Presented to Sue Anderson
I am pleased to present the 2021 Nebraska Writing Project Carol MacDaniels Teacher of the Year Award to Sue Anderson.
Sue Anderson currently teaches in the department of Teacher Education at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. This position is the culmination of over three decades in education in Nebraska, during which time she's taught writing workshop at Waverly High School, guided both Educational Service Unit #3 and the Assessment team at the Nebraska Department of Education, and more recently facilitated our College Career and Community Writing Project in Weeping Water and Madison. Throughout her career, Sue Anderson has connected and reconnected with the Nebraska Writing Project. She facilitated Institutes at Lincoln, Gretna, and the Omaha Learning Communities. She was a leader for our Goals 2000 project, which spiraled out to the creation of local standards for many school districts across the state. She is just this year completing a term on the NeWP Advisory Board. And she's one of the few NeWP teachers who has served with Carol MacDaniels, the woman in whose memory we give this award. Sue and Carol shared the inaugural positions of NeWP Associate Directors when I instituted the roles after becoming Site Director in 1994, over 25 years ago.
Like Carol, Sue Anderson exemplifies the three traits we honor with this award: great teaching, ongoing advocacy for teachers, and strong personal writing.
We can glimpse Sue's strong teaching in the comments offered by her former principal at Waverly, who described the changes she made in her writing classroom after her first Summer Institute experience:
When Sue approached me about using the writing workshop approach in her classroom, I was both excited and interested in seeing the results. I was confident she would be successful with some students, but only hopeful that all students would find success. ... Perhaps the single-most evidence came at parent-teacher conferences when Sue showed a student's writing portfolio to his mother, who immediately burst into tears, saying, "He's never written anything, and I didn't think he would ever be able to put into writing the thoughts he's expressed in these papers."
Sue Anderson's teaching, of course, extends beyond the secondary writing workshop she started back in the early 1990s. Her nominator from the NeWP Leadership Team adds another view of her teaching—her mentoring of new and early career teachers:
As a young teacher and relatively new member of the Nebraska Writing Project, I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with an expert teacher-leader like Sue. She is the kind of teacher, writer, and professional that I aspire to be.
Her nominator's comments segue into the second trait we honor with this award, advocacy for teachers. Sue Anderson is renowned for her administrative efforts to create spaces where teachers can thrive. A colleague at the Nebraska Department of Education writes:
Sue Anderson is a gentle giant among Nebraska educators. I first met Sue when taking my first NeWP Summer Institute in 1995 when we met daily sharing our own writing and talking about writing instruction. Since that time, we've worked together on many NeWP teaching/learning projects. One of the most memorable was co-facilitating the Learning Community of Writers Embedded Institute during the 2009-10 school year. This institute was designed to not only grow expertise among participants but also strengthen collaborative relationships among leaders from across the Learning Community of Douglas/Sarpy Counties in Nebraska. Her leadership as an ESU 3 administrator made the opportunity possible, and her contributions to the planning and implementation of the Institute ensured its success.
These comments are echoed by the Commissioner of Education during Sue's tenure as Writing Assessment Coordinator for the state. He writes:
Sue Anderson was responsible for the success of the statewide writing project in Nebraska. Through her leadership some 600 teachers were invited to attend the summer sessions where the student work was reviewed and evaluated. While the review of the student work was essential to use the writing as part of our accountability work, the teachers came away from the workshops with a deep understanding of student writing, how to evaluate it in ways that would improve the writing, and how the evaluation of the student's writing is to be used not to "judge" their writing but to improve it. Her ability to provide the professional development for the evaluators was key to the success of the project. Sue is a teacher who understands teachers and how to help them improve using their strengths and using their experience and expertise to review student writing in whole new ways.
Of course as you all know, a core Nebraska Writing Project principle is that "the best teachers of writing are writers themselves." Sue Anderson is a writer. We've all benefited from her professional writing, the grants and reports that make possible the advocacy opportunities I mentioned above. In preparation for these comments, I had the chance to look back over several NeWP Institute anthologies, to read Sue's self-sponsored writing. I'd like to close with a short vignette from Sue's piece, "Heidi's Story," written during the first Gretna Embedded Institute in 2013-14. The piece is a transformation story of a secondary student coming to writing in Sue's class. Let me read you the crucial moment from this story:
The next week when journals were due, Heidi made a special point to hand hers directly to me rather than putting in on my desk.
"Three pages and typed?" I asked.
"Yeah, well," she said, "I decided my stuff just looks better when it's typed. Guess what? You know that poem? I let my mom read it."
"Well, she thought it was pretty good. She cried. Actually we both cried."
By the end of the semester, Heidi was writing short fiction and personal essays, including one that accompanied her college application. She was particularly proud of that one because for some time Heidi hadn't planned on going to college after graduation.
When Heidi left that afternoon, I couldn't help by remember that sullen young woman in the black tee-shirt who had decided to write about something that was important to her, about her father and the family she was just coming to know, and about how writing our stories provides us ways we come to know ourselves.
Like Sue Anderson, and Heidi in her story, we too believe writing is a way to come to know ourselves, and a way to change our trajectories. Please join me in honoring Sue Anderson as the 2021 Nebraska Writing Project Carol MacDaniels Teacher of the Year.