Monday, September 29, 2014

I Owe So Much To This Mentor. Jean Wolph is #MyNWP, and also #OurNWP @writingproject

Jean Wolph, Louisville Writing Project, Director
A few Annual Meetings ago, participants of the National Writing Project were asked to write a note to someone who influenced the ways we knew writing and wrote the world. Perhaps this was a Spring Meeting in DC - I cannot remember. I do think, though, it was Tanya Baker who offered the prompt.

What I can recall, however, is that I was sitting next to Jean Wolph and I chose to write a note to her. Funny, before I tapped into the thunderclap call this week, I found the note I wrote to Jean in a leather binder as I was going through my desk. My intention was to take it home, type it, and to email it to her after that meeting. Whoops.

Where is that road? Why so paved? What about intentions?

It seemed that today would be a great day to finally type up what I wrote. It is day #2 of my 7-day celebration of NWP's 40th year. Here's to you, Jean (and thank you NWP for giving us the prompt at one of our gatherings a few years back).
Dear Jean, 
I am beginning this note hoping you are not a cheater. A cheater? Yes, a cheater! Why? Because I'm sitting next to you and I don't want you to copy from my paper. If you do, you'll know that I'm writing about you and that would be too much pressure. It would make you a Peeping Jean and that is not the image I have of you in my head. Besides, I think it would be tacky for you to write a note to yourself, even if you were using my words to do so.
The image of you I prefer to have is that of an amazing woman who offered me multiple opportunities to step up my teaching game while I was in Louisville, Kentucky. Actually, I met you when I was working on a Masters degree through the Kentucky Institute for Education and Sustainable Development and we often talked about writing, portfolios, the Kentucky Education Reform Act, and a love for the work we were doing. You were at the University of Louisville collaborating with Marjorie Kaiser, I believe, and helping  with LWP work.  I was a graduate assistant who filed documents to pay for my tuition. My space in the Cardinal universe was by the mailboxes. You often came and talked to me (probably admired my hippie hair and birkenstocks) and treated me as an equal. One Christmas, too, you made me a beautiful basket that I still bring out every holiday. Each year, it reminds me of you.
Years went by, I went into the Brown School to teach English, and every intelligent, creative, and inspirational teacher I met in Jefferson County Public Schools had the same advice.  LWP. LWP. LWP. When I finally applied to participate, I learned that you were the new Director who replaced Marjorie and, if accepted, I was going to take a course led by you. Ah, but it wasn't a course. 
It was a life-changing experience. 
We were at Central High School, alma mater to Muhammad Ali, and you led the charges with Tim Johnson. I remember he wrote short stories that shocked his audience (a boy who sleeps with his grandmother). I also remembered thinking that if God had a twin brother it would probably look like Tim with all that flowing white hair (but hopefully wouldn't write stories about a boy sleeping with his grandmother).
And you? You were the amazing sage who quickly tapped her maternal instinct to take care of me. I was your wild child - the zany kid from NY whose outrageous brain worked faster that most Kentucky minds cared to understand. I had terrible sinus headaches from living in the Ohio Valley and one day, you saw me squinting and having a horrible time keeping my head up so you left the room, microwaved a wet cloth, and came back to place it on my forehead and eyes. You tapped my shoulder gently and said, "This should help. You'll feel like writing again, soon." It did.
It always made me proud when you came to the Brown School and served on our senior boards to evaluate the research and culminating projects of students. It made me even prouder when you'd invite me to present at Louisville Writing Project functions and you advocated for my literacy leadership with Dottie Willis at JCPS's central office. I also appreciated the morning you met me in Clarksville for breakfast and had a heart to heart with me about leaving the classroom to earn a Ph.D. Syracuse University had offered a full fellowship and I didn't know if I should take it. I didn't tell anyone else (not family, not friends, nor my dog)...just you. I needed you to help me process the choice.
Now, I am sitting next to you as the new Director of the Connecticut Writing Project-Fairfield. I finished my doctorate and upon thinking about what would make me happiest, I sought writing project jobs. Right now is the first time seeing you since I left Kentucky and my excitement to again learn with you is growing. I hope I have 1/20th of the influence on Connecticut teachers as you have had on those in Kentucky.  
Okay. They are about to call time on this free write, so I'd better bring closure. I write  to say "Thank You." Thank you for believing in me, for encouraging me, for guiding me, for teaching me, for laughing with and at me, and for sitting beside me today as a friend and colleague. Thank you for leading Kentucky's writing achievements for so many years and helping the state to have one of the most amazing assessment systems in the nation, even though they are dismantling it.
Elephant Shoe, Jean. Elephant Show. I couldn't be me without your support.
When I read the penned note in the leather binder earlier last week I said, "I need to send this to Jean."

Well, it seems that #OurNWP is the perfect opportunity to do so.

1 comment:

  1. Bryan, I am humbled and honored. We are so fortunate that you are already finding your niche in NWP as a new director, colleague, and leader. I couldn't be more proud of you, Bry!

    Love, Jean