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Tim Gillespie is a veteran of thirty-eight years of public school teaching. A winner of a National High School English Teacher of Excellence Award from NCTE, he wrote regularly about his classroom experiences during his years in the classroom.
Tim earned his bachelor's degree in English from Stanford University in 1971, then took a job as an aide in an inner-city K-5 school in Oakland, California, to fulfill his two-year alternative service obligation as a conscientious objector. Though he originally thought he would pursue journalism after this service, he got hooked on teaching writing to the children at Washington Elementary: “My decision to make teaching my life-long profession blossomed unexpectedly in those Oakland classrooms," Tim says.
Earning a master’s degree in teaching from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon (and later another master's degree in English from the University of New Hampshire), he began teaching high school English in Portland. In subsequent years, he served stints as the K-12 writing coordinator for the Parkrose School District and as the K-12 language arts specialist for the Multnomah County Education Service District, a job that included demonstration teaching in hundreds of classrooms, from rural and farmland districts to diverse urban schools. In addition, Tim regularly taught evening classes for teachers as an adjunct faculty member in the Graduate School of Professional Education at Lewis & Clark College.
"But mostly over my years as an educator,” Tim says, “I was happily teaching high school English, welcoming class after class of regular students—the tuned in and the tuned out, the enthusiasts and the strugglers—all mashed together and all hoping to learn to read more ably, write more eloquently, and think more deeply.” He taught reading and journalism and AP classes, worked in an alternative program for at-risk students, taught summer school for returning drop-outs, and was a school newspaper and multicultural club advisor. “The classroom is a compelling arena. Where the joy, wisdom, and provocations of great literature meet the sweat, creativity, and discipline of students searching for their own voices as writers, that’s where I always wanted to be,” says Tim.
During his teaching life, Tim was active with the Oregon County of Teachers of English, serving a term as President and many years on the executive council. He is still on the editorial board of the group's award-winning journal, Oregon English. He was one of the three cofounders of the Oregon Writing Festival, a statewide extravaganza that attracts almost a thousand young writers annually (for the last thirty-plus years) to participate in a day of workshops and readings. For a decade, he codirected with Kim Stafford the Oregon Writing Project site in Portland.
Tim has published over seventy educational articles and chapters in books and publications ranging from English Journal to Language Arts to the National Writing Project's The Quarterly. He has twice won the Paul and Kate Farmer Award from NCTE for the best article by a classroom teacher in English Journal. "Writing and sharing with colleagues in this way has always been central to my growth as a teacher," he says.
Tim is an avid reader, walker, hiker, and world traveler. For many years he played harmonica and wrote lyrics for the late and lamented blues-rock band Big Blind.
In retirement, Tim can’t seem to keep away from schools—volunteering in various classrooms, putting together a sixth-grade harmonica band, supervising student teachers, judging student slam poetry competitions, and even taking on a long-term substitute teaching gig for a friend on paternal leave. He also writes essays and poems for various small literary magazines in the Pacific Northwest.
“I miss many things about the daily work of teaching,” says Tim. “I loved the way teaching offered me a seamless life, linking my enthusiasm for reading with the opportunity to get students enthused about reading and my efforts to master writing with the efforts of my student writers. And I loved teaching because it was never easy, but its daunting difficulties meant it was ceaselessly thought-provoking and energy-generating and impossible to master in one lifetime. I loved the interactions of teaching—with young people who helped me stay young in outlook and idealism, and with the sorts of colleagues who thought they might possibly be able to make the world a slightly better and more just place. Teaching is such consequential work. The stakes couldn’t be higher. When it is successful and when it is unsuccessful, teaching changes lives. That’s why my most important heroes are all teachers.”