Asking me to write about ONE experience, person of influence, or leadership role for the National Writing Project’s 40 for 40 Campaign is like asking a parent to name his or her favorite child. It simply can’t be done.

Each experience or person I have met through the NWP has helped build a network of professionals, and now friends, with like ideas and vision. The fundamentals and best teaching practices, all research based, are the fuel that drives our instruction. However, the support and collegiality we provide each other helps us feel validated as professionals, and “heard” over the static and changes in state and national testing standards which sometimes threaten to crowd our thoughts as we forge ahead each day in the classroom.

From the summer institute in 2002, to my work with the Project Outreach Network and the ELL leadership team, I learned all about access, relevance, diversity, advocacy in action, equity, and empathy for the English Language Learners whose linguistic and cultural gifts help make up the colorful tapestry of our nation. I found out first-hand what it feels like to become part of a network whose web reached far and wide. I know and remember the names, faces, and values of many of the people and friends I have made.

At an ELL Summer Writing Retreat, Faye Peitzman and Grant Faulkner gifted me with great editing eyes and the gentle nudges I needed to find both my personal and professional voice. There, I wrote a piece I would later use as my keynote address for the Annual Meeting in San Antonio in 2008. Mary Ann Smith, my mentor and guide, helped me bring that voice to the masses. It told simply of a young Mexican-American girl living on the border, unable to use my heritage language at school during the late ’60s and ’70s even though Bilingual Education had been signed into law. I was later approached by several TCs that weekend, telling me that my struggle had been theirs too. A year later, I was approached by Rebeca Garcia-Gonzalez to help co-facilitate the annual Professional Writing Retreat where I listened to others’ stories to help them sculpt their pieces into publishable works. These were some of my most exhilarating moments, ever!

The most interesting experience for me took place during the summer of 2006 when I was invited to become part of the Visiting Scholars Program through the Hudson Valley Writing Project in New Paltz, New York. Never having had the opportunity to study beyond the valley where I grew up, you might as well have told me I was going to the moon! I jumped at the chance to travel to another corner of the world to learn from other teachers who teach ELL students just like me. I listened in awe as they presented demos that scaffolded learning for multi-lingual classrooms. We formed book-study groups, response groups, and created a real writing community. Tom Fox and Bonny Kaplan taught me to think outside the box when it comes to teacher inquiry. We are ALL researchers, each time we tweak lessons, differentiate instruction, and view students’ work as mentor texts. Genius!

Each new experience helps me see the world with a new set of lenses.

Each new experience helps me see the world with a new set of lenses. I’ve met teachers who have helped me become a better teacher. I admire them because they push the boundaries to bring difficult but necessary conversations surrounding social justice, equity, and basic human and educational rights for ALL, to the forefront. The great news is, we all speak “Writing Project.”

PerezDolores Perez is a teacher-consultant with the Sabal Palms Writing Project in Brownsville, Texas, and was a member of the ELL Network’s National Leadership Team. She teaches fifth grade at Cromack Elementary School in Brownsville.