Yesterday I had a little chat with my five-year-old granddaughter who had just got in trouble with her mom and dad for running away instead of coming when they called her. She’d had a scuffle with her little brother and didn’t want to stop playing long enough to get a talking to. (I can’t say I blame her. No one likes thinking they are in trouble.) After a dose of parental guidance and a tad of time, I knelt beside Elle and asked if we could talk. She melted me.
Elle reminds me of her mother — so full of spunk it could be dangerous. She’s fire and ice and double-dog-daring. She has the memory of a growing elephant, and she asks THE best questions. She’s fearless and inquisitive dolled up in loud and loving chaos.
As I knelt on the pavement in the park yesterday, looking into sparkling brown eyes, I couldn’t help but send a plea: Please, God, do not let life and school and standardization hurt this highly-spirited mighty wisp of a darling intelligent diva.
I know I share concern with most parents and grandparents. And as teachers, we feel well-deep concern for many of the children we work with every day year after year.
It can be emotionally exhausting.
That’s where I was a year ago: Flat on my back exhausted. Overwhelmed. Overcome. There were several factors that added to my distress. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say this about one last straw: I’ve become wary of some assistant principals, especially those assigned to evaluate English departments when they have zero literacy experience, — and they do not believe in edu research and data-informed practice. Boy, howdy.
Thus, my gap year, which went by faster than my Elle running from her mother.
Have I missed it? You’d have to define it.
I’ve missed working with teens every day.
I have not missed some of their parents. I have not missed the effects of some of their trauma.
I’ve missed working with insightful and forward-thinking colleagues. I have not missed others’ same-old-same-old attitudes or platitudes.
I’ve missed helping writers write and readers read — more — and better. I have not missed trying to break the habits of inauthentic and limiting literacy instruction (only writing to prompts, taking fill-in-the-blank tests, worksheets . . .)
I’ve missed the joy of sharing daily book talks — books I’ve loved, books that gave me pause, books I hope to read, books I-couldn’t-get-into-but-maybe-you-can. I have not missed grades or justifying independent reading without them.
I’ve missed exploring and discussing current events, lyrics, art, poetry, and good books; diving into inquiry, writing from the heart — adolescents have keen insight and so much talent! I have not missed anything test-prep related (test-proctoring included).
I’ve missed my students and the relationships we build around becoming better humans. I have not missed the late work or grading policies that kept me perpetually behind.
I know there’s more — the good, the bad, and the ugly that goes into this profession of teaching. When I first entered the classroom, I had no clue. (I’d bet this is most of the population.)
So what now?
I wish I knew.
Only kidding. Kinda. I know I need to find a job (financially, I don’t know how we’ve made it this far.) I just hope I am better at self care.
I must be better at self care. I must be a better advocate of my practice. For myself and for my students.
So what does this all have to do with my granddaughter?
Elle is every child I’ve ever taught and every child I may ever teach. She’s a handful of opportunity — worth every pinch of sass and poke of attitude — and she needs teachers, especially literacy teachers who give her choice in what she reads and what she may want to write, who talk to her about her needs as reader and as writer, who care more about her as a tiny human than as a data point. Elle needs teachers who feed her inquiry and focus her energy. She needs teachers, equally curious and energetic, who have lives outside of teaching.
For the past year, I’ve collected questions teachers have generated at the workshop trainings I’ve facilitated (a gift of part-time consulting work). I try to answer these questions in the short time we have together, but now I’m thinking I can use these questions here at 3TT, too. I can remind myself of what I love about teaching readers and writers, and perhaps you, dear readers, may benefit, too.
So this is a charge to myself made public — Important since I’ve been awful about keeping my writing commitments and posting regularly, although in the past year I’ve — taught myself to watercolor, read 17 books that are not YA, planted a killer container garden, tried being a vegetarian, binge-watched too much on Netflix, cuddled grandbabies, had a book proposal accepted, and logged miles on my new bike — Each week I’ll write a Q & A-type post that answers a question about teaching high school readers and writers in a workshop classroom. I used to feel I was pretty good at it.
If you have a question, related to ELAR and/or workshop, please leave it in the comments. I’ll try to spotlight yours.
