Be the change, being a teacher, books, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

On Becoming a Reader

My husband is not a reader.

By far, he is one of the smartest people I know.  He can fix anything broken, he can solve any problem.  He can dream and plan and build pretty much anything.  But reading, in the traditional sense of books, nah… not for him.

When I first met him, I couldn’t figure out how someone as smart as him could not see value in books.  How could you live a full life without books?  And yet, in the 17 years, we have been together, he has shown me how many facets there are to a full life.  But now he has been in school for the past two years, getting his degree as a Tech Ed teacher, and the other day after taking a particularly grueling test, he told me how much he felt like he wasn’t smart enough for the test simply because of his reading pace.  You see, the test was timed, and so when the time was almost up, my husband did what many of our students do all of the time; filled in as many unanswered questions with random guesses as he could.  Better answered then left blank.

He told me how he knew he could have answered them right had he had the time.  He told me how he felt this pressure at all times knowing that he wasn’t going fast enough.  He told me that he tried to skim as quickly as he could but then lost meaning and had to read it all over again.

If he had only been a faster reader, he would have been just fine.

It blows my mind still that we equate reading pace with reading comprehension.  That we allow standardized tests to teach our children that if they cannot read quickly, they cannot read at all.  Which jobs require us to read complicated materials within 90 seconds?  But that’s the reality we face and so at the end of our discussion, I gave him my best advice; read more books.  It is the one guaranteed way to increase your reading speed.  Find books you love.  Take the time to read.  And you will see, your reading pace will increase.

He told me how he just didn’t like books.  How he didn’t mind reading technical stuff (which he devours daily), but that books just had never caught his attention.  That they were too slow, too boring, too confusing.  That reading was never anything fun or entertaining but always presented as an assignment; read this book, do this work. Rinse, repeat.  He sounded exactly like my most resistant readers.  The ones we all teach that tell us loudly and proudly that reading is not their thing and we will certainly not convince them otherwise.

And so I did what I do every single day of the year.  I handed him a book, Orbiting Jupiter, and told him to try it.  To give it a shot and if he didn’t like it, tell me and I would try again.

He sat down and read into the night then woke up and finished the book.  He finished the book!  And then he asked me for another.  I handed him How it Went Down.  He started to read.

Today we went to my classroom to grab stuff.  He went to the bookshelves and started to browse.  Grabbed a few books, asked me about others.  Together we book-shopped.  He was open to whatever but had a few ideas, maybe some war history?  Maybe something with a fast pace?  Social justice lens?

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Brandon’s To Be Read Pile – his first one ever…

I quickly grabbed my tried and true, added them to his pile and realized right in that moment that I was working with him like I would any resistant reader: offer choice, support, time to read, and most importantly communication.  At 41 years old, it seems that my husband is finally going properly through the motions of what it means to know yourself as a reader.  And I couldn’t be prouder.

So often we focus on these aspects of developing reader identify when students are young.  Before they reach middle and high school.  Once they come to us older, perhaps more jaded, more stubborn, we sometimes forget to go back to the basics.  To treat them as we would any developing reader.  To go back to choice, community, access to meaningful books and discovery of who they are as readers.  To find the time to actually help them become the reader they can be.  Too often the content gets in the way.  All of the little things that constitute what teaching sometimes becomes, rather than what it should be.  We assume that someone certainly will figure out how to help this child become a reader without realizing that that someone is us.  That we are the person who needs to somehow reshape the reading experience that they have had until now so that they do not become adults who do not read.

Today, I was reminded of how it is never too late.  How every child that we teach has the potential to see themselves as a reader by the time our year is up.  That even the adults that tell us that they are not readers can still become readers.   But that they need our help, not our judgment, our know-it-betterness, our confusion of how they could live without books.  Instead, they need what every reader needs; choice, books, community, time, personalization, and understanding.

My husband is not a reader, but that doesn’t mean he cannot become one, now.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child  Also consider joining our book club study of it, kicking off June 17th.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

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Be the change, being a teacher

What We Can Give

Today, we gave our 141 students a brand new book.  As a way to entice them away from the dreaded summer slide.  As a way for them to relax. As a way to thank them.  Thank them for all they gave us this year, for all that they brought to us.  While we gave them just a book, there is so much more that we, as educators, can give our students every year.

We can give them our time.  Always when they want it and sometimes when they don’t.

