I am excited to participate in Reading By Example’s summer book club. We are reading Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners by Regie Routman. I have thoroughly enjoyed the first two thought-provoking posts:
How do we Create a Community of Readers written by Matt Renwick
Agency in the Classroom written by Ryanne Deschane
If you would like to read more about Regie’s book Stenhouse offers a generous preview. Regie’s writing is engaging and revives a teacher’s excitement for teaching. The following quote resonated with me and inspired the reflection you are about to read.
“I would like to see as a requirement that the content we teach – and how and why we teach and assess it – promotes a love of learning; that our instruction and the experiences we provide students inspire them to inquire, seek more knowledge, ask deeper questions, and go on learning.”
~Regie Routman, p. 66
While attending college I longed for the day when I would have my own classroom. I imagined creating motivating, and exciting lessons for my students. I was eager, fresh-faced and ready to go.
19 years ago I was lucky enough to find a job as a kindergarten teacher soon after graduating from college. I was also lucky enough to be in a school district in which teachers had the freedom to make curricular decisions and were encouraged to develop learning experiences based on their students’ strengths, needs, and interests.
During my first year of teaching, a parent brought in her pet hedgehog for a visit. My class instantly became obsessed with hedgehogs. They had many “I wonder” questions that led to a few weeks of immersing ourselves into –everything hedgehogs. We explored hedgehogs through reading, writing, science, and even math. We created shared writing pieces about the fascinating facts that we learned. The shared writing messages were included in our classroom newsletter which provided students with writing that they could read at home to their families.
Another favorite learning memory happened a few years later in my teaching career. A parent asked me if my class would be interested in an empty refrigerator box. I immediately said that we would as my brain raced with of all of the possibilities. Once the box arrived in our classroom, I asked my students to think of all of the different things we could use the box for. We used interactive writing to create our list of choices. The next morning when the students read their morning message they put a sticker dot on their favorite choice. Later in the day, we learned how to read, count, and compare our data. We found that the post office had the most votes. During free choice time students decorated and named their Pokemon Post Office. The post office became an important part of our daily classroom routine for the remainder of the school year. My students learned how to write friendly letters and parents donated all types of paper, old cards, and postcards. My students LOVED writing letters during writing workshop and writing center time. Often students would even write letters at home and bring them to school to mail at the post office.
At the beginning of my teaching career, I had so much to learn (and still do). In spite of that, I feel great success when I think about how motivated my students were by the memorable and meaningful things we did. Even during my first year in kindergarten, I could see my students come to think of themselves as learners.
My purpose for sharing these stories is to convey the excitement I felt when I started out my career as a teacher. That excitement was closely tied to the power and freedom I was given to make special learning experiences with my students.
When I look at where we are in education today I’m not so sure I would have stayed the energized and excited teacher I was for as long as I did. Unfortunately, over the past several years, I have seen the slow demise of honoring teacher decision making and a move toward scripted programs for every…single…subject. I feel my light dimming just thinking about it.
Our job as teachers isn’t just to teach our students what they need to learn each year in our class. Our ultimate outcome is to instill a love for learning that will stay with them their entire lives.
How do we do this important work?
Make Learning Memorable
When your students show an interest in something find a way, no matter how small, to value and build on that interest. It only makes sense that when students engage in learning about their interests they become more motivated. Rethink worksheets – make learning memorable by creating authentic and purposeful experiences.
Allow students choice whenever you can. Students are much more likely to be active participants in their learning if they are able to have some control over it. Providing students with choice empowers them and helps them to develop a sense of agency.
Get Your Excitement back
Celebrate even the smallest successes. Find pleasure in the interactions you have with your students each day. Smile! Smile at your co-workers. Smile at your students! If you are feeling the pull and stress of all of the mandates and the demands for fidelity to programs, think of ways that you can bring some excitement to your teaching so that you can be at your best. Regie also recommends finding fun things to do outside of work. Outside hobbies help you to feel re-energized and more able to take on the complex job of teaching.
If you are bound by programs and mandated scripts I encourage you not to give up hope and to stay the course. We have an obligation to do what is right for our students in order to inspire a life-long love of learning.