Patrick A. Allen is a literacy consultant and a 4th grade teacher from Denver, Colorado. He is the author of two Stenhouse books: Conferring: The Keystone of Reader’s Workshop and Put Thinking to the Test (coauthor). You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Randi Allison recently retired from Douglas County School District in Parker, Colorado. She is now available to work as a literacy consultant. She is the author of Tastes Like Chocolate: Thoughts from Young People (tasteslikechocolate.com). You can contact her at: email@example.com.
In Kathi Appelt’s wonderful book Poems from Homeroom: A Writer’s Place to Start she says, “What is it that we yearn for? What is it that calls us to put a pen to paper? A brush to the canvas? A note to a song? What are the things that move us to act?”
Great questions aren’t they? Wonderful thoughts to ponder as writers.
A few paragraphs later she states, “One way or another, if we have something to say, we’re going to say it.”
When Ruth and Stacey asked me to write as a guest I considered reflecting on my students’ writing, how our writing year meandered, what we accomplished, how we grew… but I decided instead to share with you a glimpse into a journey that’s taken more than one school year… actually it’s been 25 years. My friend, Randi Allison, is the one who encouraged me to yearn… to be the teacher I am today. Together, we both were moved to act. I’ll miss her.
On June 21, 2011, my dear friend, writing mentor, and partner in crime retired. Randi and I have been learning about writing together for a long time. We’ve lunched with Donald Graves and considered him a friend. We’ve cherish our relationships with Katie Wood Ray, Shelley Harwayne, and Georgia Heard. We’ve chatted about writing with Ralph Fletcher, Ellin Keene, Linda Reif, and many other great writers who grace our profession (we’re all lucky in that respect… thank goodness they are there to lead the way). We’ve been blessed.
We’re learned from writing mentors whose texts adorn our shelves – Jane Yolen, Patricia Polacco, Gary Paulsen, and Cynthia Rylant. They have helped us see what great writing can and should look like… varied, language rich, and personal. We’ve treated them like friends as well – good friends.
But, it’s been our every day interactions as fellow writers, working alongside children, that I’ll miss the most. It’s from the students that we’ve learned the most.
Through thick and thin, rough spots and smooth spots, ups and downs… our friendship has endured. I trust her. She trusts me. Together, we’ve grown as writers.
I actually met Randi 26 years ago, when I was a student teacher. She was dressed as Johnny Appleseed… cooking pan on her head, suspenders, and hiking boots. She cracked me up! She was working with first graders at the time. I knew I’d like her!
The next year, she became my teaching assistant. Neigh, she became a fellow teacher. She and I worked side-by-side learning about writers, honing our craft, filling pages of our notebooks with our thinking… our students, in turn, taught us how to be better writers. Their knack at capturing craft and thinking deeply was far richer than ours! It has been quite the journey!
In The Magic Room, a story Randi told in those early days, Phoebe, the main character sings this song:
“I know things that
You don’t even know I know.
I feel things that would make you
Listen to what I say!
Watch the things I do!
And I’ll be oh so happy
And I will shine for you.”
And that’s what Randi did for me, our students, and everyone with whom she came in contact with as a teacher of writers for the last 27 years. She’s shone. We’ve watched… we’ve listened… and page after page, we’ve been surprised. If there’s one thing you can say about Randi, she’s full of surprises.
As she entered this chapter of her life, she gave me a good portion of her books. As I open them, I read and remember. And, every once in a while there’s a gift tucked inside—a cousin text, a note, a jotting. I’ll treasure them. I’ll treasure every lesson she taught me about “dipping into my writer’s well!”
On her last day at school, my students and I presented her with a compilation of poems. The kids wrote them at home in their “Write-at-Home” notebooks (get it, “right at home”). Beside each poem, they drew a picture of themselves and one of Randi (with her “flaming” red hair, pearls, and dangling bracelets). What do you give a person who’s met so much to you as a writer… writing! Here are a few of my favorites:
A part of my writing life is
It’s a gap that will never become filled,
I will never forget
Clinky clank bracelets that dangle beyond your wrist,
Lots of laughs,
All of the fun-filled memories!
I can’t go.
Don’t go… Mrs. Allison
To let out your feelings.
About when I was Young in the Mountains.
“Your shoes look like a fairytale.”
to always add alliteration.
to Mark Your day.
to use your Writer’s Well.
Life lasts ever so long,
Year after year,
Changing age to age.
I will miss you and your charm.
You left us writing
And memories that will
In a book that tastes like chocolate.
I’d like to say,
You planted me,
giving me the
nourishment to grow.
And you grew a writer… Me!
So thank you
me a reason to write.
I’d like to say.
So Randi has moved on to greener pastures. To cleave with her husband a bit. To do some professional development (you should book her). To enjoy her grandchildren. To share her gifts with other adults. To laugh. To sing. To dance. To travel. To enjoy. And, TO WRITE! And, though I’ll miss her desperately, I’m excited to see what magic she cooks up next…
But I know that she still has a yearning… she is and always will be a writer.
So, Stacey and Ruth, is this the kind of reflection you hoped for when you asked me to blog? It’s what’s been on my mind, of late. I’ll miss my writing partner, but I still have my friend.
Here’s the poem I wrote for her… Enjoy…
Exit stage left…
The curtains close, bright lights fade to darkness.
But words, oh the words…
They live on like rain filling an empty well.
The stage is silent, dark, forever changed—
But ironically only for a time.
For what good is an empty stage?
It’s but a vessel waiting to be filled with story,
With song, with dance, with laughter, with tears.
And at each closing, a new play begins.
But the shadows, oh, in the shadows…
New actors hear an echo that haunts them!
Where is it coming from—
This strange and marvelous sound?
It’s coming from the hearts of those who came before,
Those who graced the stage with elegance and flare,
Those whose oratory gave words meaning and voice.
Those who tears and laughter permeates the balcony.
Those whose voice remains in hearts and minds.
The curtains close and bright lights fade to darkness.
But the words, oh the words, your glorious words.
Your words remain… forever!