We can give them our respect.  Always when they earn it and even when they don’t.  Apologize when we need to and set high expectations for all.

We can give them our trust.  Always when they prove it and sometimes when they don’t.

We can them give room to grow, to try, to not succeed at first and to stretch themselves into the bigger version that they hoped to be.  Give them space to be challenged, let them in on the process, and then listen to them as they give us their feedback so that we can grow right alongside them.

We can give them our love.  Even those who swear that they will never want to willfully be a part of our classroom, sometimes, we love them just a little bit more loudly.

And we can give them all the benefit of our doubt.  A clean slate for the next class, for the next day, and for the new year.  Sure, give us tips about the incoming students, but don’t tell us what they can’t do.  Tell us what they can.  Tell us how they have grown, their strength and what they are still working on.  Don’t tell us, “Good luck…” or “Good riddance…”

We can give them our very best, even when it is hard, even when they are hard.  Becuase didn’t we all become teachers to do just that?  Be better than what we were before?  What better way to prove it than to grow.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child  Also consider joining our book club study of it, kicking off June 17th.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

Be the change, being a teacher, being me

Lessons From Ten Years of Trying….

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The night before my very first day as a teacher.  This is what terrified looks like.

Ten years ago, I said thank you to my very first class of 4th graders.  Thank you for their dedication.  Thank you for their persistence.  Thank you for their love.  I know I cried as I hugged each and every one of them, thanking them for our year.

Today, I will hug as many 7th graders as I can.  I will thank them for a year filled with laughs.  With challenges.  With growth.  With love.  Teaching is by far the best thing I can do with my professional time.  When I look back on ten years of teaching, I cannot help but think of all the things I have learned.  Of how I have grown.  Of how I am still growing.  There is so much to learn, still.

But ten years has also taught me a lot about what it means to be a teacher.  What it means to get up every morning and do this job.  Not just because you have to, but because you can.  And as always, the kids I have had the privilege of teaching are the ones who have taught me the biggest lessons.  The ones who have made me who I am today.  They taught me…

That’s it’s not about me.  That the needs of the students should always be my focus.  That when I am wondering what I need to change, they are where I start.  That my assumptions, while sometimes on point, will never be as accurate as what they will actually tell me.  That their advice, if we only take it, will transform our teaching for the better.

…but sometimes it is.  Sometimes I am the problem.  Sometimes I am the reason a child hates school.  Sometimes my decisions, even if made with the best of intentions, will harm rather than build.  It is my job to make sure that I know that.  That I realize the immense power that we have over the future of the very children we teach.  That I ask the hard questions in order for me to grow and to create an experience that works for every child as much as humanly possible.

They have taught me…

That a smile will always go further than a well-developed lesson plan.  That my attitude when it comes to the very kids I get to teach is a choice.  That saying hello, that smiling, that telling them how much I love this job, how much I love them, will make a difference.  Even to those who push the hardest.

….but sometimes a well-developed lesson plan can move mountains.  When students plan lessons with us, offer up their ideas, and invest their energy, we are already further than we could be without them.  That lessons need choice, relevance, and challenge.  That every child deserves to be held to high expectations, and every child needs a second chance when something doesn’t work.

That those who push you the hardest, leave the biggest marks.  That often those kids who see no value in school, no value in you, are the ones you will fight the hardest for.  That it is not your job to save them from their lives, themselves, or their circumstances, but that you are there to love, to offer up ways to navigate their lives, and to remind them that they have worth.  That in this world, they matter.

…but sometimes they don’t want you to be in their corner.  And that’s ok, too.  We can try to connect with every child we teach, knowing that for some we may be exactly the type of teacher they do not want.  The biggest gift we then can offer up is, besides not giving up, to help them forger connections with others.  To help them have someone they connect with, so they know that they are not alone.

They have taught me…

That I don’t know it all.  Especially the more I teach, I realize how little I know.  Ten years ago I didn’t think about my privilege.  I didn’t think about how marginalization hurt the very kids I taught.  How inequitable our school system is.  How white skewed my classroom library was.  How I didn’t know everything.  But I grew, and I will continue to grow.  I will continue to admit when I screw up, and it happens a lot, and I will continue to apologize, to use the power I have been given to fight for others and with others.

