Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Writing Camp Saved My Life

That title may seem strongly worded. Please indulge me, as I have just come off of nine days working with young writers. Also, I like hyperbole. Also, I wanted to get your attention.

I suppose I wasn't really dying before, but it is hard to deny that strange sense of loss that teachers go through when school is out. Don't misunderstand...I LOVE SUMMER. I enjoy taking these yahoos bowling.
I enjoy the pool and the lazy mornings and the visits with friends and the summer techno music and the reading of books...but I would be a big, fat liar if I said I didn't miss teaching. I am a teacher. It's who I am. It's what I do. It's a huge part of my identity and a lot of my purpose as a human being on planet Earth is as, "Mrs. Taylor." It's the hugs at the door in the morning and sharing books with reluctant readers. It is trying to make lessons fun and engaging, it's finding the balance of teaching standards, spelling words, character, and multiplication strategies. I'm a big dork, but I love summer for about three to four weeks, and then I feel that weird pull...the tug of setting up my classroom, choosing just-right books that I think my students will enjoy, and the constant hope that this upcoming year...I'll finally get it right.

However...teaching is hard. Not just the oh-I'm-so-overworked-and-underpaid-and-my-raise-doesn't-even-cover-the-increase-in-health-insurance-kind-of-hard, but the real kind of hard. The kind of hard that makes me wonder if there is something more out there for me. Something bigger, something more productive, something more financially rewarding. They keep changing the game, changing the standards, changing the resources, changing the levels of support, and I find myself getting tired. So.Very.Tired. Just let me teach! Just let me do what I was born to do! Just...wait-I'm in public education...

Enter writing camp. I was approached this spring about teaching a writing camp at our local university and my first inclination was to giggle. Writing camp? Is that a joke? Who would pay money to send their child to write for three hours a day? In the SUMMER?  Apparently, several people.

"What's the curriculum?" I asked...
"Whatever you want it to be," I was told.

Wait. One. Second. I get to be the boss of how we spend the time? I can read fun, engaging stories and roll with the kids and their ideas? Yes, yes you do...

Holy Ticonderoga Number 2 pencils.
Oh, and you get paid.

Writing camp saved my life. OK, maybe not my real, actual life, but it saved my summer. It saved me from that weird, unfulfilled feeling I sometimes feel in early July. I was put back together each day as kiddos that ranged in age from 5-10 years old worked in the same classroom and did the hard work of writing and sharing their thoughts and feelings. It re-energized me to hear the older kids support the younger writers with encouraging words and precious little "love notes."

 It reminded me of true collaboration as I met Laura at Starbucks and we shared ideas and we worked together and we already signed up to teach again next year because it was just so stinking fun. It reminded me of who I am at my very core and why I do what I do and how I can trust myself to go with my instincts and find new, engaging ways to bring the fun of writing camp into my own classroom in the fall. It made me want to write more. Even if nobody reads what I write. It made me have to reset the password on this blog that I started in 2011 and then never did anything else with...

It also gave me the rare opportunity to have my very own child in my class. I asked both of my kids if they wanted to come to camp with me. My seven year old was like, "Um, go to writing class or play at Nanny's house? You can just tell me what it's like." Parker, though, was excited about coming with me because he needed to work on his novel. Um, what?

"I've got this idea, mom. I just don't have much time to work on it."

Punkin. What fun to see him as a student and a writer and a leader. He even got to touch the sword from the Percy Jackson movie on our trip to the Texas State library. Boom. Major cool points for mom.

Writing camp. An unlikely source of salvation. But, an opportunity for which I will be forever grateful.


Diane Osborne said...

This is so awesome, Mandy
Thanks for sharing! I was so comfortable having you and Laura as our elementary teachers this year and I am so happy you will both be back next year. Thank you so much!

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