In the autumn of 1983 I started the MFA writing program at Columbia. This led to a famous first encounter, at least for me. In September I wandered uptown from 116th Street to 120th Street, walked into Teachers College, and met Lucy Calkins for the first time. She was a brand-new professor. I signed up for Lucy’s first course on the teaching of writing. Soon after that I took a position with the TC Reading and Writing Project as a consultant in New York City schools, helping teachers find wiser ways of teaching writing.
I didn’t realize it then, but more than taking an interesting job, I had embarked on my career. I have spent most of my professional life speaking, demonstrating, and writing books about the teaching of writing. Recently I ran into a teacher, a man in whose classroom I had worked twenty years earlier.
Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major puts me at the back of a church on a snowy December Saturday, trembling as I hold my father’s hand. He pats my arm and says, “Easy now,” as we start toward the altar.
When a song I once labored to learn on my guitar comes on the radio it transports me to Oregon State’s campus, and I see a swirl of fall color as I walk from class with my black guitar case bumping my leg in a bouncing rhythm. I’m twenty again and the year suddenly returns to me in images, feelings, and songs.
Like most of the poems Carl wrote in eighth grade, “The Bowl” was prompted by a posting on his heart map. Between Hans’s paws and potato picking techniques, using just enough words to capture the memory, he’d written breaking the red bowl. When he fleshed out the phrase, it became a poem about family, heritage, love, and regret.
Adapted from the introduction to The Journey Is Everything, the newest book by Katherine Bomer.
By Katherine Bomer
Whole generations of adults fear writing because they grew up in schools thinking writing means sentence diagrams, penmanship, spelling, and proper placement of that darn thesis statement. Our students deserve better than this. They need essays to help them think in reflective, open-minded ways, to stir their emotions, teach them about life, and move them to want to change the world. And now more than ever, with the hyperattention paid to preparing students for college and careers, young people need practice in finding subjects of interest and passion to write about. They need lessons that show them how to think deeply about these topics and how to write about them in compelling ways.
Julie Nora is a Heinemann Fellow with the 2014–2015 class, and has been an educator for 24 years. In today's post, Julie talks about having her students engage an authentic audience by creating a poll and effecting change for a school dance.