I'll admit it. I had lost my mojo a bit, baby. Getting put back into the classroom unexpectedly this at the start of this year, teaching a new grade level, and encountering tons of behavior problems....all of these combined to throw me off my game. The fall semester was tough. I had to take some steps to recharge and find my way.
Now's it a new semester and I feel like I've got my mojo back. One of the main reasons for that is attending the NCTE 2016 conference, which luckily for me was held locally in Atlanta a few months ago. It was my first national teaching event to attend, and it was a tremendous experience. I left on such a high, and I've now caught the "conference bug"...I am already making plans to attend next year !
The reason NCTE 2016 was so invigorating is because I found my tribe. I found the people doing the kinds of teaching that inspire me. I was able to meet and learn from teachers and authors who influenced me from the start of my career....innovators such as Steph Harvey, Anne Goudvis, Nancie Attwell, and Franki Sibberson whose books showed me how to implement Readers Workshop in my classroom and connect my dear students to just right and much loved books. At the conference, I connected with teacher leaders like Patrick Allen, Jennifer Serravallo, Kristin Ackerman, and Jennifer McDonough who are still walking the walk and providing creative and engaging workshop instruction, even in this day and age of Common Core, scripted instruction, and accountability.
I had been out of the classroom for so long because of my years of work as a reading specialist. In my absence, from 2006 to 2016, the classroom landscape had changed. Now teachers have many more resources from sources like Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers, but those are expected to be used in a very monitored and data focused way. We are now observed with higher scrutiny, striving to meet extremely high teacher standards 100% of the time, because we never know how or when we'll receive an informal walk-through or formal observation. All of this contributed to noise and confusion for me as I transitioned back to the classroom. Truly, I forgot about my teaching foundations. I was extremely fortunate to "cut my teeth" as a teacher through the America's Choice initiative, which focused on explicit, creative, student-focused literacy workshops, and that's the instruction that feels right-that matches my teaching style. At the NCTE conference, I was surrounded by educators who all feel the same way and do the things that I used to do, namely putting great books in the hands of children and helping develop their writing voices. These hundreds and thousands of teachers at the conference were doing the good work, even in this post-NCLB classroom era. In an instant, I was reminded of the teaching I used to do.
My students in my early classroom years READ and WROTE for the majority of the day with direct purpose. Why wasn't I doing that now? What was I having my current students do all day, if not authentic reading and writing? [possible topic for a shame-filled future blog post...or NOT. I want to move on.]
Immediately, I returned to school and changed things, simplified things, in my room. The students LOVED it! The first day, M. said in amazement, "Mrs. B. we actually READ during reading time today!" I responded, "yes, M. Isn't that a great thing? Let's make sure we do that every day from now on, and I'm sorry we weren't doing that from day one."
Thanks to the wonder of the Internet, I can connect to the tribe I located at NCTE anytime via social media, blogs, e-mails, and messaging. I can see pictures and read anecdotes about their daily instruction and be motivated to do similar authentic literacy work with my students. If I'm ever in danger of losing my mojo again, I'm one click away from a virtual field trip/ peek into "my people's" classrooms, and I can be inspired once again.
Thank you, NCTE 2016 and tribe, for helping me find my mojo. It's an honor to be in the field of education with you.
"Teaching children to read and providing them with something
worthwhile to read is not a job for the faint of heart in this
world. But I'll keep at it, and I won't be alone. You'll come
too. We're fortunate, you know. Too many people in this world spend their lives doing work that doesn't matter in the great
scheme of things, but bringing children and books together does
matter. And we get to do it."
~Katherine Paterson, "Back from IBBY"