Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What are you going to do this summer?

In 2004 the Columbus Area Writing Project held its first Invitational Summer Institute. I had just finished my 27th year of teaching and was advanced enough in my career to be beginning to think about what I was going to do in my next life. I didn't really need any education courses because I had a permanent certificate and had completed my Masters degree some years before. However, my kids were in high school and college and didn't really need me to be at home during the summer; truth be told, they were happier when I wasn't home because then I wasn't nagging them about getting out of bed, doing chores, getting some exercise, eating right, etc.

So, when my friend Edna, who was one of the CAWP co-directors that summer, told me about the Summer Institute I was intrigued. Granted, I had never heard of the Columbus Area Writing Project or the National Writing Project; and what was an Invitational Summer Institute anyway? But I had gotten into a lot of good messes with Edna over the years so I listened when she insisted, "The people are wonderful; you'll be inspired by them and your fellow teachers in the class. Do it, Melissa! You'll love it!"

I took her advice and filled out an application for the 2004 CAWP Invitational Summer Institute and was invited to an interview. In 2004 the interviewing was done in a group of three or four applicants. We all sat around a small table with several of the co-directors and answered different questions, one at a time. I have no recollection of who was in the interview with me or what questions were asked; I only remember being extremely nervous.

However, several weeks later I was accepted as a fellow for the first CAWP Summer Institute which took place during four weeks across June and July beginning every day at 8 am and ending in the afternoon at 1 or 1:30 (depending on how long you stayed and talked to your friends). And although it's been ten years since my first Summer Institute, I still have vivid memories of that time. I remember reading about the wedding Susan was planning for her daughter later that summer--a big fat Greek wedding extravaganza that occurred long before the movie ever came out. I remember holding my friend Gerrie's hand as she cried her way through reading her story of being profiled getting on a plane because, although her African-American husband was not travelling with her on the trip, her association with him made her suspect. I remember discovering my own voice as a writer; I remember stimulating conversations with fellow professionals from many school districts.

Edna was so right! I loved my Summer Institute. It was refreshing. The four weeks flew by. I made new friends and discovered new things about myself. It was the best professional development experience I had been part of in all my years of teaching.

I offer this story as a challenge to all of you. If you are a teacher, consider applying to a Summer Institute near you (for more information on the CAWP Summer Institute visit our website at If you have already been through a Summer Institute, go talk to your friends. Tell them about your experience. Encourage them to apply. They'll thank you for your advice. And you know they'll love it!