And Yet We Grow…

“I don’t think you were a good teacher to me and you did not help me this year at all. I don’t think you should be a teacher here. This year of english is the worst year all.”

Three lines.

Three lines that cut deep.

Three lines that can crash your world.

Three lines that can make you question every single thing you stand for and everything you believe.

We pride ourselves on the difference we hope to make.  On how we try to make our classes more engaging. On all of the ideas we try, hoping to make school somehow better.

And yet…

For some, it is not enough.

For some, you are not good.

For some, you shouldn’t even be a teacher.

I will admit there were tears.  Embarrassment, after all, am I not supposed to have it figured out?  Perhaps even confusion.  I didn’t realize that I would elicit such a strong response from anyone, but I did.

And yet in these words, beyond the surprise, beyond the hurt, there is also a truth.  A truth that must have taken a lot of courage to share, to write, knowing that I would see the words and also see who wrote them.

So rather than wallow, or lick my wounds, or at least not for long, I asked the child to tell me more.  To help me better understand so that I could prevent this reaction in future years.

Their answer was to the point; I just hate English, it is not really you, but the class.  When I asked if they were sure because it sounded like I was a part of the problem, they shrugged and said they didn’t really mean it.  They were just angry and resentful toward English.

I thanked them for their honesty and vowed to do better.

I share these words tonight because they still hurt.

They still are embarrassing.

They are words I would rather hide and pretend I never read.

And yet, within these words is a careful truth, one that is beyond the obvious of being a teacher who seemingly failed a child; we are not perfect.  None of us are.  I am not perfect, not that I have believed that for a long time.  I am still growing.  I am still learning.  And yet sometimes we look to others and think they have it all figured out.  That in their classes all kids love what they are doing.  That every child must love them as a teacher and we look at our own classrooms and wonder why we cannot seem to reach that pinnacle of perfection.

So see these words and know; they hurt, but they are not the full story.  One child’s reaction will never be.  Your story will never be told in just three sentences so do not diminish yourself to three sentences or less.

There may be days where I feel like I figured it out, but there will always be days where I know I haven’t.  The most we can do is to keep coming back and try again.  To reach out again.  To keep asking our questions even if the answers hurt.

We grow because we dare to ask.  Because we tuck our pride away and take the words that are delivered.  I don’t ever want to stop asking.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.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.

8 Ideas to Make the End of the Year Race Better

Have your students told you yet how many days that are left?  While it has been awhile for me, I can still feel it creeping up, sneaking up, whether we are ready or not; for many of us in the Northern hemisphere, the end of the year is near.  And if your students are anything like ours, then there may be excitement in the air mixed with a special kind of exhaustion that is threatening to derail even the best-laid plans.  So what can you, along with your awesome students, do to make these last few days or weeks better?  Here are a few ideas.

Make it matter.  And by this I mean; make it meaningful, make it count.  Now is the time to dig deep, to go personal, to make it something they will remember for a long time.  we end with out This I believe project, a student and teacher favorite every year and we work all the way up until the very last day.  I love how we end with something that ties us even closer together as a community, rather than just have us fade out in small to-do’s.

Teach with urgency.  This is not the time to slow down, instead, make every minute worth your time.  We start with reading, as always, and then we teach until the bell.  I want the days to go by fast, not drag on for everyone involved.

Increase student movement and talk time.  I love seeing the various projects our students are engaged in throughout our building, with many of them involving more movement and also more student agency.  Now is a perfect time to have students take the lead on projects if you haven’t before and also to incorporate as much choice as possible.  I was lucky enough to watch a PE class where students had to sit and write about their summer fitness goals, the kicker?  Every time they did a section they had to run and do other physical activities.  I loved seeing how even in writing, movement was incorporated.

Make memories.  Even if the students are ready to leave make sure you take the time to reminisce a little.  How has this year been?  What will they remember?  I try to have students write letters to the incoming 7th grade to offer them tips and ideas, these letters not only give me a way to welcome the new students but also to see what made a difference to my current ones.

Take them outside.  I used to shun the outside for teaching, after all, it was just so distracting.  Now we look for the days where we can get outside.  So far it has only been with my homeroom class for a quick walk, but the outside is calling all of my classes and I am thinking of a way to teach out there.

Survey them.  This is ripe reflection time for us as we start to look forward to next year so make sure you ask all of the questions you have.  While I have not finalized my end of year survey yet, last year’s told me a lot about which projects they loved, the ones they hated, and also how I could become a better teacher.  These kids know us so make sure you ask for their advice, after all, we have the best professional development sitting right in our classrooms.

