For the month of March, I am participating in the Eleventh Annual Slice of Life Story Challenge. That means that I am writing every day for the month of March in the good company of the Two Writing Teachers community.
This morning's post is a letter to a teacher in our district. I plan to give it to her.
Ten years ago, I returned to elementary classrooms as a half-time special education teacher. We shared a student, and throughout the year, we shared long off-the-clock conversations, brainstorm sessions, and tears. He was beyond us--even you whose classroom is the safest, calmest one I know--and he was outplaced in May, maybe April (but it felt like June!) I'm watching another student follow a similar path, and we'll see what happens. He's not in your classroom. He's in a first-year teacher's room, and it's easy for me to be empathetic. I don't have to imagine how she feels; I've felt it.
Maybe what she needs to hear is that some students are beyond even the best teacher's reach. You have a lot of kids this year. Twenty-five third-graders is a big class for our district, and the needs are wide and varied. I walked in yesterday, and you were teaching writing. Since I've been in a fair amount this year, the kids all know who I am--that I love writing, that I love reading their writing--and you invited me to jump in. I wasn't there to jump in. I hadn't even told you I was coming. I had a couple of papers I wanted your opinion on. But I jumped in because it's so easy to do that in your room.
I knew exactly what you were teaching, and so did your kids. All of them were loving to read the conclusion you'd written about why dogs make great pets. Your conclusion had funny parts, repetition, even a little story. They loved hearing your voice come shining through in your writing. Even a couple of the students whose minds might wander noticed and shared about how you used silliness to make your point. Thank you for being a teacher who writes. Your students' work is so much more than meeting standards. It's full of voice, humor, and confidence, and it's easy to see why.
Thank you also for being a teacher who's interested in learning and not threatened by collaborating. It's hard for me to resist jumping in and my brain tends to think in charts. As your students read your work and started naming your craft moves, I headed to your chartpad and began listing them. Maybe I feel that comfort because you and I once worked that closely together on a more regular basis, but maybe it's also because that's just how you make people feel. Your classroom is a warm and inviting place to be--a place where we're all learners, listeners, and growers.
While you read the pieces, your students moved into independent work time, and I conferred with R. He was having a hard time getting going. He and I talked about ways he could get started, and when I asked him what I complimented him on and what I taught him, he knew right away. You were listening as he explained his takeaways to me. I think you were interested in what he was saying--I was too--but I was also interested that he could talk about the conference that just happened, and that says a lot about you. He's engaged and interested in learning, even when it's hard, and that's a mindset that exists in your classroom.
Yes, you have a lot of students in your room, and you also have a room full of intention and excitement in the work. Sometimes we don't take the time to step back and appreciate that. It doesn't just happen.
Maybe what I need to say to this other teacher is look forward to look back. You'll make it through, and you can still be an incredible teacher. L is.
Thank you for all you do.