Amy Rasmussen has taught all levels of high school English, except AP Lit (gen ed, Pre-AP, G/T, AP Lang) at two (Title I) high schools in N Texas. She’s passionate about self-improvement but knows perfectionism can kill the soul. She’s become vocal about teacher self care and refuses to even think about grading essays on the weekend. She loves her work as a literacy consultant, especially that moment when teachers want to read and write more — just like we hope for all our students. Follow Amy @amyrass
Tagged: authentic literacy, secondary readers writers workshop, teaching
My school requires me to submit a pacing guide for the year before school begins. How do I plan an entire year of lessons for workshop? Should I group readings/writings into units? Genres? Also, do you keep a checklist of mini-lessons or types of writing that you want to teach each year?
Good questions, Kirby! Although there’s not one way to plan, of course, what works for me is backwards design: I start with my writing standards — you know, the compositions students are supposed to take through the writing process into publication. Those take a lot of time, so I start there. Then, I like to think thematically and create a multi-genre text set that can a) help students generate ideas they want to write about, b) give them ideas they may want to explore further (sneaking in a bit of authentic research), c) use a variety of mentor texts to help them see how to craft whatever mode of writing we may be working on to meet the standard. Does that make sense?
For mini-lessons, again I look at the standards I know I’m supposed to teach (many of them loop into all the different modes of writing students are to compose). I choose the ones that best work for narrative, informational, persuasive, argument, multi-modal, whatever. I teach those using excerpts from that multi-genre text set I mentioned above. I also teach the responsive-type of mini-lessons — you know the ones where I see a need in student work. Sometimes those are with students one-on-one, sometimes in small groups, sometimes whole class if pretty much everyone needs it.
I hope this helps. Feel free to email me if you’d like to carry this convo further. I’m happy to help if I can. firstname.lastname@example.org
I did not know you did not teach this year. Missed that post. I do pray you continue your work as you are so insightful. I wish we had had more then a year to work together. Life🥳In December, I left Victoria ~ my child moved to Austin not to return so I moved to East Texas to be by my sister and family! I love the peace of country living. She asked me to sub as the HS was running short! My heart was shattered! Literacy to most was a foreign word😥, tests, worksheets, 1940 canons, torn books, reading and writing ✍️??? … so I pray for your granddaughter, my great nephew and all children ~ may the system not break them and may more teachers pursue professional reading and practices.
Oh, Terri, I love you so! Your support means the world to me! Btw, I am going back to the classroom. Out of the blue, or God because I’m sure it was Him, sent me a great opportunity at the high school my four oldest kids graduated from — and I worked as a sub there when I finished my teaching credentials many years ago. It’s like full circle in the edu world for me. And — this is so cool — this ELA department embraces the same philosophy and pedagogy I do. From what I’ve heard, most teachers have already shifted their instruction from literature to literacy. I may still sing “I am a rock” but I won’t have to sing “I am an island.”
If you ever come to Dallas, let’s get together. I’d love to see you!
Lovely, A…This post is so beautiful and speaks to so much of my teaching soul as we start to wrap up the school year here in BK (about 1 month left)…as we round out our time together (in the classroom) as a community; as we start making informed decisions about our summer reading lists; as we dig deep for our calm and confidence as regents start to slowly rear their very ugly heads…
Thank you for reminding us all of the spunk and fire in all of our students – regardless how loud. I am so looking forward to seeing the Q&A here on TTT as we all figure out how to rejuvenate yet stay connected with our teaching lives this summer.
P.S. And that grandbaby…
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Oh, Lori! I’m sorry you’ve felt similar adversity. Thank you for your kind words. I’ll take it as encouragement to keep learning, keep growing, keep trying to give. I wish you joy as you find your next steps. Thank you!!
Dear Amy- You’ve encompassed so much of what I’m pretty sure I’ll be feeling shortly. I’ve resigned my position due to some “administrative difficulties”, as well.
I owe you so much! My teaching actually became a craft after attending your workshop and reading Donalyn Miller’s books.
Do practice self-care. Do keep blogging. Do follow your heart in doing what you know is best for students regardless of the naysayers. I wish you well.
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