Transcript of presentation speech by Robert Brooke, NeWP Director
I am pleased to present the 2005 Nebraska Writing Project Carol MacDaniels Teacher of the Year Award to Sarah Brown.
Sarah Brown-Dr. Sarah Brown as of May 2004-has taught secondary English at Wilbur-Clatonia High School for somewhere around two decades. In her classrooms, writing is a priority and is highly valued—from the yearly hard-bound books of students’ personal writing she has funded herself and donated to the school library, to projects involve the whole community (such as her recipes and stories collections) that. Beyond the classroom, Sarah Brown likewise strives for the advancement of writing teachers. She routinely serves on Governor’s Commissions concerned with education, and has been asked on more than one occasion to provide leadership on Nebraska Humanities projects. Within the Nebraska Writing Project, Sarah Brown has been a long-time leader. She has served on our Advisory Board, as both Member and Board chairperson, for the better part of a decade. She participated in the Summer Institute in 1995 and the Level II Institute in 1999, and facilitated the Summer Institute in 1999. In short, Sarah Brown is a writer herself, a teacher who inspires writing, and a public advocate for teachers in our state.
These are exactly the traits we seek to honor with this award. Our Teacher of the Year Award is named for Carol MacDaniels, whose all-too short life provided us all with a model of a writing teacher who both inspired others to write and worked tirelessly for teachers. Those of you who remember Carol can see how Sarah Brown was cast from a similar mold. In fact, the letter nominating Sarah for this award drew explicit comparisons between Sarah and Carol. The nominator wrote: Sarah knew Carol MacDaniels well; both women have made long-lasting contributions to the growth of NeWP and those of us who now serve in various leadership capacities with NeWP are grateful for this grounding work. I think Carol would be proud to have Sarah as a recipient of this award in her name. The “grounding work” the nominator writes of is impressive indeed. Sarah drafted the initial by-laws for our Advisory Board and was, I believe, personally responsible for organizing the first couple of our Spring Gatherings—correct me if I’m wrong, but in the late 1990’s she helped us try out a full Saturday conference format, then a small, intimate awards dinner format, before the Board moved us to our current poster session. And at last summer’s Board Retreat, Sarah proposed the need for a Teacher Leadership Institute, which is something we’ll be trying in Aurora this coming July. Sarah Brown has certainly guided us as our organization has found its way from being merely a good summer class at the University to being a full, ongoing network of active teachers.
And, more than anyone in this room, Dr. Sarah Brown knows the history of Nebraska Writing Project. Her dissertation, completed a year ago spring, studied the first 25 years of our organization. Some of you may remember receiving Sarah’s survey requesting memories and information about your encounters with NeWP. I remember the pleasure of chatting a couple times a week with Sarah during summer 2002 and summer 2003, when she single-handedly went through the entire paper trail left to me from my Director predecessors all the way back to 1978. Every correspondence between Les Whipp and a donor; every one of Gerry Brookes’ budgets; all of Joy Ritchie’s memos to teachers—Sarah read them all. Her completed dissertation, “Institutes and Institutions: Twenty-Five Years with the Nebraska Writing Project,” is a wonderful compendium of information about NeWP. We are one of the oldest Writing Projects in the country, starting just two years after the original site in the Bay Area. We’ve managed to survive through four different Directors and now almost three decades of Nebraska educational policy changes. Dr. Sarah Brown knows why!
Of course, what draws any individual to do such long, painstaking archival research on a teacher network isn’t the big royalty check you get at the end of the process. You have to love what you are studying and be invested in its history. And Sarah Brown has clearly loved the Nebraska Writing Project. Listen to how Dr. Sarah names what’s most important for her about the Writing Project in the closing paragraphs of her dissertation: Twenty-five years have brought many changes to the Nebraska Writing Project and yet, in many ways, the picture has not changed much from that exuberant group of folk gathered for the first institute in 1978. . . . The participants from each of the director’s eras still talk about their feelings of closeness with their small groups, their confidence in their writing, their exhaustion from the intensity of the program and their sense of rejuvenation and willingness to experiment with writing further in classrooms of the future. Sarah names connection with your small group, confidence in writing, and rejuvenation as her closing vision of our Writing Project. In her work with students and teachers, Sarah has certainly kept that vision alive, and we are the better for it. You can hear her name these same issues in a different piece of writing, not academic but a poem celebrating her small group during the 1999 Summer Institute. I will end tonight with some excerpts from this poem “The Crusaders Summer ’99.” These excerpts capture, I believe, how Sarah Brown has viewed her work as writing teacher, her comradeship with us, and the core experience of sharing writing with others who understand its value. She writes:
Out to save the world,
One piece at a time, aware
They may be saving themselves
Yet, they continue to meet,
To share the Word,
The difficulties of placing them down
They’re armed with snacks and books and
Pens pointed at the ready. . . . .
They’ve cried together as friends,
And told secrets too . . .
Not always agreeing but
Agreeing to support
The writing of each other’s hand.
Please join me in honoring Sarah Brown as the 2005 Nebraska Writing Project Carol MacDaniels Teacher of the Year.