Not The Teacher I Want to Be

There is a book out right now, I haven’t read it yet, but ads for it keep showing up in my newsfeed on Facebook. The Teacher You Want to Be: Essays about Children, Learning, and Teaching by Matt Glover and Ellin Oliver Keene.

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I want this book. Because each time I see that ad, I am reminded that I’m not the teacher I want to be. I am struggling this year. I am spending much of this year in survival mode, not just at school, but in my home life as well. Cancer does that. My husband is doing remarkably well, but our new normal is very different, and we never know when it’s going to change again.

I’m sad to say, that for a large part I’m not enjoying school, I’m enduring school. And honestly, part of that is having to teach a science class. I thought it was going to go well, I thought I was going to enjoy it. I found some solid information on the importance of teaching foundational skills and some great activities that would teach those skills and get us out of the classroom. Things have not gone as hoped or planned. I’ve had resistance and criticism from parents and students, and a lack of engagement and co-operation from the students. What little time I have for lesson prep and correcting is spent on the science class, causing my English classes to suffer. If I had a better grasp on the science material, I would do better with my classroom management and trying to get the students engaged.

But I’m not being the teacher I want to be. I’m struggling to turn it around, but have reached the point of just trying to make it to Christmas Vacation and then the end of the semester. I’m not proud of this. But it’s the reality.

I don’t mean to paint a completely negative picture. It’s not all negative. I have some classes that are going quite well and relationships with students that are going well. I have classes that I really enjoy and even my tough ones have good moments.

But I know I’m not the teacher I want to be, and that frustrates me.

Boothbay Literacy Retreat 2015 Reflections

It almost seems like a dream, except I have a stack of books, 33 pages of notes and writing, several photos, and a head full of ideas for teaching to convince myself that I really did spend 3 days in Boothbay at the 2015 Heinemann Boothbay Literacy Retreat.

By night we heard distinguished speakers Lester Laminack, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Chris Crutcher share their stories, their writing, and their passion for literacy. By day the retreat faculty (Kylene Beers, Bob Probst, Penny Kittle, Linda Rief, and Teri Lesesne) and the distinguished speakers gifted us with their experience, their wisdom, and their passion for literacy. (Oh, and Heinemann gifted us with books!)

A theme running through the week was “empowering kids”. This was introduced by Kylene as she led us through a brief history of literacy and how it has changed and then took us through an activity that helped us identify what issues are keeping our kids from accomplishing all that we want them to accomplish. The outcome of that activity revealed that many of us are focusing on the things we have no control over and Kylene encouraged us to focus on what we can control.

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Lester Laminack picked up the idea of empowering kids as he shared his own experience in beginning literacy and bridged into the importance of reading aloud and letting people just sit with the story and live in it (close the book and shut up)! Of course, he read aloud to us! (Honestly, I would listen to Lester Laminack read a grocery list. The man is gifted!)

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Every time I page through my notes, something else jumps out at me. I’m going to try to work through my notes and write about my experience and my learning in a somewhat organized manner. As I write about one thing, it brings to mind something else, and I wonder how to stitch it all together! There are the evening distinguished speakers, the morning writing sessions with Linda Rief, the strategies from Kylene and Bob, the collaborative project, the “speed dating”, the one on one conversations with Linda Rief and Chris Crutcher, and the books. This is an experience that will have a long-lasting impact on me as a writer, a reader, and a literacy teacher!

Let’s Get This Summer Started!

In just a little bit I will head over to my hometown to speak at a Ladies’ Retreat for a local church. My topic for my two session is “Authentic Faith”. This is something I’ve been doing quite a bit of study and thinking on, but not much writing on, at least not here on this blog which bares “Authentic Faith” as part of it’s tag line.

The retreat is Friday afternoon through Sunday morning. I’ll return home, repack my suitcase, and head to Boothbay Harbor for the Boothbay Literacy Retreat…an event that I am so excited to participate in! These two events are kicking off a summer of professional development for me. In July I fly to Seattle for ECET2. In August I attend a local ECET2 event in Waterville and then MooseCampPBE in Dexter.

Lots of learning and hopefully a lot more writing!

Always Read Your Mail!

As we climbed into the school van at 3:10 Monday morning, my principal handed me an envelope and said something about also getting one and there being a typo. I don’t really remember how I replied. I’m pretty sure I didn’t really look at it before stuffing it into my bag. We were on our way to Boston Logan Airport for a four-day trip to DC. it was the first time I had planned and led a trip such as this, and my already sleep deprived mind was on getting everyone through security and onto the plane. At some point during the morning I noticed the envelope kept working its way out of my bag, so I stuffed it into a deeper pocket.

It wasn’t until I returned from DC at the end of the week (after an exhausting but successful trip) that I pulled out the letter. I had assumed it was junk mail. One of many fishing letters I get for curriculum or writing contests. Boy was I wrong! Instead of a generic sales pitch, I held a letter from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Because of a nomination from someone, I would find out who later, I was invited to attend Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers (ECET2) in Seattle, WA, July 15-17, with BMGF arranging and paying for my hotel and travel.

Friday afternoon I received an email with registration information and nomination information. Turns out I had been nominated by Kate Baker (@KtBkr4), a high school English teacher from NJ. I met Kate on Twitter, and over the last several years she has become a valuable part of my PLN on both Twitter and Voxer.

My registration and travel preferences have been submitted, but it still hasn’t fully sunk in that I will travel to Seattle in July to participate in an event where I will collaborate with teachers from all over the country to tackle current issues in education and share ideas about best practices.

I have been frustrated that I can not afford graduate school or to attend national conferences such as NCTE, but I have not let that stop me from seeking out learning online and through books. I have attended EdCamps and smaller local conferences for which I always pay out-of-pocket. I love to learn, I know there is much to learn, and I want to be the best teacher I can possibly be for my students.

I am excited to continue my learning this summer thanks to the generosity of others. At the end of June I will attend Heinemann’s Boothbay Literacy Retreat thanks to the generosity of Maine children’s book author, Cynthia Lord. Then a few weeks later, I will attend ECET2 thanks to the Gates Foundation. It’s going to be an awesome summer!

Life Long Learner

Yesterday I registered for my very first graduate class. I haven’t applied to grad school yet, although I do want to. I’m able to take a couple of classes as a non-degree student before applying. A friend of mine who knows how desperately I want to start my Masters gave me a little extra encouraging push.

The class I’m taking? Problems In Literacy: Assessment and Instruction. The course description says, “This course conceptualizes reading assessment as a process of becoming informed about learners. The course focuses on the development of diagnostic insights and corrective strategies for struggling readers of all ages. Current trends from research and practice are explored. Case studies and in-class practica help teachers implement effective procedures in the classroom.”

I’m really looking forward to this class for many reasons. First, I have been wanting to start my Masters for a very long time. Second, I love to learn and it will be great to be sitting in a classroom under an instructor I highly respect (I already know the instructor) with other teachers who are in different situations. Third, but not last, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to discuss how to assess readers  and to communicate that in a way that helps students.