The Bread Loaf Teacher Network: A Way of Life

Sep 4th, 2013 | By | Category: BLTN Teachers, Fall 2013, Issue
CeciHeadshot—by Ceci Lewis 
English Instructor, Cochise Community College
Co-Director, Andover Bread Loaf
BLTN Advisory Board 
BLSE  1999

 As the Bread Loaf Teacher Network (BLTN) celebrates its 20th year, I find myself reflecting on what my participation in this unusual network has provided for me, my students, and my profession.

Starting out with my first classroom at the age of 39, I came into the teaching profession later than most teachers I knew. I had street smarts and age, which was very helpful in maintaining discipline in my classroom.  What I lacked, however, was a clear connection with other professionals who shared my passion for writing and working with youth.

Fortunately for me and my students, I joined BLTN in 1996, and as a member, I have forged lasting personal and professional relationships that have nurtured me as a woman, teacher, and student; moreover, my students have the opportunity to connect with students and professors from around the world; and my institution has benefited from the cutting-edge, educational theory and practice that I access via the network.

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Since that first summer in Vermont in 1996, when I received a DeWitt-Wallace Reader’s Digest Fellowship, my life has changed radically through knowing and working with network’s innovative members: Susan Miera, Juanita Lavadie, Brent Peters, Mary Guerrero, Lee Krishnan, Lou Bernieri, Rich Gorham, Janet Atkins, Mohsin Tejani, Tom McKenna, Deborah Alcorn, Rex Lee Jim, and countless others have helped shape my teaching philosophy by sharing their classroom successes and failures. Together we have celebrated the wins and analyzed the losses. They have also shared their families and lives with me. I have been welcomed into the homes and classrooms of the most inspiring teachers, all around the world.  What richer experience could a teacher ask for as she works to improve the academic possibilities for her students and for her own life?

Through the network, my students have engaged in electronic communication (exchanges) with students in South Africa, Kenya, Alaska, New Mexico, Maine, Haiti, and South Carolina. As technological advances have evolved, so have the exchanges. Beginning with literature and writing-based electronic exchanges, my students’ connection with other BLTN classrooms has morphed into creating Facebook pages and informative mini-films that showcase their research.  All the while, the Bread Loaf Teacher Network is right in the classroom with us, providing feedback, offering technical assistance, and supporting the global connections that make the academic experience all that much richer for us all.

Finally, the faculty members of the Bread Loaf School of English are widely known for their academic stature. What might not be as widely known, however, is the generous support these professors provide the network during the regular school year. For example, Yale Professor Robert Stepto wrote to my students as we read, analyzed, and discussed his book A Home Elsewhere. Professor Michael Armstrong, who has taught every level of education from infant school to university, traveled from England to Tombstone, AZ, to work with my students as we explored what it means to acquire another language. Theater Professor Carol McVey of the University of Iowa provided electronic encouragement and expertise to my students and me as we began a new drama class and club at our high school. Professor Victor Luftig connected his students at Brandeis University with my students at Buena High School in southeastern Arizona. These are just a few of the many ways that Bread Loaf faculty have personally assisted my students over the past 17 years.

The Bread Loaf Teacher Network has nurtured me professionally in other ways, too. Under the editorial guidance of Chris Benson, I published several articles in my profession. Professor Tilly Warnock has read and responded to my creative non-fiction work. Professor and BLTN Director Dixie Goswami, my longtime mentor and friend, has encouraged me further professionally than I ever could have imagined going on my own.  Through her generous guidance and constant support, my professional and academic experiences have opened up wonderful opportunities for personal and professional growth.  For this member, the Bread Loaf Teacher Network is more than a professional network; it is a way of life.

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