2012 River of Words/Kalmanovitz School of Education Teacher of the Year:
Harriet Maher, from Lafayette Parish Schools in Lafayette, Louisiana
Harriet Maher began teaching as a first grader, when she would return from school to teach the alphabet to younger siblings, so that they were reading before they entered kindergarten. Teaching was always Plan A. She got her first teaching paycheck in 1974, and except for a few years in graduate school, has taught every year since then...English, French, journalism, and creative writing in public and private schools in Louisiana and Texas. Now a National Board Certified teacher, she has worked as a lead or mentor teacher in Lafayette, Louisiana, for the past seven years.
For more than 20 years, she has been a teacher-consultant with the Acadiana Writing Project, an affiliate of the National Writing Project, and has collaborated with other teachers on Writes of Spring and Louisiana Writes local and state student writing contests. She has done numerous conference presentations and workshops, as well as Lafayette Reads Ernest Gaines, which resulted in a teaching guide on “The Sky is Gray.”
With her colleague Connie McDonald (River of Words 2006 Teacher of the Year), she initiated and co-directed a summer youth writing camp, Yeah, You Write!, for many years, as well as Dead of Winter Writing Retreat, a weekend devoted to writing in the outdoors. Former Louisiana Poet Laureate Darrell Bourque and area teachers regularly participate with high schoolers in the annual camp out, and many students submit their work to the ROW contest. A number of campers have been finalists.
Harriet began her involvement with ROW in 2000, when her son Kevin was a grand prize winner. “River of Words promotes the kind of consciousness I hope to develop in my students and in my own children. We live in a very beautiful but very damaged part of the world. Writing in and about the natural world helps all of us to see our place in it and our responsibility to it.
“I'm selective about the venues I encourage my students to send their writing. I want to make sure their work gets a careful reading. After seeing the respectful, thoughtful response Robert Hass and Pamela Michael gave to the children at the ROW awards ceremony, I knew I was in teacher heaven and would deepen my commitment to the mission of this organization.”
As part of that commitment, Harriet and Connie co-authored River of Words: Young Poets and Artists on the Nature of Things, an online teaching guide published by Milkweed Press to accompany the book of the same title.