Our History

It’s somewhat reassuring to know that Tucson TAWL has been around long enough that the founding members can no longer remember exactly when the group got started. Randall Smith recalls joining with a group of Ken and Yetta Goodman’s students and area teachers in the early 1970s.  Randall was a new teacher at the time, just beginning to form ideas about the meaning of professional development and the role of literacy in curriculum and instruction. He describes his encounter as “being in the right place at the right time.” Over the years, his association with Tucson TAWL “had a powerful effect on [his] teaching” and led to his current involvement in professional development through IRA, NCTE, and Reading Apprenticeship. It seems from most of the recollections gathered that this initial group did not yet firmly establish TAWL’s presence in the Tucson community. Sarah Costello and Deb Jacobson recall evening meetings in about 1979 or 1980 at Miles Exploratory Learning Center in the Tucson Unified School District. Sarah remembers that, at the time, she and her colleagues felt alienated, disenfranchised and overwhelmed. “We were told what to teach, when to teach it, and how to determine if it had been taught. At the same time we were excited, enthusiastic and full of possibility as we learned about research that was being conducted all over the world related to reading, writing, and thinking.”

The group of students, teachers, and teacher educators met in classrooms to talk informally about their teaching and support each other. This group of teacher-learners developed a Kidwatching Guide, which was finally published as a monograph in 1984. Some of the authors, graduate students in Ken and Yetta’s Program in Language and Literacy at the University of Arizona, have long ago moved on. Others, however (Bob and Jackie Wortman, Deb Jacobson, and Wendy [Hood] Goodman), are still TAWL members.

Tucson TAWL’s presence was also firmly established through our bookstore, previously open every Saturday from 9:00–12:00 during the school year, and once a month in the summers. After becoming incorporated in the mid-1980s, Tucson TAWL decided not to send back the unsold books after a Goodman winter workshop, but instead hired a member as a director who would take care of the books and head up the conference committee. Ann Shubitz filled this position first, followed by Deb Jacobson. The books were moved to Deb’s guesthouse and for many Saturday mornings, it was common to find several members gathered to talk about their teaching, their reading, and their learning over tea and munchies provided by Deb. With the advent of Amazon and other on-line booksellers, TAWL  found it difficult to compete with the lower prices offered through on-line purchases.  In the summer of 2010, we made the decision to close the bookstore since it was costing more to keep it open than we were making in sales.  However, we still order books by conference keynoters to have available at our gatherings.

Since the mid-1990s, our TAWL group has moved away from monthly meetings, expending much of our energy on conferences, workshops, and teacher study groups. Currently, we are considering returning to the original format: we sense a need for regular nourishment and renewal in our education community. Sarah Costello, long-time member and former assistant principal, sums this need up best:

“We are at a time when this community-based meeting of educators is needed to fill the void and eradicate the sense of loneliness and despair that is prevalent in the schools today. As always, the difference will be made at the teacher level, through responsiveness to the learner, student engagement, and professional dialogue. Teachers, new and old alike, need professional dialogue to keep the spirit of learning alive in the classroom as well as in their hearts. We think that Tucson TAWL and the Whole Language Umbrella can fulfill that need.”

Editor’s Note: The Whole Language Umbrella held their annual “Literacies for All Conference” at a resort outside of Tucson in July 2008.