Fact has it that my wonderful Personal Learning Network (PLN) was back in the swing of things well before the 2013-2014 school year started in the boroughs of New York City. So, for the entire last week of August and into the beginning of September, I was watching magic take place all over the country through my computer!
I was with Amy @amyrass, in Texas, as she embarked on her first day of Writer’s Notebooks which brought tears to those who were starting their writing journey together; as honest writing so often does. Shana’s @litreader themed library, standing tall against newly painted bright blue and green walls, inspired her students to embrace literature from the moment they walked into their West Virginia oasis. Out in California, Emily’s @booknerdkim community of learners were so enthralled to be engaging in the Writing Workshop, that decorating their individual notebooks became a source of (very!) friendly competition. I was taking note. I was excited. I was ready.
Or, so I thought.
Day One has arrived. I am channeling the beauty of the work being done throughout the country and greeting my students with smiles and complete calm. Yes, calm. And yes, I myself am a bit in awe that “I” and “calm” have been partnered to describe the beginning of this journey.
Day One comes and goes in the blink of an eye, as it so often does, and I find myself sitting alone in my classroom with a wild mix of emotions. I’ve taught my classes; students have left the building and are transitioning into their evening lives; and as I look around I notice…there are no traces left behind that any learning has taken place. Chairs are pushed in, supplies are neatly organized in each table’s bin, and the floors are still glossy from this summer’s wax. Did anything happen in here?
As I journeyed home that night, uncomfortable and uncertain, I was unsettled with how calm I remained. As I reflected on the day I was consumed by the flat energy, the lack of bubbling conversation, the quiet minds, the mechanical smiles… I couldn’t help but wonder that if I was the most prepared and ready to educate than ever before, how could Day One be so disappointing? And, if I was this disappointed, I couldn’t imagine what students must be feeling. Sigh.
Day Two comes, as it always does. As I’m getting situated to begin the day, there is a knock on the door. I look at the clock and it is 8:33a.m. – not time for class. Surprised to see this student with a huge smile on his face peering through the tiny window separating us, I open the door. There are no words, only actions. He passes me, what seems to be a blank composition notebook. I look at him with a puzzled look. His smile grows.
“I wrote. Here.”
As I walk back into the classroom alone, I open this Writer’s Notebook. I happen upon pages of text…full pages, with words scratched out, abbreviations, acronyms, exclamation points, (unintentional) disregard for punctuation, grammar and spelling. Yesterday, when asked, he thought he was being honest about not being a writer. So, as I carefully maneuver through and reach the end, I am moved by how brave this student is. He is courageous to explore his stream of consciousness – in writing- for the first time. He is an evolving man full of character. He is willing. He is hungry. He is fighting for more. He shared this all with me.
Mid-week students’ energy starts surfacing; hands are finding their way into the air in hopes of answering a question; the buzz (I so desperately missed) is starting to fill our community with a new excitement; and while this year is going to be unique (as all others are) we seem to be starting to find our groove. This groove is calm yet exciting; quiet yet intellectually stimulating, and most importantly…it’s all ours to explore and share as a collective.
Day Five greets me (again!) before the start of the school day. A student comes rushing toward me with an urgency that stops me in my tracks (hands full of bags, books, and dangling keys) as I’m just about to unlock the door to unload.
“Ms. Bogdany, I LOVE my book! I was reading last night and shut off the TV so I could concentrate more. My mom asked me why I was doing that. She said, “You never shut the TV off to read. What are you doing?!” I explained that I wanted to focus on my book because I’m really starting to like it. I still want to read Jesus Land, but I’m going to finish this one first!”
Without interruption, and as we move over the threshold from the hallway to our shared learning space (where I finally put down everything I am carrying), this wonderful young woman continues.
“Yesterday, when I was on the bus, I was reading. You know my boyfriend he’s in your other class. When we got to his house he said, “You know we have to read for fifteen minutes.” I told him of course I knew! I took out my book, he took out his and we read. It was awesome!”
I’m smiling, and in my head thinking “Forty-five minutes…forty-five minutes of reading, but we can start with fifteen!” And just as the bell begins to sing, there is one last message this student wants to leave me with before she rushes to her class.
“You know, Ms. Bogdany, my twin siblings; they’re not good at reading. I wasn’t either when I was young. Actually, people told me my mom should pull me from school because I was never going to learn.”
Yes, people actually told her that.
“So, I know what they’re going through and I want to help them be better. Tonight (Friday) we are going to sit as a family and read; I’m going to help them with their books from school. I want to do this every week with them.”
My heart starts to swell.
“I’m scared though. Next year I want to go away to college so who will help them get better?”
While I’m not sure I have the answer to this, and so many other questions, I do know that what seemed to be a disastrous Day One was really an illusion. I recently heard someone say, “My mind shuts off and my soul takes over.” I made the mistake of allowing my mind to interpret quiet and calm for an educational atrocity. Students are listening. They are engaged. They are passionate. I am now taking solace in knowing I don’t always have to be swinging from rafters and tap dancing on tables to educate. My soul truly believes in the power of calm.