Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Beginning

As a second year teacher, I have had a multitude of veteran teachers showing me the ropes of the teaching world. Teaching is far different than what I imagined it was as a student - but in a good way. This is the most satisfying job that I could ever have. 

I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher. No other career ever truly interested me. I grew up playing "school" with my stuffed animals as my students and going over their "homework" on my white board in the basement. Whenever I was asked, "What do you want to do with your life?" I never hesitated - "I want to teach."

I was hired in the summer of 2010, three months after I graduated from college and 13 days before school started. I quickly realized that I would have a classroom full of students in less than two weeks, so I began cleaning out my room and preparing it for what I hoped to be my students' home away from home. My first year was filled full of adventures ranging from attempting to "stay afloat" to dealing with a life changing family event. It was the students and my team teachers that kept me going throughout the rest of the year. In May, I was starting to feel really good about what I was doing as a teacher. Just in time for the school year to end. That's okay - I had the summer to recuperate and come up with a game plan that would bring even more success in my second year.

At the beginning of this school year I came in refreshed from the summer and with more knowledge of how to handle all aspects of teaching than I had the year before. I'm a fifth grade language arts teacher who is never satisfied with anything that I create. I have a passion for reading and would spend all day reading if I could. In my first year of teaching, I wasn't satisfied with how I taught reading. It just didn't feel right. So, I came in this year with a hope to improve the reading aspect of my classroom so that it was more "me." 

In September I read The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, that has completely changed my outlook on reading and how it should be taught. I don't know why I felt compelled to read this book but I am so glad that I went to Barnes and Noble, my home away from home, and bought it. Miller, a sixth grade teacher from Texas, gives her accounts of how she teaches reading to her students and what she has found that works and doesn't work. As I read her book during SSR (sustained silent reading) in class with my students, my heart would begin to beat a little bit faster and my mind would begin to fill with new ideas and realizations. The Book Whisperer has been the basis of how I teach reading to my students this year.

The first thing that I came to realize is that there is no one book that fits every student and I shouldn't, for a second, believe that. So, out went teaching whole class novels. I started by simply talking with my students about their thoughts on reading, how many books did they read last year, do they like reading, etc. and not surprisingly at this age, they were completely honest! I made an agreement with them. I will be as honest about my reading experiences with you, if you promise to do the same. When I told my students that we weren't going to read any whole class novels this year, they began to clap and cheer.

The second thing that I came to realize is that I have 110 students and it's impossible for me to talk to each one of them, in depth, weekly, about reading. I decided to turn the students' reading journals into a conversation piece. Once a week, the students would have to write a letter to me about reading. Period. Not surprisingly, I received many moans and groans because it's, "one more thing to do." My students also wanted clarification about "what" to write to me about. I refused to limit their minds and simply replied, time and time again, "reading." That got me some more moans and groans. When I received the first few letters, I was pleasantly surprised with what the students wrote about. They told me about the books that they were reading, they summarized them for me and even asked what I was reading. Quickly pulling out my pen, I replied to each letter that night. This was a ritual that I have continued all school year.

Having my students write a letter to me at least once a week, (yes, there are those students that write to me daily and yes, I do write back to them daily) has been the best decision that I could have made this year. It has completely changed how my students are thinking of reading and they trust me to give recommendations (many ask daily for recommendations) and I trust them to recommend books back to me! Of course I have students that still are not completely on board with writing to me and give me the bare minimum, but, at least they are talking about reading.

I could go on for days and days about these reading journals, and I'm sure that I will in my later posts, but I wanted to initially tell what is happening in my classroom and some of the new realizations that I have learned about reading, my students and most importantly myself. 

I have one student who reads a book a day and yesterday at the end of class he asked me, "Mrs. Morrow, do you have any books for me to read?" I responded, "You have read all of the books in my library?" Quick to respond he said, "All of the good ones." Laughing, I asked him if he could give me the weekend to think of more books for him. This is my closet "desk reader" student who "secretly" reads in his desk during class. I never have the heart to tell him to stop reading, how would that look as a reading teacher? I have learned so much from him this year and cannot wait for what the second half of the school year brings for me and my students!