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The Popular BookTalk Lecture Series Tackles Teachers Who Stay, The National Writing Project, and 50 Years of Conversations

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The Popular BookTalk Lecture Series Tackles Teachers Who Stay, The National Writing Project, and 50 Years of Conversations

Sonia Nieto

The Popular BookTalk Lecture Series Tackles Teachers Who Stay, The National Writing Project, and 50 Years of Conversations

Diane Wood, Richard Heffner and Anne Lieberman

The Popular BookTalk Lecture Series Tackles Teachers Who Stay, The National Writing Project, and 50 Years of Conversations

Richard Heffner

What Keeps Teachers Going?

What is the antidote to "teacher burnout"?  When nearly half of all public school teachers leave the profession within their first five years of teaching, what motivates other teachers to stay in teaching?  Sonia Nieto, Professor of Language, Literacy and Culture at Barnard College, studied this question closely. Her findings inspired her recently-published book, What Keeps Teachers Going (In Spite of Everything)?, the subject of her BookTalk in Spring 2003.

 Teachers stay because they love both their students and the subjects they teach, she found. "Teaching involves trust and respect, as well as close relationships between students and teachers," Nieto said.  "It is, in fact, based on love."

 The teachers in her study said they connect learning to students' lives and forge partnerships with parents.  They also view themselves as lifelong learners.  Another of her findings: hope is at the essence of teaching.  "Hope in their students, in public education and faith in their colleagues," Nieto explained. Anger and desperation also keep teachers motivated, she says. The anger is at the injustices their students endure, at education policies, and at being treated as if they were children themselves.  Good teachers, she says, need to find the right balance between hope and despair. Nieto was named Teacher of the Year for Hispanic Education in 1996 and for Multicultural Education in 1997. Her earlier books include Affirming Diversity: The Sociopolitical Context of Multicultural Education (Allyn & Bacon) and The Light in Their Eyes (Teachers College Press), both widely used in teacher education.

Inside the National Writing Project

With 175 school-university sites in 49 states, the National Writing Project has the reputation of being a career-altering professional development experience. Inside the National Writing Project: Connecting Network Learning and Classroom Teaching, written by researchers Anne Lieberman and Diane Wood, examines the elements that have made the project so successful. The book takes an in-depth look at the principles of the writing project, its activities, social practices, and the complexities involved in building and sustaining such a network. Wood and Lieberman also sought to identify what bonded these teachers and made them internalize accountability.  They noticed that the way the teachers interacted socially transcended their institutions, geography, grade level and subject areas.

 Wood, an assistant professor in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Southern Maine, named this cultural connection "social practices," referring to how teachers build relationships and interactions to take each other seriously. This builds respect and a collective sense of responsibility toward students.  Additionally, bringing teachers together to share the knowledge they have accrued over the years is essential, said Lieberman, who is a TC emeritus professor and a senior scholar at The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

The Moderator Speaks

Richard D. Heffner-a frequent BookTalk moderator-was the subject of his own BookTalk in December 2003. Heffner, who has been producing and hosting the PBS show, "The Open Mind," since 1956, recently wrote, A Conversational History of Modern America. Heffner's account looks back on nearly 50 years of remarkable conversations broadcast on public television, and includes his own thoughtful perspective on the last half-century.

 Heffner, University Professor of Communications and Public Policy at Rutgers University, spoke at Milbank Chapel about the interviews he compiled over the last five tumultuous decades, including his conversations with such major figures as Malcolm X, Gloria Steinem, Norman Mailer and Jonas Salk.  He is the author of the best selling book, A Documentary History of the United States, and is a contributor to the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post.

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