Thursday, May 18, 2017

No More Countdowns!

An Open Love Letter to My Teaching Job

Dear Teaching,
My name is Kristin Richey and I’m currently completing my 9th year in education. As the school year is coming to a close, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on this past year, the good and the bad, the new and the old, and where I stand moving forward in this profession.

If you’ve read my posts (which, you’re probably busy so I’ll give you a pass), you’d know how much I respect you. I think teaching is a challenging, rewarding, maddening, and joyous profession. I don’t think just anyone is called to this job- but I think many are called away from it. There’s so many reasons for this and aside from getting into a philosophical debate, it’s safe to say that educators can and sometimes do feel overworked and undervalued. My way to get around this? Positivity. And literally being in love with the job I get to do everyday. 

I have a couple of rules this time of year- you know- when the days are numbered and everyone seems to have sunshine and sleeping in on their minds. My biggest rule: no countdowns. I know, I’m a buzzkill. But remember, I love my job. And I want students to love being in my classroom. What better way to ruin that then to have a countdown on the board exclaiming how many days I have left with them? I know, I know. It’s not like that, they say. It’s just a countdown, no hidden agenda. To that I ask, when isn’t there an agenda? Even an accidental one? Think about bullying. The person saying the hurtful words often quips, “I was just joking! She’s my friend!” and yet, the victim of those words is still hurt. Sure they didn’t mean to hurt them, but the agenda was there. The setup was there. Moral of the story: Don’t give students a reason to believe you don’t care 100% about being with them. When I walk into my classroom, I want my students to think there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.Do I succeed at that everyday? Of course not. Do I try my best? You’re damn right. 

Another rule I have at this time of year is to sit down and write this blog post. I like to think, reflect, dwell, and focus on the year that is winding down and get excited about my future in the field. This time last year I was writing an entirely different post. I was working at an elementary school in my district as a Reading Specialist. I learned so much about my district, myself, and quality reading instruction. I was all set to continue at another elementary school in my same district when the opportunity arose to go back to my original setting- one of the middle schools. Now, I’m a middle level person. Yes, we are a breed. I actually went to school (#redbirdproud) with the intention of graduating and teaching reading to middle school students. Crazy? Maybe. Amazing? Definitely.

So I took the opportunity to go back to middle school and began my 9th year teaching a class called Strategic Reading. I got to write my own curriculum due to a boss who trusts me and knows I wouldn’t put anything less than my best in front of students. I have  the kind of instructional leader who implores me to create AND destroy, succeed AND fail, and I am continuously thankful for that. I am able to be the teacher I am because of people behind me who support me. I know that doesn’t happen everywhere, but it should.

This year I taught every student in 6,7,and 8 grade in my school of about 700. It was phenomenal. I got to know all of them. High/low, shy/extrovert, lovers and haters of reading. They all walked through my doors. And you know what? I read to all of them. I taught them all the joys of reading and I discussed with all of them their strengths and goals. Every. Single. One. I made them read. I made them write. I made them think. I even made some of them rethink their disdain for reading. After all, a middle school student with an opinion is hard to break. But I persisted. I hooked many of my students with my read aloud choices. We start every class with 13 minutes of read aloud. For my 6th graders, it was Skeleton Man and Return of Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac. A gruesome and visual book about a cannibal skeleton monster from stories is manifested in the real life world of a 6th grade girl. Try reading about a man eating the flesh off his bones without being able to hear a pin drop. I dare you. For my 7th grade, it was Zen and the Art of Faking It by Jordan Sonnenblick. This book is about an 8th grade boy who is reinventing himself- trying to find out who he will be and why. Sound like middle school to you?I thought so. It also starts a secret author study, as my 8th graders also get a dose of Sonneblick. 8th grade students hear Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie- a life-changing book about the 8th grade year of Steven and his 5 year old brother Jeffrey. Every quarter I get new students. Every quarter at least 5-6 cry at the end of this book. I mean, I cry every time, but even some of my toughest students do, too. It’s kind of adorable and I promise not to tell. So shh. 

I read aloud, I teach, they read, we work, they collaborate- in essence- we get down to the business of learning/studying/loving reading. And I’m the lucky person who gets to teach them all.

So, Teaching, thanks for listening. Thanks for challenging me this year. Thanks for continuing to be the profession I was born to do- not without it’s complications. I’m thankful everyday that I get to do this job and I can confidently say there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.

Mrs. Richey


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