2006 Teacher of the Year

Saint Mary's Kalmanovitz School of Education and River of Words Celebrate our Teachers of the Year!

River of Words / Kalmanovitz School of Education 2006 Teacher of the Year  

Connie McDonald, of Louisiana State University Lab School; Baton Louge, Louisiana

Connie McDonald has taught English and Creative Writing in Louisiana public schools for 31 yeas. She ttraces her love of nature back to the camp on the Calcasieu River her family has had since she was nine years old. She discovered River of Words in the early '90s and spread the word to her colleagues in the Acadiana Writing Project in Lafayette, LA.

"I knew when I read the mission statement that this was a contest our students could be involved in. We teach students who grow up outside, along streams and riverbanks and sandbars. They know how the woods feel as the sun goes down, and how you can smell pine needles and honeysuckle or a water moccasin even though you can't see them. There are plenty of poems hiding in the sights and sounds and smells Louisiana kids are familiar with."

Connie credits the Writing Project and her fellow consultants for sharing ideas with her over the past fifteen years. "We are in a constant state of seeking and swapping good ideas that we glean from poets who visit our classrooms, from books we reas and workshops we attend, and from our own experiences," she explains. In 2006 she and four colleagues organized an overnight writing retreat for students that they called "Dead (Of Winter) Poets' Society Natue-Writing Retreat" along the Bayou Teche.

"When we got there, we made a huge bonfire and roasted hotdogs and made s'mores under the stars. The next morning we roamed along the bayou and wrote for hours. After a lunch of steaming gumbo, the eighteen students sat in a circle and read what they had written. Harriet Maher, who directed the event (and who has had many past ROW winners, including our son Kevin), passed out ROW applications and urged everyone to polish their pieces and get them in the mail for this year's contest."

Writing ideas collected from colleagues and professional writers have given Connie a repertoire of techniques to help students create their own poems. Hundreds of her students have won local, state, and national writing contests over the years. In 2005, four of her students were ROW finalists. She is a board member of the Louisiana Writing Project and the Louisiana State University Writing Project, and belongs to the Red Stick Writing Teachers Collaborative.