This past school year was a tough one for me. I changed districts and schools and the change had more of an impact on me than I expected. In the six years I’ve been teaching I’ve moved districts three times, moved schools four times, and changed classrooms five times. Whew! It seems crazy when I write it down like that. Change is something I have grown accustomed to, but this year really shook me.
I’ve written about my “journey” as a teacher so to speak in previous posts, especially the one about Rita Pierson, the amazing educator who had a profound impact on me. The first few years of my career presented many challenges. I taught a majority of kids from poverty and who lacked even the most basic manners.
Getting my classroom to run smoothly took months. Simple routines took extensive modeling, practice, more modeling and more practice. Lots of my time and energy went into teaching kids how to speak correctly, how to behave, and how to interact. I grew tremendously by learning how to connect with my students, build and maintain meaningful relationships, and manage my classroom without the throwing of chairs and cursing. I had found strategies that worked thanks to mentor texts like Teach Like a Champion and The Essential 55. I got a little bit better each year. By year five, my teammates and I had built a strong team, one that was held in high regard with our administration. We had great success with our students and I felt successful and competent.
And then I moved. My entire world was different. I taught a new demographic, one that was different than any other I have taught before. My students were mostly white and middle class. The students sat quietly and listened on the first day of school- the first day of school! I didn’t have to remind students not to yell in the hallway or not to push each other on the playground and I could actually turn my back for a few minutes and not worry about a fight breaking out. It was a whole new world!
What this meant, however, is that with that entire layer of behavior management no longer needed, I realized how little I knew about how to actually be a good reading teacher. Yes, I could connect with students, and yes, I could manage my classroom, but as far as actually progressing my students’ learning, pushing them beyond their current levels, I realized there was still so much I needed to learn. I tried my best and did what I could, but the entire year I felt a sense of emptiness and failure. I felt like I didn’t have enough knowledge to really produce the results and growth I knew the students were capable of. I hate to say this, but I actually fell into a bit of a funk for several months. I felt defeated and lost my motivation. Let’s call it what it is- I had wounded pride.
Well, I am happy to say that after a lot of self-reflection, I am back to my old self again! I have come to accept the fact that my past experiences have given me a solid foundation to handle a variety of behavior issues and have blessed me with the opportunity to learn to connect with students and I am very appreciative of even the worst experiences I have gone through. The next step in my journey as a teacher is to beef up my instructional strategies. So, I’m dusting off some books I bought last summer but never read and starting some new ones, too. I am confident that these books will give me the jumpstart I need to really enhance my instruction and give me the tools to progress my students’ learning.
1. Teaching in Small Groups: Differentiated Instruction for Building Strategic, Independent Readers by Jennifer Serravallo
I’ve spent almost half the day reading this and I can’t put it down. I love the way she scripts out the conversations she has with her students and provides lots of great ideas to engage readers. I will be able to easily implement these mini-lessons.
2. Conferring with Readers: Supporting Each Student’s Growth and Independence by Jennifer Serravallo
I have read a portion of this one in the past, but I’m ready to really dive in and learn how to make those precious one-on-one conferences with students most effective and efficient.
3. The Reading Strategies Book: Your Everything Guide to Developing Skilled Readers by Jennifer Serravallo
Are you noticing a pattern? Serravallo is a brilliant woman! This is an absolute goldmine of a book! In this book, Serravallo shares 300- yes, 300!- explicit strategies to teach readers- from emergent to proficient. Each strategy is described by telling which levels would most benefit from it, which genres work best, and which skills are enforced. It’s full of colored charts and actual student examples. Like I said, goldmine!
4. Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independent for All Learners by Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison
I’m about 1/3 of the way through this book and I am hooked. One of my big goals is to provide more opportunities for critical thinking and this book provides 21 strategies to do not only that, but also enhance students’ understanding of what it means to think and learn. The book also gives lots of ideas on how to make students' thinking visible so as the teacher, I can better assess their understanding.
I have several other books on deck, but these are the four I’m going to be making my way through first. I’m sure I’ll have some more to say about each book as I get into them!
Before I go, I do want to say this. After moving districts and teaching a new demographic, I have an even deeper appreciation for my job and feel more compelled than ever to do my job to the best of my ability. Kids, no matter where they come from, all deserve to have an amazing teacher. Regardless of how different one school is from the next, I am determined not to let myself fall into a funk again. Time is too short and my job is too important! I have come to peace with the fact that I did the best job I could with what I knew at the time this past year. I will continue to grow and improve and I know that I will never be perfect. Just as I teach my kiddos, learning is never done! I think Maya Angelou says it best!