As much as it pains me to admit it, my “best” moments in the classroom often start with an unprofessional incident. Perhaps it is because my students get a glimpse of real me rather than the semi-scripted English teacher version they expect. Or maybe it’s just magic.
During a class change one morning, I checked my Twitter feed (the kids had to teach me how to use it last year). Instead of clicking on hearts and retweet, I squealed like a three year-old girl. I’m forty-four. I have twenty-one years of classroom experience. They call me Mean Mrs. Vincent.
- Do. Not. Squeal.
Except for when author Ava Delaria acknowledges my tweet with a reply. Total fangirl moment. It must have been black magic that made me do it.
The squeal got some attention, and it gave me the chance to begin class early. Nobody complained (actual magic). I did an impromptu book talk on Delaria’s Love Letters to the Dead, a YA novel about Laurel who struggles to find herself in the midst of her sister’s death and her freshman year of high school. Laurel’s English teachers ask her to read “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop. Predictably, the teacher gives a writing assignment that Laurel seems to ignore (also quite predictable).
Within minutes of the book talk, I had two overwhelming requests (and an extensive waiting list to check out my sole copy). 1: Find money and purchase another copy. 2: Bring a copy of the poem and “do” it with them the following day. The kids ASKED ME to bring in poetry.Like I said… MAGIC.
Eventually, the kids began asking if they could write their own love letters to the dead. They REQUESTED a writing assignment (more magic). The results were amazing. I knew I couldn’t leave it there, so I did some quick research and located http://www.read.gov/letters/, a contest sponsored by the Library of Congress. The Letters about Literature is an annual contest and winners from three age groups are selected from every state.
I invited the students to compete, and more than half of them revised their letters to the dead to use for the contest. Others wrote a new letter. MAGIC. One of my seniors earned recognition for her letter to Ned Vizzini.
While I can’t plan for the magic (unprofessional moments) I know that it is more likely to appear when I offer my students engaging books and invite them to write for authentic reasons.
In the moment of my squeal, I wasn’t Mrs. Vincent. Instead, I was an excited fan having a moment. Breaking the teacher persona does not always have to be catastrophic.
When the moment allows me to share my passion, not because I think it will be useful for graduation or college or the unit test, but because it is truly exciting for me, I have to take it.
This fall I have 6 new classes, so how do I recreate the spell? How do I make sure they feel the magic too? I’m certainly not planning unprofessional moments, but I think that what I can do is provide a space for the students to BE readers and writers, not just students of readers and writers.
What about you? What are some of your magical moments from years past? How do you invite students to become readers and writers?
Lori Vincent is a wife, mother, and teacher just south of metro-Atlanta. When she isn’t in the classroom (or at a local coffee shop) teaching AP Language, Writers Workshop or newspaper journalism, she is somewhere talking to everyone who will listen about reading and writing. You can follow her adventures on Twitter @MrsVincentOHS
Lori, I love this! I can just picture your fangirl squeal. I totally get it! I think it’s so powerful. Love what you did with that magic you made.
I have had a ton of those unscripted fangirl moments! Once last year when Andrew Smith posted on my timeline for my birthday, and just today when a box of books arrived to my classroom from Tommy Wallach! I squealed, and got all excited, and we had a big “unboxing” moment in the middle of class, which led to a book talk about We All Looked Up, which led to several students asking about interacting with authors and choosing the books of authors I showed them my social media interactions with. It is absolutely magic! I love the YA community and it’s even better when my kids start to get to know them!
Thanks for sharing. The magic, the enthusiasm, and the practical writing idea. I love it when book talks turn into authentic writing moments. Now, I must read the book you shared and see what magic happens withe my own students.
Please write with us again sometime!
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Ahhhh! It’s a great book, Amy!!
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I love, love, love this. It speaks to the power of our students. The fact that they wanted to write their own love letters to the dead? Wow. And the fact that you were open and listened and honored their request? Wow. This confirms the power of teaching from the gut and the beauty of tapping the gold that is our students.
When you’ve established a classroom of trust,so much is possible. I’ve had those less than stellar moments that could’ve gone, oh so badly for me. But becasue my students thought of themselves as part of “the club”, they rose to the challenge, protected me and themselves and then produced stellar work from my debacle!!!