My first teaching position started in September of 2010. I just realized that this will be my 10th year teaching as I prepare for my students to return. My first position was a half time teacher in a Grade 3 classroom. Those kids are graduating high school this year. I was responsible for their creative writing and Social Studies. My team teacher took care of Reading, Math and Science. I had a class of 16 kids and we did a lot of cool things. I didn’t know how to “teach” beyond what was taught in University. To say I was ill prepared to help my students become writers and critical thinkers was an understatement. I have learned a lot about myself over these last 10 years. I have learned the most from my kids. As I prepare to embark on this 10th year I wanted to reflect a bit on a few points that I have learned that will help guide this year.
One size most certainly does not fit all
I bought a hat once, it said on the label O/S, one size. I pulled it over my head and while it went on it sure was not comfortable. It was not that the hat didn’t fit but it didn’t fit right. I needed a better hat for my head. When I first started teaching I left university and the first teachers I learned from, for the most part, had students doing a lot of workbooks. We had phonics workbooks, we had grammar workbooks, we had vocabulary workbooks and there was a ton of time with the teacher going over these books and doing corrections and then the kids worked through days of testing each term on all these important pieces of Language Arts. What wasn’t happening was a lot of joyful reading. Kids read and had to then complete their AR quizzes for their points and then each term we had to administer the STAR exam and look at their trends. Some students did very well with this model. Others did not. Beyond this not creating a joyful classroom I found it so boring. I wanted more for my class and my students. So I started to explore different practices that I might be able to individualize my instruction for my students a bit more. This brought me to Daily 5 and the Cafe model. It also brought me to work to end things like workbooks and Accelerated Readers as supplementary tools in reading instruction. My approach to literacy instruction has continued to develop each year. As I moved to 6th grade I moved away from Daily 5 and built in more of a workshop model for my class while doing a more individualized and small group in class intervention. I discovered people like Kelly Gallagher, Penny Kittle, Donalyn Miller and Kylene Beers. I was inspired by their work tom make my students literacy experience something different than what the traditional classes looked like. We borrow from the work of others, we craft our class around our interests, we read and we write and we talk. WE are building a literacy community that addresses our individual needs.
Communities require communication
Over 10 years I have learned that the most important part of the classroom is not relationships…before you lose your minds bear with me. Relationships are important but communication is what leads to that. If we do not figure out a way to open the doors the relationships can’t form. I am not talking about anything fancy. In third grade we had community circle. We had a question of the day and we each took turns sharing and communicating with one another. In 6th grade we had debate time and discussed topics. In junior high I realized that while my kids talked and communicated well with me I was not always guided by their needs. That idea that I have a curriculum I must teach so they just need to learn it was strong in me. I tried to make it fun but leaving Grade 6, a year we have Provincial tests, I was pretty solidly in the camp of “this is our curriculum, so lets just get through it” I heard my kids complaints but I didn’t really listen. That changed in Junior High largely because of one student who was very vocal about not liking how school was, “You are our favourite teacher but seriously man school is boring” That was the daily commentary. So I started to hear their voices and work the curriculum that I had to cover to fit them. We talked about ways to make reading better thanks to inspiration from Pernille Ripp, how our Notebooks could be better, writing instruction was influenced by Kelly Gallagher at first and then by the book 180 Days by he and Penny Kittle. My students voices, their interests and their strengths began to shine through providing options based on that communication that we had. Relationships are important but if we are sacrificing the learning that needs to be done we are not providing the balanced education our students deserve. Listening to what my students needed was transformative to my teaching.
Our students don’t need us to be perfect
I saw a tweet the other day that I really should put a section of as a screen saver.
But I will also tell you this; kids don’t need you to be perfect, they need you to love them and be present. That gets me through when I feel less than a great mom with my four— Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp) August 24, 2019
I thought this tweet is actually something all teachers really need to hear. Over the last 10 years I have been so hard on myself in wanting to be perfect. To the best lessons, the best classes the best moments. I want to be the teacher that every student wants to have. That class that they all think is awesome and because of that I push myself to the limit and sometimes past it. I have reread this tweet a few times. We don’t need to be perfect, we need to be present.
10 years of students and I still remember moments with them all. That didn’t come from the perfect lessons, the perfect room, the perfect day. That came from the conversations around world injustice with 8 year olds in my first year of teaching, that came from sitting in the hall with a distraught student in my second, laughing about using lallygagged incorrectly in a story trying to use WOW words in my third, friendship keepers and the hello project in my 4th. The being sworn at and table cleared off the chairs thrown at me and the moment we got past the anger in my 5th. The mice in the classroom catching in my 6th and the year we read millions of words in my 7th. Understanding the depth of control trauma has on our students lives in my 8th and breaking through in my 9th. Year 10 begins with students in just over a week. I am not sure where this one goes, it sure as heck won’t be perfect but I am hopeful and ready to learn.