It’s not the shortest trip from her then 9th grade classroom in Pontotoc High School in rural Mississippi to a Congressional Briefing Room on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. but Sydney McGaha was determined to make it. Her topic: “Professional Development That Makes an Impact: Proven Results of NWP’s College-Ready Writers Program.” As a teacher-leader with the University of Mississippi Writing Project, she had seen that even teachers and students like those in her rural, 620-person high school are capable of teaching and learning at a high level when they have access to well-designed, sustained professional development.
“I descend from a long line of educators, and I was determined to not become a teacher,” she said, smiling. “However, after graduating, I found myself entering a middle-school classroom. Although I had received an exemplary public school education, my first teaching position was in a school in a rural community where 99% of the students received free or reduced-price school lunch. There was an enormous amount of teacher turnover and student test scores were consistently dismal.”
Three years later, McGaha joined the University of Mississippi Writing Project through its Summer Institute, then became part of its professional network of teachers. She eagerly joined the site’s leadership team that was forming to support professional development for teachers in Mississippi in the College, Career and Community Writing Program (C3WP). The program focused on improving the teaching of source-based argument.
Now, as an assistant principal, McGaha is committed to providing leadership for the classrooms in her building and to working with other teachers across Mississippi’s varied communities as a consultant and National Board of Professional Teaching Standards mentor. “As part of this work, I have watched many facets of my own teaching craft transform, as well as having an impact on others. I became armed with the tools that I needed to address the curricular changes being addressed in Mississippi.”
“Through the professional learning opportunities and resources provided by the CRWP my role as an NWP local site teacher-leader working with teachers at other schools has not only revolutionized my teaching and leadership practice, but also solidified my life purpose.”