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A Journal For, And By, Teachers

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A Journal For, And In Massachusetts, Reflections has become a key forum for educators

JAY SUGARMAN, AN Elementary school teacher in Brookline, Mass., was fed up. It was 1984, and teachers were drowning in a sea of reports by blue-ribbon panels. Those panels, he says, ``kept making declarations about education without any teacher voices.'' To fill the void, he started a new journal called Reflections to get teachers' thoughts out on the table. Six years later, Reflections--one of only a handful of publications dedicated to teachers' writing--is still going strong.

In the semiannual journal, educators comment on classroom programs, evaluate research findings, review books, or take stands on educational issues. The periodical also showcases fiction, poetry, and art. Since its inception, the work of more than 225 teachers and administrators has appeared in its pages, and Reflections has become an important local forum for ideas.

Editor Sugarman and a small volunteer staff publish some 1,400 copies of the journal and distribute them free of charge to all full- and part-time staff in the Brookline Public Schools. About 150 copies are also sent to interested educators around the country, says Sugarman, who teaches 4th grade at Runkle Elementary School.

Brookline teachers have come to depend on Reflections. Judy McCarthy, a 6th grade teacher, recalls one spring when the publication was late arriving to the schools. "It created quite a stir,'' she remembers. "Even people who had never written in it were asking, 'Where is it?' and 'When is it coming?' Reflections makes us realize that so many parts of teachers' lives are so enriching.''

"Everyone reads every word of it,'' adds Judith Steinbergh, a poet-inresidence who rotates through the district's schools. "When the new issue comes out, in all the lunchrooms and lounges you hear people talking about other teachers' articles.''

The key to getting Reflections off the ground and sustaining it has been the Brookline Foundation, a local parent group that raises money to support teacher initiatives. In 1984, the foundation gave Sugarman a startup grant and helped him raise additional money from local businesses. Every year since then, the foundation has combined grants and fund-raising assistance to ensure than Sugarman has the $6,000 to $8,000 he needs to produce the two issues.

Sugarman also attributes the journal's success to the Brookline schools' willingness to support innovation and the eagerness of teachers to contribute articles. "It didn't happen totally out of the blue,'' he says.

In the beginning, Sugarman solicited submissions from teachers he knew were writers and sent memos to all the schools to drum up pieces. "At first, I did a lot of person-to-person outreach,'' he says. "After a couple years, submissions just flowed in.''

As managing editor, Sugarman reads every article and passes each one on to at least three other people in the community who have editing experience. He and the editors take time to talk with the writers about any needed changes. "They call about words and guide you through the editing process,'' Steinbergh says. "They're careful and caring.''

For many teachers, Reflections is their first experience at publishing, and the supportive atmosphere often encourages them to try their hand at more challenging writing projects. After writing for the journal, "teachers become more confident about trying to publish,'' Steinbergh says. "It gives them the momentum to publish outside the school system.''

But even more important than the positive experience of working with the editors is the satisfaction many teachers get from knowing their ideas are spreading. For example, when one teacher discovered a way to encourage children to write poetry, her colleagues read about it in Reflections, and some tried it out themselves. And when a teacher at the Driscoll School taught the same group of students for two years instead of just one, other teachers heard how it went.

Writers are often flooded with feedback from their colleagues. "I've never written a piece that didn't get several written and verbal responses,'' says McCarthy. "Sometimes they want more information. Other times they just want to tell me that something I wrote really struck a chord.''

Unfortunately, most teachers around the country do not have the opportunity to work with editors and communicate with colleagues. Although many subject-area publications encourage teachers to submit articles, only a few periodicals emphasize teachers' writing. One that does is The Quarterly, published four times a year by the California Writing Project in collaboration with the University of CaliforniaBerkeley. And in New England, Brown University and the Rhode Island public schools have been publishing pieces by secondary school teachers and student teachers in The Teacher's Journal, which appears once a year.

Sugarman is pleased that Reflections has stimulated discussion, but he believes it plays an even nobler role. "It raises the status of teachers,'' he says. "It acknowledges that teachers do have a knowledge base that they can articulate.'' Elizabeth Schulz

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