Wednesday, June 19, 2013
What’s the voice of your classroom?
Every classroom has one. Obviously, there’s a literal voice that rises and falls with the ebb and flow of the day. The pin drop silence of independent reading quickly gives way to the verbal avalanche of group work. On any given day there is bound to be laughter, questions, silence, crying, cheering, complaining, whispering, and more questions.
But that’s not exactly what I’m talking about. I’m talking about a deeper voice. A voice that is felt more than heard. It’s the voice that penetrates to the very marrow of a classroom. That voice is forged in the fires of time. Hour by hour, day by day, the true voice of a classroom will begin to be heard.
The students in my classes created the sweetest voice this year. Of course every class is special, but this year was exceptional. The atmosphere we created was almost heart-wrenching to rip apart. It was a true classroom family.
Now it’s over. It’s time to move on, but that’s a good thing. Although goodbyes can be sad, voices need to grow and change and reverberate off different walls. And unlike a literal voice, if you close your eyes and be still, you can always hear the echoes of voices past.
Monday, June 17, 2013
Reading logs are the definition of a fun suck. They are one of the few things I truly hate about reading. I used them one year because all the other teachers were using them. I witnessed first hand their destructive power.
I saw reading become a chore to be finished instead of an escape to be taken. I saw honest students turn into liars by forging their parent’s signature. I saw voracious readers get in trouble for not filling out their log. I saw the voyage of reading become reduced to swabbing the deck all in the name of helping students be responsible.
I used them once. I’ll never go back.
Now I talk to my students every week about the importance of reading. I want them to read outside of class everyday for the rest of their lives. Reading is a great way to help us be the best people we can be. Reading is for life. It helps us in ways that don’t fit neatly into a little log.
“But how will you know if we’re reading at home?” an eager student asked me near the beginning of this year. I tried to explain to the student that, on the day-to-day, I won’t know.
“So we don’t have to do it, then?” Hmmm. This student wasn’t getting it yet. He was standing at the gates of Readicide, but I’m thankful he hadn’t walked through yet.
“I’ll know you’re not reading by your conversations,” I told him. The student’s squinty, confused eyes told me he needed a bit more. “We’re going to talk about books a lot this year. And write about them quite a bit as well. What do you think will happen if you’re not responsible with your reading?”
The student thought for a second. “I guess I won’t have much to say.”
I make sure my students know that I can’t make them read at home either. I want them to feel the weight of that responsibility on their shoulders. I want them to own it. That way when they do read on their own, they know it was their choice. It wasn’t something Mr. Stortz made them do.
Responsible readers are made by opportunities to be responsible, not by hackney accountability gimmicks. Ditch the reading logs. Your readers will appreciate it.
Saturday, June 15, 2013
|Photo by Josh Puetz|
I paced my usual recess duty path. I heard the usual arguing from the four-square game; I heard the the usual giggles from packs of girls, and I heard the usual clomping footsteps from all the runners. But then I saw something not that usual.
I saw Sam, one of my students, lying on his back on a bench with a book hovering inches above his face. Even the most voracious of readers give up on recess reading by early June. But not him. He was so into his book. The only thing moving were his eyes.
“Good book?” I asked.
“Yessir,” he said without looking up at me.
I walked away. I did not want to interrupt him any further. I know all too well the feeling of trying to read. And I know all too well the feeling of trying to read at recess. I was a recess reader when I was a kid.
On my first day of seventh grade at a new school, I only had my copy of The Outsiders to keep me company at recess. How fitting.
I blew the whistle to line up. I found myself walking beside Sam as we got ready to go inside. I looked at him with a wink and said “Don’t worry. You’ll get the babes and make the big bucks later in life- just like me.”
“I”m planning on it, Mr. Stortz!" We both laughed.
Later that afternoon we had some extra recess time. I saw a girl named Maddie relaxing in the shade. After spending a school year with her in my class, I can tell you this girl is smart, funny, and beautiful. Of course her nose was in a book too. I started to walk over to tell her I thought it was cool that she was reading during recess.
As I walked, I noticed Sam on the soccer field. He gave me a little wave. I couldn’t help but think of him and Maddie, and I couldn’t stop myself from smiling. Maybe the world will be okay after all.
Thursday, June 6, 2013
The last day of school is almost here. It’s become routine for me. But it hasn’t become any easier.
I’ve given so much of myself to my students over the last nine months. I’ve laughed with them. I’ve cried with them. I’ve celebrated with them, and I’ve lost my patience with them. Day in; day out. Week after week for almost an entire year. Then it lurches to a sudden and grinding halt.
