That Time Again

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It’s the same every year. Don’t worry, they say. Don’t stop what you’re doing for this. All the great stuff you do all year is what really matters.

And then. Then the emails begin. The attachments. The suggestions. Don’t worry about The Test, but here is what you need to do with your students for the next four weeks. And (spoiler alert) it’s not give them extra time for independent reading in class even though we all know that’s the one thing they truly need the most.

No, we shouldn’t worry or change what we do or stop doing what we love, but here are pages and pages and pages of instructions for how to spend the month of March. Like the kids don’t know. Like they don’t get that test prep by any other name is still test prep. Like they can’t feel the stress in the air.

Remember (or not) the poster from last century that read, What if they gave a war and nobody came? Well, lately I’ve been thinking, What if they gave a test and nobody prepped? What if just this one year, we teachers, I mean all of us, decided no prep at all? No prep disguised as anything else. No “it’s not prep, it just seems like it is.”

I know, we’re all too scared. Because we need to be highly effective. Because we owe it to the kids. Because, because, because. I think I’ve reached my limit on because. I think I’m ready to believe what I’ve been told for years and years. All the great stuff we do all year is what really matters. Or at least maybe this is the year to find out.

This week my kids are debating their ideas using evidence from the text in their book clubs. Yesterday we spent the morning screaming with excitement and jumping up and down while watching the ALA Youth Media Awards. They’ve got independent writing projects they want to pursue. Our vocabulary box is filling up with words they want to share with their classmates. They’ve stopped asking me for book recommendations and now they ask each other. And there aren’t enough days in the school year for all the #bookadays that we want to read.

So why should I mess this up with weeks of getting ready for The Test? Why should I interrupt the flow, the vibe, the community of readers and writers that we’ve spent the last six months working to build? The answer is that I shouldn’t. Maybe this is the year I find the courage to push past my fear. And find out if the great stuff we do all year really is what matters.

 

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Half and Half

#BookaDay      This is not a post about creamer. Although that sounds delicious. No, this is about taking stock and setting goals. It’s about celebrating. It’s about the halfway mark. Or so. I think we’re about halfway through the school year. At least we are here in New York, where it seems we start school about a month later than many of our friends in other parts of the country. Anyway, I’m basing my estimate of time passed on my #bookaday board, where it appears that approximately half the boxes have been filled with book covers. So it’s time to step away, think about the past, and prepare for the future.

I love my #bookaday board. It makes me feel better…about pretty much everything that happens in my classroom. Back in September, when I felt like my students would never be able to get into a comfortable routine, I’d look at that huge, empty board, with only a few boxes filled. I’d think about how many days were left in the year, and how much time I had to help my students become the amazing kids I knew they were hoping to be.

In October, when so many of my students were still trying to find a book that would hold their interest, when many were fake reading, or visiting the bathroom three times during the course of a 45 minute reading period, I’d glance at the board. Yes, I’d think, we need to work on engagement. But we will get there. We’ve got plenty of time ahead. All I need to do is help them find the gateway book. The one that helps them realize that reading can transport you to wherever you need to be.

Later in the year, around the time the winter coats started falling off the closet hooks and overflowing into the classroom, we began our study of nonfiction. Name the main idea. What are the supporting details? How do these text features help you? Uh oh. We were in trouble. If you look at my board, you can see where my panic set in. It started right before I read Balloons Over Broadway, continued for the row of books that includes Giant Squid, Her Right Foot, and Ada’s Violin, and calmed around the time of  Grandfather Gandhi. A few weeks of reading the best nonfiction picture books I could get my hands on (plus a pinch of small group work and conferences here and there) and they started to get it. Thanks again #bookaday. You’re always there when I need you.

So now we’re halfway. Halfway done. Halfway to go. We’ve got our routines down pat. We can (almost) all find a book we love. And based on today’s Sibert Smackdown, we’re conquering our nonfiction phobia. We’ve read half the books we will read together this year and that makes me proud. And sad. And stressed. Because, for each wonderful book we share and discuss and love, there are at least three others that we haven’t time to read. And what about my bin of new books, still untouched, waiting to be read? One look at the board, and I see it’s okay. Because half done means half to go. And that’s something to celebrate.

Today I Begin

This is the beginning for me. My first blog post. Certainly not the first time I’ve thought about blogging. I subscribe to blogs written by brilliant colleagues. I’ve learned from countless posts of other bloggers. (Should I use the word “other”? Am I a blogger after only three lines?) I’ve been inspired by the words of fellow teachers, writers, thinkers, dreamers. But this is my beginning. So the question I will answer in this first, new, beginning post is why. Why begin today?

It’s pretty simple actually. There are two things I love about teaching…kids…and books. In particular, picture books. Over the past (almost) 15 years, I’ve become a picture book junkie. I’m obsessed. I’ve actually taught an in-service course called “Obsessed with Books”. Because I am. I’ve taught many picture books courses in my district. “Picture Books to Love”, “Picture Books Rock”, “More Picture Books”, and on and on and on.

I’ve also taught Social Justice courses. Because part of loving kids is being committed to giving them the tools to fix the world. And I don’t have to tell you just how much fixing our world needs. Only soon it will be their world. So we have an obligation to open their minds through social justice teaching to help them fix what generations before them have not yet done. And teachers need to be reminded over and over and over again that the curriculum is nothing without a vision behind it to make the world a better place.

But I haven’t answered the question I posed earlier, have I? So I’ll ask it again. Why now? Why blog today?

Because yesterday, an administrator told me no more picture book courses for teachers. And no more social justice courses either. Those topics have been done before. We need new topics. Think of something else to teach. We want something different.

So I blog. I blog out of frustration. Out of anger. Out of confusion. Because I don’t understand. I don’t understand how there can ever be too many opportunities for teachers to sit in a room together and learn about new ways to use books. New ideas for how to bring light into a child’s eyes as they share a picture book with their reading community.

Or too many opportunities for teachers to talk together about how they can view every moment they share with students as an opportunity to teach through a social justice lens. To sit with other teachers and talk openly about racism, about privilege, about immigration, about refugees, about climate change, about how we can prepare our students for the world they will soon be charged with fixing.

But I was told no.

Will I accept this? Will I stop sharing with colleagues the most meaningful part of the work I do, just because I was told no? Will I give up and think of other “new” things to teach? Of course I won’t. I’ll support what I do with articles and evidence and discussions. And maybe the administrator can rethink “no”. Maybe I can persuade and convince. Maybe I can teach.

But in the meantime, I don’t understand. And so I blog.