For the past few weeks, I haven’t blogged because I’ve been spending time in districts with some amazing teachers who are kicking off the start of the school year in various ways with varying amounts of stress. It has been a joy to see some teachers learn to LOVE teaching again. I am a firm believer that many teachers have been pressured to compromise what they know to be good teaching in efforts to get their students to pass a test. In the past few weeks, though, I have gotten to work with some teachers who have decided to do it differently...and are seeing awesome results. Kids are reading more than ever before. One teacher was so excited that her students were talking to her about the books they were reading without her having to even ask. I have watched skeptics turn to believers (but, but what if they choose a book that is not on their level?...to Wow! They are READING!) and encountered countless numbers of brave teachers who are willing to unlearn some habits in an effort to give their students a voice in the classroom. That is always an encouragement! But yesterday, as I was on one campus, a fifth-grade teacher told me he wanted me to come to his classroom so he could show me what they were doing. I couldn’t wait. Number one...he was pumped. You could tell this guy loved teaching.
I walked with him down to his room where he told me what a different year he was having. “What’s different?” I asked. He said that in the past, he thought he had to be “the teacher”...kind of buttoned up and disciplinarian-ish, and he had always struggled. He said that he just decided that this year, he was going to be himself. His goofy-socks wearing, eclectic self. He also said he made a list of all the things he hated about school when he was there, and made the decision to not do those things. So, what happens in his classroom? Well, he said he knew he met his goal of collecting books for his classroom library when another teacher came in his room and said, “You finally did it...your room smells like a library.”
His kids read….a lot. And they talk about their reading. He told me about an email he got from a parent thanking him for whatever he was doing that turned her kid who hated reading into a boy who won’t put his book down to watch a baseball game. He showed me his system for taking informal notes when he meets with his students for reading or writing conferences and showed me the tabbed pages from The Book Whisperer (which he read recently) that gave him the idea that he adapted. I wanted to be in his class. To think this teacher...who has found a Twitter PLN to share ideas, who has created booktalks that authors have posted on their webpages, who doesn’t even need a discipline system because he knows his students as people...this teacher had been struggling in the past seemed inconceivable.
The best part of my conversation with him was when I asked him, “So, is teaching more fun this year?”....He said, “Oh...absolutely. My wife said I seemed so much less stressed. My planning is easier...it’s great.” YES! Because the kids are doing the work! And trust me...based on the evidence (anchor charts, reading/writing notebook entries, conference notes, etc.)...they are working! And thinking! When I said, “Man, I can’t wait to see your scores this year,” he just said…”Oh I’m not worried at all.”
Neither am I.