Name: Debra Schneider
Grades: Middle and High School
Subjects: Director, Instructional Media Services and Curriculum, Tracy Unified School District
High school History-Social Studies and a writing elective, Merrill F. West High School, Tracy
Middle school core (language arts, social studies), Clover and Williams Middle Schools
School/District: Tracy Unified School District
Local Writing Project: Great Valley Writing Project (GVWP)
National Center for Literacy Education’s Literacy in Learning Exchange
Awards & Recognition
- GVWP Teacher Consultant
- Sallie Mae First Year Teacher, 1989
- San Joaquin County Teacher of the Year, 1993
- Completed Ph.D. at UC Berkeley in 2002
- Project Director of WestEd K-8 Next Generation Science Standards Early Implementation Initiative, 2014-2018
I worked as a solitary teacher-researcher until I found an intellectual home in the Great Valley Writing Project. Surrounding myself with colleagues who lived inquiry in their daily work supported me and spurred on my own thinking and research in literacy in the content areas. The project was career-making for me. My identity as a teacher of ELLs came from my work with the GVWP, specifically from a fellow Teacher Consultant, Alejandra Ledesma, and her cogent comments about my teaching practices. Later, I was invited into the GVWP English Language Learner (ELL) Inquiry Group, where Teacher Consultants helped me become more grounded in my work with ELLs and supported my teacher research on writing in history with ELLs. I became a teacher of sheltered instruction in history and grew my teaching skills enormously. Encouraged by another Teacher Consultant, Genevieve Beltran, I wrote a proposal for a grant that allowed me and a small team at my site to plan and fund a two-year project of teacher research on argument writing in history that launched all the team members into district leadership roles.
Working with the GVWP changed my thinking about “what counts as writing.” I was a voracious reader of fiction and memoir, but didn’t see myself doing “that kind” of writing. Instead, as an advocate among my colleagues for educational issues that concerned me, and after my experience in the Invitational Summer Institute, I wrote about those concerns much more often and published that writing in a variety of venues. I began to value my writing in all genres and venues: letters to the editor; blogs for literacy and for teacher research; emails and memos that were constructed arguments in response to concerns; and vignettes of practice and family life. And my reading expanded; I loved to read essay collections by teacher researchers, but now also follow the work of Rebecca Solnit and Barbara Kingsolver, among others.
My teacher leadership role was birthed in the UC Davis History Project, where I became a Teacher Consultant in 1993; the GVWP supported my leadership role after 2006. That said, the California Subject Matter Projects have shaped my entire career! The deeply reflective stance, the attention to practices and looking closely at student work, the support for teacher research, all of these have been sustained by my involvement in the Writing Project.
Writing is like thinking and talking; all of them are ways of composing. Writing begins as a way to think, to clarify thinking, to organize thinking.
Nancie Atwell’s In the Middle changed my life in second year of teaching; it was my teaching manual for English/Language Arts for many years. Nancie’s book helped me understand what good readers and writers do, and how to give students support and practice doing just that.