Monday, December 31, 2018

One Little Word Reflection - A Big Step

Today is the last day of 2018, and it's time to reflect on how my one little has served me the past 364 days.

Choosing one little word gives me a reflective way to approach the new year and a focus to carry me through the year.  This year has been no different.  My one little words in the past years have been:

2013 - Search
2014 - Reach
2015 - Turn
2016 - Intent
2017 - Rise

This year STEP was my word.  I chose this word because I was starting a new journey, and I believe that every new journey starts with the first step.

When I chose STEP, I was three months into graduate school.  There were many days when I questioned my decision.  After all, I was 54 at the time, and old minds just don't work the way they used to.  There were tears. And so many doubts.  

I not only learned about curriculum and instruction, but I also learned what it was like to be a student again. I was walking in the shoes of my students, and I followed in their metaphorical steps.  I think I have become a better teacher not necessarily because of my degree, but because I understand my students in a whole different level. I understand the struggles of analyzing and summarizing, reading difficult texts and writing about them, and staring at a blank page - wishing the words would just come to me. I understand about the power of feedback and how important its timeliness is. I understand about doing things that are just downright hard, yet persevering.  And I understand the power of learning.

We take one STEP at a time!

As I say goodbye to STEP and 2018, I can't wait to share my word for 2019!

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Giving Grace

It is the night before New Years Eve and a time where everyone is sharing their favorite books of 2018 and completing their reading challenge on Goodreads.

But not me.

This past year, my reading life was placed on pause while I worked on my Master's degree.  I remember tweeting about my personal dilemma one day, and Donalyn Miller replied. It said something about how our reading lives ebb and flow and giving myself some grace.  She then led me to her Nerdy Book Club post about her own reading slump.

I wouldn't really call mine a slump; it was more of a guilt trip. I felt guilty reading when I knew I should have been reading or studying for a class or writing one of my many papers.

I know that my own reading life plays a large role in the reading lives of my students, and this bothered me. It is much more difficult to get excited about books and share them with my students when I was not reading. I felt like a fake reader. The door of our classroom, where I display my reading life, remained pretty bare the entire year. I would have former students come in, look at the door, and say, "Mrs. Eck, you're slipping."

And they were right.

Then I took Donalyn's words to heart, and I gave myself some grace. She reminded me that our reading lives ebb and flow, "alternating between reading binges and dry spells."

And that is OK.

So tonight, I look at that Goodreads reading challenge and remind myself of the reason for the dry spell. (Yes, I graduated on December 11th - one year, three months, and eleven days.)

And that is OK.

I spent some today cleaning, sorting, weeding, and re-shelving many boxes of books. I have a plan.  I welcome 2019 because I am ready to binge once again.

And that is OK.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Looking Through Poverty and Seeing Possibility

Many of the middle grade books I read impact me as a reader. Then, there are those that impact me as a teacher. This was the case with The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden.

Zoey is a 7th grader and has more responsibility than any 7th grader should ever have. She takes care of her younger siblings so that her mother can work and keep her family together. Times are tough for Zoey at home, and she thinks her life would be better if she were on octopus with eight arms to tackle all of her responsibilities.

Zoey tries not to draw attention to herself at school because she thinks she doesn't belong in the world of rich kids. However, one her teachers wants her to join the debate club. Zoey does not want to participate and even "forgets" to bring her form to school.  Eventually, the debate brings Zoey to see things in new ways and to find her own place in her unfair world.

This book is about poverty, which many of my students can relate.  Braden's writing illustrates what many of my students live every single day.

Kids in poverty typically have little control over the events in their lives, and this lack of control can often bring out behavior problems in school.  One way that Zoey finds control is in storytelling.  "And telling stories means I get to spend time in a world were the person in charge of what happens is me." 

How can we give kids in poverty control in our classrooms? What decisions can they make that would make them feel like they have control?  How can we use writing and storytelling to help them?

There are times when I get frustrated with my students when they don't return forms, or complete assignments, or come to class on time.  Reading this book reminded me that students in poverty are not thinking about these things.  They are thinking about taking care of siblings, having food on the table, or having electricity and running water.  When Zoey doesn't return a completed packet about an animal she thinks, "Some people can do their homework. Some people have crushes on boys. Some have other things they've got to do."  This is the life of my students.

Reading this book also brought me hope. Braden created a teacher who cared and who looked through the poverty and saw possibility.  Isn't that what we should all do?



Once the teacher is gone, Ms. Rochambeau turns back to me. She says things, but I'm not listening. No one has ever connected me with being important. The things that they want me to do are important - do my homework, bring a pencil, wear sneakers for PE.

But this somehow feels different."

Kids in poverty need to feel important, and sometimes teachers may be the only ones who can provide that.  Kids in poverty is not commonly found in middle grade books, and Ann Braden wrote a book that is greatly needed. A book where many students, and hopefully teachers, can see themselves. 

#MustReadin2018 Wrap-Up

Several years ago Carrie Gelson of There's a Book for That started the "Must Read Challenge" which is way for book lovers to create and share their reading list that they didn't get to that year.  I have "participated" the last five years.  And I use the word participated very loosely.  I always made a list, but each year that list became shorter and shorter, in hopes that I would have more success.  

Last year I narrowed my list to eight titles - two for each quarter of the year.  

I read six of them, and I'm currently reading the 7th.  This is quite an accomplishment because my reading life was put on hold while I worked on my Master's degree.  I had to learn how to give myself some grace along the way.

The books I read from my Must Read in 2018 were:

My favorite out of all of these was Scythe by Neal Shusterman.  After I read it and book talked it, I had to buy multiple copies to keep up with the demand in my classroom.  I have Thunderhead, the next one in the series, and Dry, his newest book in my TBR stack.  Look for those in my Must Read in 2019 list in a couple of days!

Making a reading plan is something I teach my students to do because having a plan sets the tone that reading is important. And this is the reason why I make this list every year with "Carrie & Company", and I look forward to making a new list for 2019!