As teachers, kids come and go in our lives like a revolving door. I’m about to finish my tenth year in education, so the door has been revolving for a while.
I’ve had the honor to teach about 300 students. Some come and and go like an easy breeze across a sandy beach. Some I miss. Some not as much. Some kids are quiet, and I don’t get to know them as well.
Others sink their hooks in deeply. Those are kids we’ll never forget. Those are the kids that not only enter our lives for a season, but touch our hearts for a lifetime. I’ve had a handful of students like that. I was fortunate to have one this year.
”I don’t really like to read, Mr. Stortz.”
That was one of the first conversations I had with her. Most kids don’t say things like that, and definitely not the kids that actually don’t like reading. Those kids tend to keep quiet and try to stay undetected. Telling me she didn’t like to read was like announcing a challenge. I interpreted it as “Help me find a book I’ll love!” I knew right away she was going to be something special.
She and I found several great books over the year. I got to hear her say “I love this book!” many times. Seeing her joyful turnaround was one of the best rewards I could receive.
She went from being below grade level in reading to being a full grade level above by the end of the year. She made the most growth of any student I had. But it’s not really about her reading skills.
So much of teaching is about the relationships we forge with our students. That’s what I’m passionate about. Great teaching happens in the context of great relationships.
She is an amazing girl. Her infectious smile brought joy to my heart each day. She was a rock of responsibility. I could always count on her. Her kind heart and wonderful attitude were felt by everyone in class. She was the eye of the storm on the toughest days.
She is smart, creative, and funny. Any teacher will be blessed to have her next year. She helped me be not only a better teacher, but a better person.
I received a handmade card from her today. It absolutely melted my heart. As I read over her words, I realized just how much I was going to miss her.
”Can you come to 5th grade with us, Mr. Stortz?”
The bittersweet taste of the last day of school hangs heavily in the air. There’s excitement on some faces. But teary eyes betray the smiles of more than a few.
The music of this year is fading. The laughter is turning into echoes, and the voices are growing distant. I’ll close the blinds and turn off the lights one last time. And I’ll count myself blessed for being able to teach and learn from this very special girl.
Although she will only be in my life for a season, she has touched my heart for a lifetime.
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
I had that thought as I paced the tile floor while on gym duty. It was just a thought exercise I was having with myself. Would I rather a student develop a love of reading and fail the big test, or would I rather a student pass the multiple choice state assessment but not really enjoy reading.
I’d love to have both. Wouldn’t you? The admins would be happy with the data. We’d be content knowing that a child left our classroom with a joy for the written word. I’d love to have both. And it does happen. Sometimes.
But I’m finding more and more that developing a love for books and learning reading skills to fill out an answer document are increasingly at odds with each other. Real reading and school reading I sometimes tell my class.
It pains me to see teachers running off thick, stapled reading packets. But I’ve been there too.
“Make sure you read your passage carefully.”
“Be sure to completely bubble in your answer choice.”
“Don’t forget to use your strategies.”
I’ve got a strategy for you…
If I had to choose, I will always choose for a student to find joy in reading, even if it meant failing a test. I care about the student more than the score. Real reading and school reading. Why can’t it just be reading?
Friday, May 31, 2013
How many of us have admins tell us that it’s important to keep up our high expectations until the the very last day of school? Mmm hmm. That’s what I thought. Pretty much all of us. Guess what? You don’t have to. Here’s why.
No one is the same anymore.
You’re a different teacher and your students are different kids. It’s a different time of year and a different mental space. Emphasis on the mental. You simply can’t expect the same behavior.
Students are going to have higher energy. Allow for more movement and activity. Your classes will be more talkative. Let them work in partners or groups. Their attention spams will be shorter. Keep whole group instruction to a minimum.
Don’t budge on anything that pertains to respect or safety. But seriously reconsider anything else. Embrace the fact that everyone is different during the last couple weeks of school and enjoy it. You’ll be a better teacher for it.
Thursday, May 30, 2013
Why is the end such a time of incredible self-doubt as a teacher?
Why do we focus so much on our shortcomings?
Why do I feel like such a failure at the end of the year?
I don’t look forward to this part. I hate that I do this to myself year after year. I’m sure you do too. I want to relax and celebrate the closing of another year, not beat myself up over every oversight I’ve made. I’m trying to keep it all in perspective, and I’m doing better this year.
But if you actually want to hate yourself at the end of the year, here’s five ways to do it.