Guest Post by Alex Murphy. I’m sure Shana, Lisa, and I have a ton of ideas for this new teacher, but we’d like to know your ideas. Dear TTT Reader, please read Alex’s post and share your thinking:
We have a chant in my English I classroom. Every class before we begin our day’s work, I summon my best Nick Saban bellow and ask my students, “What’s our theme?”
“Stories have power!” they respond, sometimes with gusto, other times a bit more sluggishly.
Regardless of the level of enthusiasm, I have taught the kids to respond this way because I believe it to be deeply, potently true. Drawing on the teaching of my all-time favorite author, J.R.R. Tolkien, I believe that stories indeed have more power to communicate truth and combat lies than even the best-structured arguments our expositors have to offer. As Tolkien said in “Mythopoeia”:
In Paradise perchance the eye may stray
from gazing upon everlasting Day
to see the day-illumined, and renew
from mirrored truth the likeness of the True.
As Shana Peeples reminded us in her keynote speech at the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts Annual Conference [this weekend], stories—“mirrored truth,” as Tolkien calls them—indeed have power to combat the Doublespeak we hear so often from the halls of power. “Stories are political tools,” she reminded us. It is a lesson well worth remembering.
But dearly as I hold these principles about the unmatched power of stories, the Friday afternoon workshop hosted by Holly Genova and Amy Rasmussen convicted me that I have not yet created a culture of reading in my room—a community of readers in which students devour books with purpose and swap stories with joy. As I listened to Holly and Amy discuss the power that reading choice has in their classrooms, the desire to cultivate a similar culture in my own classroom washed over me. Indeed, I was inspired to start right away.
It took about seven seconds for my inspiration to dissolve into fear. I froze, half-way through tossing Monday’s lesson plans off the balcony, as the scenarios hit me one after the other: What if I can’t convince my students that reading is important? What if I don’t have time to encourage independent reading and also teach the standards sufficiently? What if my administrators don’t get on board? What if my own inadequacies as a reader start to show through? What if I fail?
This is my first year teaching; I don’t even have a decent classroom library. It feels like an awful risk to undertake a paradigm-shift from assigned reading and direct instruction to instructing through independent reading, especially when the English I STAAR test is seven instructional weeks away. However, if my mission is to convince my students that stories have power, nothing could be more important. So, to the wonderful educators at Three Teachers Talk, I have several pressing questions:
- How should I start the work of creating a culture of reading in my classroom this deep into the year? What should be my first step in the transition?
- How can I undertake this shift and still ensure my scholars are equipped to perform well on the skills-based assessments they will take in so short a time?
- I want to show my administrators the benefits of this shift while also acknowledging the risks. How should I communicate this plan to them?
Amy and Holly put together a career-altering professional development session this weekend, and now it’s time to capitalize. Any thoughts you have on the best way to do this will help me.
Alex M.G. Murphy
Alex M.G. Murphy teaches English I and U.S. History in the beautiful community of southeast Fort Worth, where he lives with his wife Rebekah and pit bull Sullivan. He is a graduate of Rice University.