A letter to my departing student teacher

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Six weeks have passed by in flash, it seems, for it is already time to bid my student teacher goodbye. As I compile book list recommendations, photograph charts and student work, and gather together notes and resources that Jessica might find useful in the years to come, I am also thinking about the “bigger picture”.  I am thinking about  the ideas I hope she holds on to as she leaves our classroom and begins to find one of her own, ideas about reading and writing workshop, and about teaching, in general.  So, I sat down and wrote this letter:

Dear Jessica,

We were so fortunate to have you in our classroom for the last six weeks.  You helped me see my teaching practices through new eyes, and you helped me sift through the whys and hows of my teaching day.  I hope you find ways in which to accomplish this for yourself in the years to come. Invite colleagues and  (should you be so lucky to have one in your district) literacy coaches into your classroom to observe the way you roll out a new unit, teach a mini lesson, read aloud a poem or a book.   They will often see and hear what you can’t, but should.

I hope that you will always read what our kids are reading, and be a daily model of a reading life.  Did you notice how our students’ eyes lit up when you passed along a book you loved? Did you notice how they took note of  the book stack on your desk, or  how you read while you ate your lunch?  Our kids need teachers who love books and love sharing the magic of reading every day and in every way.

And I hope that you will always write along with them, living a writer’s life so that you can be a better teacher of writing.  Did you notice how the kids took note of the way your writer’s notebook was always at hand? Did you see how they sat up and paid attention  when you shared stories from your life, and how the writing of those stories made those moments shine brighter for you?  Our kids need writing teachers who know the struggles and joys of working every day to write just a bit better than they did the day before.

I know that you will always plan your lessons meticulously, drawing upon the best resources available, but I also hope that you will remain open to those teaching moments that arrive unscripted and unbidden. For our best teaching moments often happen when we are responding to a student’s unexpected “what if?” or “why not?”  right in the middle of our well-organized lesson plan.  Sometimes, our best learning comes when we follow a different bend in the road and discover new terrain.

Please don’t be afraid to try new things, even if you have to go it alone.  Every year is a new year, with a new set of children, and a new set of learning needs.  Every year is a new chance to put the ideas you learned from that stack of summer PD reading into practice, to introduce new projects and investigations, and to invite your kids to share their ideas, too!  Beware of this:

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    Embrace the messiness of learning!  A joyful classroom is filled with conversation, laughter, papers and projects here and there, and an exuberant sense of purposeful doing and learning. Kids want to learn, they really do.  They walk into our classrooms every day hoping that we will honor their desire to learn, and that we will find a way to make that learning meaningful and engaging.  Let your classroom be one in which there’s lots of “turn and talk”, “think and share”, and “puzzle it out together”.  Let there be noise!

I hope that you will cultivate a culture of kindness and community in your new, and very own classroom.  This takes every day work, for it’s in noticing and responding to the “small” things that we create a safe learning environment for our children. How else can we ask them to write about and share aloud what’s important to them? Or to read and discuss books that make them question, cry, or laugh?

Please, please, have fun!  Teaching is exhausting, and challenging, and so on, and so on…but can be so much fun.  You want to be this teacher:

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     Actually, I think you already are this teacher….which is why you will be missed so much!  Good bye, good luck…come back and visit sometime soon!

Mrs. Smith, and the children in Room 202