Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Zigzag: A Life of Reading and Writing, Teaching and Learning

In 1989, when I first attended the Sun Belt Writing Project’s summer institute, I was a lost puppy. After teaching for two years I was unsatisfied and knew I was not doing the kind of job I could be, should be, doing. As part of the institute I had to read several books, some of my own choosing. Clearing the Way, by Tom Romano was suggested to me as a good follow up to Nancie Atwell’s In the Middle. The director told me that since Romano was a high school teacher I might be able to get some good ideas from the book. And I did.

Now, almost 20 years later, I again am reading a new book by Tom Romano. This time it is a series of memoirs, short vignettes, that trace his development as a reader, a writer, a teacher, and (most importantly) as a person. Zigzag: A Life of Reading and Writing, Teaching and Learning should be required reading for anyone who wants to teach. Especially anyone who wants to teach English or language arts.

Divided into six sections, starting with his childhood and ending with his earning of a doctorate, he is honest and realistic. As most writers know that a piece of writing is a draft that can be revised and edited, Romano has shown by his own experiences that a life can also be revised and edited. He writes with humor and insight. It feels as though he is sitting across a table, telling stories from his past.

I found comfort that this acknowledged master teacher was no more interested in pursuing an education degree when he entered college than I was. He sort of fell into it, as did I. And it worked out for the best for him, even during periods of frustration. He ran into obstacles that all teachers face: uninspired students, outrageous workloads, unsympathetic administrators.

He at all points realistically points outs his weak spots as well as his strong spots. He sends a message that teaching is not some mystical profession that only a chosen few can accomplish. He gives hope to me as a teacher that I can continue on. He reminds me that ours is an important and sometimes misunderstood profession. He inspires me to carry on.

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