Monthly Archives: April 2015

Every Now and Then: When Students Write for Us

I’m trying to write a grant for more books for my classroom library. The application asks for two references. For awards like this, where the grantors are actual educators, I try to have actual students write those letters. I am never, ever disappointed. I asked a current student and one I had a couple of years ago. They complied instantly.

Some excerpts from the current student. This first one is a bit long, but it is so, so good:

On the first day of class, Dr. Parker told us to answer a question: “What does it mean to read powerfully for you?” Never before had I critically thought about what it meant to read powerfully. To me, reading was just reading. Nevertheless, as I thought more and more about it, I was able to develop an answer. Reading powerfully involves an equilibrium of two different things, the heart and the brain. The passion and the imagination. The emotion and the understanding. For me, I am not able to read powerfully if I do not use both my heart and my brain. I can read with just my brain, and absorb the information but not actually feel or make any valid connections with the text. As a result, I tend to not really remember or walk away with much. I can also read with just my heart, and feel the text but not actually understand it on another level. As a result, I tend to never remember the text and walk away emotional. However, when I read to both feel and to understand, then I walk away with a much more interactive experience with the text, with more knowledge. I walk away as a powerful reader. To be completely honest, I wouldn’t have learned any of that if it were not for Dr. Parker asking the tough questions and getting our reader juices flowing. It was at this moment that I learned that my reading habits would be challenged (since she asked a challenging question) and that I would finally develop into becoming a better reader and consequently, writer.

And her conclusion:

Nevertheless, I think that what could make me and the rest of the community better readers is access to more books. When I was younger, I’d always ask my parents for books rather than clothes or anything else. The reasoning behind my thinking was that a book contains everlasting knowledge. A book is a trip you pay for once, but can always go back again free of cost. Books are what allow those who are underprivileged the opportunity to catch up to those who are.  Books are the keys to a gateway of knowledge. When you get young people to read, you give them everlasting knowledge. You allow them to travel the world (and elsewhere) and gain a variety of different perspectives. Not only that, but books allow young people to engage in conversations with adults and bridge a gap that exists between us and them. One thing that I appreciate about Dr. Parker is that she uses books as a way to help us jump start conversations among ourselves and with her. Furthermore, when we are challenged to read books that are well written and difficult, the knowledge we gain influences our writing. Dr. Parker tends to remind us that one of the only ways we can become better writers is if we become better readers. So, if we have more books to read, than we can read more, and if we read more, we probably will become better at reading (practice makes permanent). If we result in better readers, than our writing will be out of this world. Not only that, but as we read, we grow (or at least I do). When we grow and read more books that vary and gain different perspectives, we learn to be more loving of one another (at the very least, accepting). Books create a community of love and knowledge. I know that Dr. Parker has already started doing this in our class, but with more books, she will expand this community of love and knowledge. The beauty of this expansion is whether we realize it or not, is that we all end up falling in love with reading. And a world of powerful readers is better than a world without readers, is it not?

[Note: my first reaction to this beautifully written letter was to cry. At my desk. In front of the kids. Since having a baby, I’m not afraid to be vulnerable. Seriously? To write like this and to be only a sophomore?…]

Letters like this are why we need to ask students to write letters of recommendation for us every now and then. Because when they have the opportunity to articulate what we do every day, what seems so abstract suddenly comes into focus. Often I work with young people and I hope that they know how much reading matters, how much literacy matters, how much I need it to matter. Then, when they write, I know for sure.

Who knows if I’ll get the grant. Doesn’t seem like that’s the most important part of this project anymore. What makes it matter right now is that for this young person, I have made my classroom a space where literacy has created some wonderful experiences. Where reading can humanize us. That reading can make us more loving is perhaps the greatest sentence ever written. I think she is on to something.

Simply because I asked her to write for me.

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Teachers: Stop Giving It Away for Free

I’m returning from blogging over at Single Mom So Far, where I spent March participating in the Slice of Life Challenge created by Two Writing Teachers. It was quite nice to work out my current feelings about motherhood and how my life has changed.

We are brilliant teachers: more people should benefit from what we know.

During March, I thought a lot about teaching and some writing projects I finally think I’m ready to undertake. I also had some conversations with fantastic educators. They are brilliant teachers of young people at all levels and abilities. The biggest oversight is that administrators and even other teachers don’t seem to realize that these experts are either next door to them or within their buildings. We sit through PDs that these folks could teach effectively and responsively, yet, they are never asked. On the off chance that they are finally asked to do something, there is often no compensation for the time invested for preparing an excellent PD.

It drives me nuts.

I did the same thing: offered up my resources, thinking and knowledge because I was so flattered whenever someone asked me. It finally took a scholar I admire to remind me that I should not be giving this information away for free. And that’s what I want to remind my fellow teacher-scholars: we have expertise that is valuable. Think about all the emails you’ve fielded about folks wanting to ask you questions about what you’re doing in your classroom. It’s because they know that we’re doing amazing work.

I’m not saying to set up a Teachers Pay Teachers or Gum Road account, but, at the very least, we should learn how to negotiate better. Think about the best lesson plans and units we’ve written. Someone needs those. Think about the presentations we make. Someone would most likely pay for us to present those somewhere (particularly if it’s a business or company of some type). Why not even create a short ebook and sell that like Dave Stuart Junior (I love him) or the Cult of Pedagogy?

We need to stop underselling ourselves. It’s not a matter of modesty: we’ve all seen too many bad instructional materials, know that we can do it better. Thus, we should. And we should attach some sort of value to what we do because if we don’t, people will keep taking it until we have nothing left. Know your worth.

A few other suggestions:

  • Consider consulting: what are you really good at? Determine a rate and use that to either approach potential places (conferences are great for this) or to have it on hand when they come to find you (this can happen, particularly if you begin putting your awesome work out there). It’s better to have a number in mind. Also, don’t forget to account for the time you’ll need to prepare, travel, etc.
  • Have some sort of online presence: a website (lots of free ones are available but I’m being convinced that it makes sense to set up something that a pro designs–maybe)
  • Make a list of everything you’re good at and make that your calling card. I love it that Marie Levey-Pabst offers organizational help for teachers. It’s brilliant! My wonderful friend Lillie Marshall has parlayed her love of traveling and teaching students into presenting at conferences all over the world and visiting incredible locales. She is a brand and it is her passion: she’s found a way to make it work for her. We need to take notes and use these teacher scholars as models.

It’s that whole idea of “whatever you are, be a good one” (Lincoln). We are good at what we do. We need to get better at making sure others know that, too.

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Filed under Professional Development, Teachers as Scholars