist piece was submitted for consideration to the “Speaking my Mind” section of NCTE’s English Journal.

“Social Justice Teaching: Everything we have Power to Do.”  I collaborated with my reading group to create this color trifold pamphlet on what teachers can do to promote socially just pedagogy. It is a resource ready to distribute.

Original Writing in Four Genres

“Threshold.” This short fiction piece explores the concept of the inner world and what risks we take to find it, ignore it, or embrace it. As the natural and psychological landscapes converge, a misunderstood woman comes face to face with her own unrealized power.

“Grand.” A piece about sibling love and opposition, this personal narrative shows a humorous but profound snapshot of a summer vacation mishap with my younger brother.

“Memory as Time Travel.” This piece is an intellectual essay questioning the influence, origin, and reality of our own memories. What purpose does memory serve in a world of data instantly catalogued by machines?

“Juxtaposition.” Inspired by side-by-side images of a nebula and a couple’s initials on a piece of wood, this poem compares the infinity of the universe to the depth of the human heart.