I have been revisiting lines from A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh over the last few weeks as I’ve looked into Connecticut’s financial challenges. Piglet asks Pooh, “How do you spell love?” and Winnie responds, “You don’t spell it. You feel it.”
Throughout my 20 years of working with public school teachers I have learned that the vast majority of us are hardworking, passionate and dedicated individuals. We love teaching, and even though our job is to teach students to spell l-o-v-e, our larger purpose arrives from f-e-e-l-i-n-g the energy of sharing, guiding, and mentoring knowledge with the young people we work with.
Teaching is a profession. It is a labor of love. It is a career that is felt.
In February, I learned Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed $40 billion state budget included freezing state spending on traditional public schools, boosting charter school funding, and cutting support for summer and after-school programs in the neediest districts. I am the director of the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield University and must declare that our award-winning program will be harmed if such cuts go through – what Linda Conner Lambeck calls a disaster for small education programs like ours.
Putting programs like CWP-Fairfield on the chopping block is a destructive move. Ask Sen. Bob Duff, majority leader, who has fought on behalf of CWP-Fairfield for over a decade. In 2005, he wrote that CWP-Fairfield “works not only for closing the large and unacceptable gap between urban/minority students and those who come from more affluent circumstances; it also supports our teachers and improves writing across all school districts.”
CWP-Fairfield is part of the National Writing Project and one of three sites in the State of Connecticut united to support literacy efforts through investing in teachers. Serving all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the National Writing Project network collaborates with state departments of education, local universities, federal government and school districts to offer high-quality professional development for educators and writing opportunities for K-12 youth.
Our mission is simple: respect teachers as professional leaders and allow them to share effective literacy practices with their colleagues ~ teachers teaching teachers. It is a model Anne Whitney (2008) described as transformational and that Arthur N. Applebee and Judith A. Langer (2013) reported as ‘writing instruction that works.’
Individual states collaborate with National Writing Project sites and build a network of teacher leaders who carry forth literacy initiatives and efforts at their schools and throughout the state. Teachers who participate in NWP programs are top-notch educators – what Grammy-award winning singer John Legend recently called “shining lights” in education.
A teacher who participates in a CWP workshop, institute, or conference at Fairfield University, the University of Connecticut, or Central Connecticut State University is forward thinking, innovative, and creative. Investment in such teachers goes a long, long way, and last year, alone, CWP-Fairfield University:
- Provided 150+ hours of professional development to teachers in high-needs schools;
- Sponsored numerous literacy conferences and workshops for K-12 students;
- Collaborated with CT Mirror to launch Special Report: Education, Diversity and Change in Fairfield County;
- Supported and published student and teacher writing;
- Provided young adult literacy labs during the summer months for youth; and
- Launched unique programming aimed toward at-risk students, including immigrant and refugee youth arriving to Connecticut classrooms.
In 2014, too, the New England Board of Higher Education recognized CWP-Fairfield’s work when it honored Fairfield University with an Education Excellence Award.
What Sen. Duff declared in 2005 remains true in 2015. The financial investment in CWP-Fairfield is small, but the impact it has on educators and students in Connecticut is enormous.
The Connecticut Writing Project makes the grade with a small front-end investment that pays dividends down the road. This should be rewarded while we cut out programs that don’t give us the results we seek. (The Hour, 03/08/05)
I hope the State of Connecticut rewards its teachers and students by continuing to invest in CWP-Fairfield’s programs. The work we do, as Pooh suggests, is more than just words to spell. Students and teachers who participate in our programs attest that our investment is ‘something to be felt.’ Removing support for CWP-Fairfield – a solution to address educational inequities in the state – would be a shame and counterproductive to the educational goals named again and again by Connecticut leaders.
Actions speak louder than words and I write in hopes that Connecticut’s elected officials will act sagaciously.
Bryan Ripley Crandall is the Director of the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield University and assistant professor in the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions (GSEAP).