…but I do know some things.  I know that love matters.  That research matters.  That conviction matters.  That sometimes being the sole voice for change is scary, but necessary.  That we grow best through kindness, but sometimes kindness will not tear down walls.  That what we believe in directly influences how we teach, but that our bigger job is not to give students our opinion, but instead make space for them to develop their own.  That every day I get to work with kids is a better day.  That there is hope.  That this new generation of kids we are raising are changing the world.  That I would rather be a part of the fight, then safe on the sidelines.

I became a teacher because I hoped to make a difference.  I hoped to create a classroom where every child felt safe, where every child felt loved.  I don’t know if I have succeeded, but I do know that teaching has changed me.  That I would not be the person I am without the influence of the many incredible children I have taught and who have taught me.

I came into this profession to make a difference but in the end, it was the kids that made the biggest difference to me.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child  Also consider joining our book club study of it, kicking off June 17th.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

 

Be the change, being a teacher, end of year

7 Must Do’s at the End of the Year

With just a few precious days left with the kids I have gotten to call mine for the year, my body is bone-tired.  I think we all are.  Yet, my mind is eager, I am excited to send these kids off for summer, and yes, I am also excited for the next group of kids coming our way.

So within these last few days lies an incredible opportunity to grow.  To prepare for the next year even if this year is not quite over.  I have seen some great posts on things to reflect on as the year ends for so many of us and thought I would share what I plan on doing.  Perhaps, you could use a few ideas yourself?

I plan on surveying my students.  While our school does both a home and student survey, I also need to know what I can work on.  Every year, the words of my students help me shape the experience to come.  Every year, the words of my students help me grow as an educator.  Don’t let the kids leave without helping you grow.

I plan on keeping certain experiences.  Looking through the year and reflecting on what really worked, whether it was a lesson, an idea, or simply a moment, helps me think of the year to come.  Don’t let this year end without you realizing what worked.  Whether you go through lesson plans or simply write a bullet list, take note so that when the time comes for your ideas to come back, you have a place to start.

I plan on getting rid of certain lessons.  While our experience inevitably changes year after year, there are also certain things that despite our best intentions simply didn’t work.  So I am getting rid of them both physically and mentally.  goodbye curation project!  Goodbye identity journals!  Goodbye to you so that I can make room for better things.

I plan on freshening up the room.  In fact, I already did that.  Last week, my husband and I moved all of our bookshelves so that I could reclaim the front of the room as part of our teaching area.  It has made a huge difference to the feel of the room, how welcoming it looks.  Why wait until next year?  Try it out now and see how it feels.

I plan a focus.  This summer, I get to both teach others and learn from others and so I need a focus.  Where does my craft need to grow?  Writing is what comes to mind, as well as the hard work of equity and social justice.  And so I go to conferences with a few goals in mind.  I read PD books with these goals in mind.  I reflect, invent, and write down ideas with these few goals in mind.  In the past, when I have had a broad focus, I feel I have learned little, but when I have a few questions in mind, such as how will I continue to help students understand their role in the world or how we will we create more joyful writing experiences, then I leave summer with a few tangible ideas that shape our experience together.

I plan a challenge.  Every summer, I try to discover the work of new amazing leaders in education.  One year it was educators like Val Brown, Dana Stachoviak, and Cornelius Minor, another it was diving into the work of We Need Diverse Books and figuring out how to work through my own biases and change the way I taught.  Every year, I pick a challenge that will push my thinking, make me realize my own mistakes, and also help me become a better educator.  It can be hard at times, but it is definitely worth taking the time to realize the gaping holes you have and then actually doing something about it.

I plan a break.  Teaching is amazing, it is my favorite thing to do as far as work., but it is also exhausting, heartbreaking at times, and hard.  So summer is time for a break, and not a kind of break where I still work, but one where I feel no guilt for not checking my email.  Where I feel no guilt for reading whatever I want even if it is slightly trashy.  Where I feel no guilt for not checking in, creating something, or coming up with new ideas.  But you have to plan for it or it won’t happen.  We know how consuming teaching can be, how it can spill into every part of summer, but don’t let it.  Allow yourself to detach completely so that you can get excited.  So that you can let ideas marinate in the back of your mind.  So that you can remember what it means to have a life, if even for a little bit, outside of teaching.  Because if you never leave, then you cannot get ready to come back.

