Last Monday, Amy posted an excellent mini-lesson about personal reading challenges. This Monday, I can’t seem to think of any lessons other than the new ones I’ve been frantically learning for the past seven days. Like how to function on no more than two hours of sleep at a time. Or the dire importance of burping a child after a feeding. Or how to swaddle the most jazzercise-obsessed infant ever.
My little Ruthie Karnes–our first child–arrived on the scene last Monday at 10:20 am, forever altering my life in the most wonderful of ways. Somehow, my entire world (and worldview) has shifted to center around her.
When we came home from the hospital, one of the first things I caught myself talking to Ruth about was which book I’d read to her first. I cooed this while holding her in her nursery, perusing her already-full bookshelf, but also thinking about perhaps just reading aloud one of my grown-up favorites. Reading aloud, after all, is a daily part, and an important part, of the way I teach my seniors–why not use that same method with an infant?
It was only natural that I began to wonder what other pedagogical routines I might bring into my budding relationship with Ruth. Over this past (hectic? insane? life-changing?) week, I’ve drawn from at least three non-negotiables from my teaching as I try to navigate my new role as a mother.
Lesson one: hard work and fun are not mutually exclusive. When learning is difficult, it’s incredibly engaging, provided we are capable of achieving the skill with guidance, effort, and practice. I challenge my students regularly to take risks, attempt new skills, and make a habit of pushing themselves. Staying in the zone of proximal development is easy when learning is individualized and students have choice about what, how, and why they engage with a lesson, as they do in a workshop classroom.
This norm of hard work isn’t rigid or meaningless, though–it’s often rather enjoyable. My students and I are able to laugh together even while tackling a complex theme in literature, a difficult craft move in a piece of writing, or a long-term assignment. Engagement in our work together, when it’s authentic, is rewarding in a deeply satisfying way. I love seeing students’ pride in themselves when they complete a reflection and realize their growth.
It’s definitely been the same for me this week with motherhood–while the lessons I’m learning are tough (and sleep-depriving), it’s incredibly satisfying when I see Ruthie peacefully sleeping after a successful feeding, diaper change, and swaddle.
Lesson two: I am a model for my learners in so many ways. So much of a teacher’s efficacy comes from just loving our work and being ourselves. Our passions, whether purposely modeled, like Catherine did with her reading life this year, or reluctantly modeled, like mine were when teaching multigenre last year, are what must guide our teaching. If you ask my students to imitate me, they’ll yell (in a high-pitched voice I hope is drastically unlike my own), “I love you! I love books!”
It’s accurate. I’m effusive.
But that works for me. I model enthusiasm all the time–for making mistakes, for trying new things, for revision, for any kind of reading, for hard work. I’m authentic because I have no choice but to be authentic with my students–I am a huge fangirl and I have embraced that. My free nerdiness, constant vulnerability, and frequent showcasing of my mistakes in reading, writing, or thinking are necessary to allowing my students to feel comfortable doing those things too.
Now I’m learning that it’s the same with motherhood. I’m effusive, but also fairly calm. It takes a lot to ruffle me, and it’s already apparent that Ruth is that way too. She’ll sleep through anything (except hunger) and will stare calmly at whoever is holding her for as long as she can without passing out. I know that as she gets older and learns skills of communication and literacy, the way my husband and I model those things will be integral to her development of those skills, too.
Lesson three: use your resources. Teaching can be incredibly solitary. It’s easy to forget to leave your classroom to interact with other adults, or to engage in professional development, or to seek help from other practitioners. But it’s when we seek to learn from others that we achieve growth, whether through the modern PLC, self-selected learning, or just reading pedagogical texts. There are so many resources available for the curious, motivated educator–so we don’t have to be lonely.
“With a room full of authors to help us, teaching writing doesn’t have to be so lonely.” -Katie Wood Ray
We all have room to grow, and seeking help from others is the easiest and most effective way to do that. I know that I wouldn’t have made it through this week if it weren’t for my mom, who’s staying with me until I figure this whole parenting thing out. I asked friends and family and even students alike for help with whatever I knew they were good at, whether it was simply getting heavy things out of cabinets or teaching me how to feed a baby in a way that worked for me.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned this week, though, is that much like any school year, it’s all worth it. The hard work and tears and sleep deprivation and laughter and constant conferring and feedback and trying to find missing library books all adds up into something beautiful–a community of real readers and writers who will leave my classroom with (I hope) a love of literacy and all that entails. And it’s the same for motherhood–when I see Baby Ruth and her sweet smile (I know it’s not real yet, but it’s still really cute), I somehow don’t care about all the chaos that my life has become. I just know that I’ll keep trying to grow–as a teacher and a mom.
Tagged: Structures and Non-Negotiables