National Writing Project

Lessons from a Teacher's Teacher

Date: November 5, 2012

Summary: In this interview, Dr. Augusta Souza Kappner discusses the important teachers in her life and why she continues to support the National Writing Project through service and fundraising.


Dr. August Souza

Board member Dr. Augusta Souza Kappner—"Gussie"—has devoted her life to creating change in education. Trained as a social worker—with a Master's Degree in Social Work from Hunter College and doctorate in Social Welfare Policy from Columbia University—Dr. Kappner's early passion for building a pathway for all young people and adult learners led her to adult education and community colleges. As President Emeritus of Bank Street College in New York City, Dr. Kappner continues to work to change the status quo through education. Dr. Kappner has been a tireless advocate for NWP. Among her many accomplishments, she has raised $500,000 for NWP. In her interview with Director of Advancement Susan Freundlich, Dr. Kappner reflects on why the National Writing Project matters.

Who is a teacher that inspired you?

I have had many great teachers but always remember Mrs. Sherman in 6th grade at P.S.23 in the Bronx. She gave up her lunchtime and after school hours to work with those of us who wanted to attend the specialized high schools in New York City. Without her help I would not have been able to attend Hunter College Junior High and High School, where I received a great public education.

Mrs. Sherman's commitment to her students was remarkable. She gave her personal time to give us that extra-special personal support. I always think about the Mrs. Shermans of today and the young people they are helping to succeed.

I am also inspired by my daughter who teaches high school in California. I admire her skills, her creativity, and the trusting relationships she has developed with her students and their parents.

What are some essential qualities in a teacher today?

Teachers need to have a social and moral commitment to education and to children. They need rigorous preparation to teach in our complex, diverse, rapidly changing society. Teachers have to be willing to continue learning throughout their lives. Out of necessity they must be the quintessential lifelong learners. They need to inspire such enthusiasm about learning that no child will think that learning ends with school.

In what ways does the National Writing Project help teachers?

Teachers are struggling to get the skills they need to be successful with the great diversity of students they teach. They are striving to maintain the energy to stay in schools that don't meet their understanding of what the best education truly is.

It is absolutely critical to have teacher-leaders like those with NWP, to be the mentors and guides who can help other teachers succeed and not become cynical. As a teacher-educator I know how hard it is to keep bright, motivated young teachers in a system that doesn't work, especially when the system doesn't support them. At some point, the ability to change the system has to come from teachers themselves. Teacher-leaders are in the best position to motivate younger teachers and give them hope.

NWP provides support for teachers their schools often do not. NWP inspires teachers and helps them see what they are able to do for themselves. I see NWP as one of a handful of organizations that are critical to supporting teachers and changing schools for the better.

Why do you support the National Writing Project?

I have worked with a lot of nonprofit organizations, and NWP is truly different. First, as it has grown it has remained entirely true to its mission. So many organizations stray from their mission and lose their focus. NWP is clear that it is about teachers and it is about writing.

Second, NWP is unique in being a grassroots network of teachers—it is by and for teachers. This is a real strength and has given NWP the ability to survive over the long term. It looks a bit different today than it did in the 1970's, and it may look different 15 years from now. Who knows what education will look like in 2030? But I have confidence that because NWP is a network of teachers it will still be here, serving teachers. To serve our students well, teachers need high quality professional development and good mentorship from those who know what good education can be. NWP is the national network that is doing exactly that—providing state-of-the-art professional development. NWP has earned my support and deserves the support of all those who care about the future of education in our country.

Interviewed on September 20, 2012

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