Make plans for the summer.  I don’t think we should pretend that summer is not right around the corner, instead, we need to have some frank conversations about what their plans are and more specifically, what their reading plans are.  Many of my students told me today that they did not plan on reading at all, this is the reality many of us face, and yet I still have four weeks to showcase the most incredible books I can find.  Book talk with urgency and help them create long can’t-wait-to-read lists.  Partner with the next year’s teachers, partner with your school librarian, partner with those at home and help them remember to read.

Reflect on their growth.  I don’t think all of my students know how much they have grown, how much they can do, how much more they are now than when they began.  I think the is common for most kids, after all, growing smarter is a gradual affair.  So build in time for them to actual realize their growth, their successes, and also to goal set for next year.

Stay in the present.  Ah so that makes nine, but this one is so important.  It is so easy to get caught up in thinking about next year and even planning for next year, and yet; these are the kids we still have.  We are still in the current school year, so if we don’t stay in the present, neither will our students.  Love them, keep getting to know them, praise them, laugh with them, believe in them, and keep pushing them to strive for more.  After all, next year, you will miss them, we always do.  And just perhaps, if we are lucky enough, they will pop their heads in on that first day of school, just to say hi.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.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.

In the Small Details

“When will I die, Mom?”

Oskar, our four-year-old son, asks it so abruptly that I am not sure I heard him right.  He looks at me, clearly waiting for an answer, after all, I am the adult in the room, I should have an answer for everything.  And yet the answer I give is weak, I know it, he knows it.

“We all die some day…” he takes it in and then starts to tell me a story about school.  As if I had not just dropped a huge amount of truth into his four-year-old lap that could give him nightmares for weeks to come.  But to him it doesn’t.  He asked a question, I provided an answer and now he has more pressing things to share.  His sense of the world as a child never fails to amaze me.  How can you so casually skip over the inevitability of death and go back to what is comparatively mundane; school and what you played with?

Yet, here is the lesson that my children keep teaching me.  Here is the thing I wish I could be so much better at.  Here is the thing that I think bears repeating; life is lived in the small stories.  In the small details.  Not in our worries.  Not in the inevitability of time, of death.  Of heartache and loss.  But of searching for the small moments of joy.  Of finding the moments we can enjoy so that we may sustain ourselves through the hard that we know will surround us and overwhelm us at points in our lives.

And we do this in the classroom as well.  We search for the BIG moments, for the defining characteristics, we internalize our worries about the students and their perceived struggles and then forget to see them in the small increments that they present themselves at. We speak of a child in terms of their struggles and goals rather than their successes and accomplishments.  We spend so much time worrying that we forget to enjoy the small.  That we make big deals out of everything, and then wonder why we are exhausted.

So perhaps we all need to be more like Oskar?  To recognize the large, the hard, the inevitable but then get on with life.  To not harbor, to not dwell, to not let this color everything we do, but instead to find comfort in the fact that it all of these things are part of their journey.  Of our journey.  To know that while a child may have had a difficult day, month, or even year with us, that this is not the only thing defining them.  That there will be good.  That life will continue to turn sometimes despite of what is happening.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.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.

 

 

 

 

The Full Story

We stood staring at Plymouth Rock yesterday marveling at the history it represents.  At what it means for this nation that I have adopted as my home.  As we turned around we saw the statue of Massasoit, Chief of the Wampanoag tribe, on the hill, peering out to sea.  His image followed me into the car and I finally asked my husband, “Why on the hill?”  Why not right next to this monument that marks what many consider the beginning of America?  How many people miss this part of the story, marvel at the survival skills of those early Pilgrims, and do not think of the rest of the story; the other part of this complicated history of America?  Surely you must understand both sides to truly see the bigger picture…

It reminds me of my own work; how often do we, as teachers, just see the obvious?  The traits that show up on the very first day, that dominate our conversations and we never find the time to dig deeper?  We never “hike up the hill” to take a closer look at what we think lurks right there but that is hidden from view at first?  We don’t have time, we have so many kids, we have so much to do, and so our story continues single-mindedly for many of our students no matter the glimpses we see?

As many of us prepare to hand off our kids to the next team of teachers, may we find the time to tell the full story.  To sure, share the dominant things we have seen, but also the things that may be so easily seen.  To not tell the full story of a child in just data.  To not tell the full story of a child in just their behaviors.  To not tell the full story of a child in just the obvious, but dig a little deeper.  To make sure that our narrative is nuanced, balanced, and hopeful.  To give those teachers waiting to make a difference a chance at who this kid really is and not just the things that may have been the main talking point all year.