Summer is a break.  A much-needed one for many.  But it is also an incredible time to become something more than what we ended as.  To remember why we entered teaching.  To get excited, to catch up on sleep, and to become the very best version that we can be of ourselves so that when September rolls around, or whenever our students come back, we can say, “I am so glad you are here,” and truly mean it.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

Be the change, being a student, being a teacher, Reading, Reading Identity

Who I Am as a Reader – A Reading Memoir Writing Project

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Every year, we have tried to create a meaningful end to the year.  A meaningful way for all of us to come together one last time, to cement the year we have had.  To realize just how far we have come.  In the past few years, it was our This I Believe speeches, given on the last few days where students sometimes decided to delve into their past as they looked at their future.

This year, I wanted something different and an idea I have heard both Donalyn Miller and Teri Lesene mention came to mind; the reader memoir.  A seemingly simple narrative that would allow us to see the growth of our students as writers while they reflected upon their reading.  A way for us to hear the truth that they carry within them, to see the hopes or fears they have for their future reading life.

So three weeks ago, as we started our final reading challenge (a self-selected book club or an independent reading challenge), I unveiled the project, to see the slides, go here.  Write about your life as a reader.  The good, the bad, the future, the past.  Tell me about who you are now, how you have grown, the books you have cherished and those you didn’t.  About what made you a reader or turned you away from reading.

At first, some kids were skeptical, after all, why would they want to write about that, and yet as the memoirs themselves start to roll in, I cannot help but sit in awe as my students dive into their own reading experiences to share who they are as readers now.

“If we lived in a world without books, I’d make my own…”

“When we’re asked to read in class, I actually read.”

“I don’t think I was meant to be a reader.”

My parents would sit with me and my siblings, reading us stories, and we would huddle close and listen. Then I would begin to slump, falling asleep to the flowing words.”

As my students’ words surround me, I cannot help but be grateful for the words they have chosen to share, the truths they have given me as I prepare for another set of readers and nonreaders next year.  What a way to end, by knowing them even more.  What a way for them to end, by knowing themselves a little more.  Perhaps, this will be something they also remember.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

Be the change, being a teacher

How to Really Thank a Teacher

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The cookies have been put away.  The flowers beginning to wilt.  The cards remain on our whiteboards, but life has moved on.  No more lunches.  No more notes.  No more half-price pizza or buy one get one free burritos.   Teacher appreciation week is over and the world keeps on spinning.

And while I appreciate the sentiment.  While I appreciate the notes.  The cards.  The food, I cannot help but thank that it is too easy to thank a teacher this way, rather than do it properly. That the whole notion of teacher appreciation is just one more example of how the teaching profession is given little value, in certain circles, because if it were, we wouldn’t need to be thanked like this.

What if instead of a note, people voted for politicians who believed in funding public schools?  For politicians who believe that better teaching programs are the answer, not equipping people with no teaching degrees a teaching license?  For school boards who support the courageous work teachers do in their classrooms as they try to teach empathy, kindness, acceptance, and understanding?

What if instead of flowers, we were all given livable wages and healthcare that was affordable?  I work for a district that has kept our wages intact despite the push of our politicians, who have made it their mission to not only attract new teachers but retain the old.  What if every teacher felt that respect?  What if every teacher could actually pursue their dream of making a difference for the future of this nation, without having to work two jobs?

What if instead of lunch, we were all given resources?  Student service personnel so that every child could get the support they need?  Interventionist so that all kids can achieve?  Classroom libraries in every room?  Technology devices to keep up with the demands of an ever-changing world?  Textbooks, if needed, that accurately portray the world we live rather than continue to push misogynistic, racist, and other dismantling views?

What if instead of discounts, we were all given support?  Support from our administrators to show off our family, even when it falls outside of what some in society has deemed “the norm?”  Support from our school board when we share books that start much-needed conversations?  Support for when we try new things?  SUpport for when we support our students who need it so desperately?  Support for when we hang on to common sense instruction?  Support for when we question the computer programs that are placed in our schools instead of teachers?  Support from our families as we try to create opportunities that do not push an agenda, but instead push understanding, critical thinking, and actual debate.

To be a teacher is a calling for most.  To be a great teacher is a job that will tear your heart out, fill it up and place it back in a new shape.  While I will hang on to the notes and cards my students gave me this week until I get old and can no longer teach, I wish we could see as a society how there is so much more to be done.  How teachers should feel valued all of the time.  How we need to protect the work they do.  The meager resources they get.  The little respect at times individual teachers face.  Not just when the calendar tells us so.