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Teaching the Teacher

Teachers of every subject and grade improve their teaching through writing.

Each morning began with a Nibble and Scribble. Participants snacked on granola and fruit while writing about a daily prompt they each took a turn providing. The results covered beautiful fantasy stories, self-reflective essays, meta stories about what to write about, humorous growing-up tales, zombie haikus, and even a rewrite of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song. These captivating mornings were part of the three-week long Central Utah Writing Project (CUWP) summer institute held annually at BYU.

The CUWP provided an opportunity for teachers of any subject or grade level to improve their writing skills. Participants learned that anyone could become a writer and how empowering writing can be. They then discussed how to implement this same learning so their students could benefit in all subject areas by becoming better writers. Event co-organizer Professor Chris Crowe (English) said, “Teachers teach better when they are better writers themselves.”

Mandi Tibbetts, an English teacher from Copper Hills High School, described her experience at the CUWP as a serious boost to her summer productivity. She noted that the presentations, discussions, and reading list from the CUWP all contribute to her teaching throughout the school year and that she incorporates lesson plans created during the CUWP into all her classes. When asked why she finds the CUWP important, she said, “Anyone who is working to serve the whole student should attend; writing is helping students access and express themselves. Communication is a skill every human needs.” She also expressed gratitude for the environment the CUWP provides, noting that it was a fulfilling and advantageous place to be vulnerable as she learned to improve her writing skills and express herself.

English teachers weren’t the only ones to benefit from the CUWP. Alan Anderson, a visual art instructor from Mapleton Junior High School, was encouraged to attend by a fellow teacher and found the conference incredibly helpful. As a visual art instructor, Anderson didn’t have much previous experience with writing, so he was nervous at first but found his skills improving in the supportive atmosphere. He said, “Last week I didn’t identify as a writer, and now I do.” Remembering his reluctance to join in, Anderson said he hopes prospective attendees “stop thinking about it and just do it.”

CUWP Passing the Torch
Deborah Dean passing the "torch" of CUWP to new director Amber Jensen.

During the middle of the conference, Debbie Dean, the founder of the CUWP summer institute at BYU, passed the torch of leadership to Amber Jensen. Dean not only generated the project but has worked tirelessly every year since to ensure attendees get the most out of the experience. She recounted her time working at the CUWP, saying, “Fourteen summers of people coming to see themselves as writers has been the best part.”

Dean confidently passed the role of event organizer on to Amber Jensen, reminding the remaining leadership of the purpose of the event: helping teachers internalize the role of a writer (especially when English is not their teaching area) to open new opportunities for every teacher. Dean concluded by saying, “I am a writer, and you are writers too. And that is the biggest takeaway from CUWP.” The 2022 CUWP has helped another batch of teachers to see the value of writing in the classroom, not just for the students but also for themselves.