I think of the power we hold as the previous teachers of these kids.  Of how we decide what gets shared.  Of how we decide what is told.  Of how we decide what to focus on and we pass that on to the teachers that do not know them yet.  So tell the full story, and if you don’t have the full story yet find it before it is too late.  I know I still have work to do.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.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.

 

 

On the Reality Of Trying to Create More Readers

I wish I could tell you that they are all reading by now.

That they all run in, books in hand, eager to settle in, settle down, and get to reading.

I wish I could tell you that they told me that they cannot wait for summer because that means they can read all of the time.

That they cannot wait for more books in that series, or by that author, or in that genre.

That they cannot wait for 8th grade where they will get to come back and talk more books.

I wish I could tell you that they all ask for one more minute, one more page, and beg for a whole day of reading.

I wish I could tell you that they all love reading by now, but I would be a liar.

You see, when you teach actual 7th graders, it turns out that sometimes you are still not enough.

That it doesn’t matter that you have thousands of books at hand.

That it doesn’t matter that you book talk amazing books.

That it doesn’t matter that you give them time.  That you give them choice.  That you tell them to abandon those books that do not work and only read great books.  That it doesn’t matter that you ask for their truths and then try to do something about it.

You made a difference to some, yes, but not to all.

And yet..I would also tell you that it is okay.

That no one expected us to be miracle workers, that no one expected us to convert them all.  To make them all reading believers.  Instead what we were asked to do was to not make it worse.  To not make them hate it more.  To protect what precious positive emotions they do have about reading and shelter them from distress.  To stay hopeful, to stay positive, and to keep believing that what you did mattered, and so you kept on believing they could.

And so we did, and we tried, and we are still trying because the year is not quite over yet.

Because we still have that book to discuss.

That reading experience to create.

That picture book to make them laugh.

So this realization of perhaps not having reached them all is not one of failure or of giving up, because, again, the year is not over yet, but it is one of reality, one of truth, one of things beyond our control and the forces that work against us.

So we do not despair when they tell you they still do not like reading, but instead, we ask, “Have you changed at all?”  And then you smile when they say, “Well, maybe a little…” because sometimes we will not be there for the biggest change, but only for the humble beginning.

And that beginning was worth every single step we took to help them become or remain kids who love to read.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.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.

 

 

 

 

 

What I Have to Tell Them

I watch them come in, hands clenched, eyes downcast, not quite sure what to think.  I tell them to take a deep breath, tell your story, there is nothing to be worried about.

Our students lead their conferences and while it is not perfect, it is incredible to watch their story unfold.  To see them decide what deserves their attention, to see what they find valuable.  To see those that come from home ask them questions and see them truly realize what we have known for quite a while; they have grown, they have changed, and yes, they are almost ready to leave us.

And so I smile and share the good.  Tell them how proud I am of them.  How I have seen them come in not quite sure what to think or how to speak up.  Not quite sure what this 7th-grade thing really is to this…these kids that have conquered almost all that we have challenged them with.  And I remind myself to tell them that I will miss them.  Because I will; these kids with their stories, these kids with their dreams, their kids with their hopes that this year would be different and for many of them it has been.  They marched right into my heart, threw down the door, and settled right in.

So before I forget I remind myself to tell them that they matter.

Before I forget I remind myself to tell them that I was the lucky one.

That they made me smile.

That they made me laugh.

That they made me cry too, sometimes out of frustration, but mostly out of pride.

That they pushed me harder than I thought I could take but that I am still standing.

Before I forget I remind myself to tell them that their stories deserve to be heard, that their work matters and that they, too, have changed the world.

That they can be more than they see themselves.

That they make people better.

That there is a place in the world for them, no matter the thorns they sometimes unfurl.

I came into this year not knowing if 7th grade was for me.  Haunted by the perpetual doubt of whether I was enough.  Whether I could handle the challenge of another year of second-guessing, of feeling lonely, of not quite fitting in.  Whether I was meant to teach this age, to teach just English, to be at this school.  It turns out I could because this year I was never quite alone.  The kids were right there, believing in me, believing in us.  Perhaps not every moment, but those that mattered.  And so in the end, after watching these kids with their hearts, their hopes, their dreams, and even their fears tell their stories and own what they are, I feel it is time for me to tell mine; I am a 7-th grade teacher, for better, for worse.  It turns out I just forgot to remind myself of that.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.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.