We all know that familiar (and unsettling) fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel, right? There are several versions of this old story but most of them include Hansel and Gretel dropping breadcrumbs as they walk through the forest, in the hopes that the breadcrumbs will lead them home again. When you are lost, and wandering far from home, you need something that will help you find your way back. In Hansel and Gretel’s story, it’s breadcrumbs. In my story, it’s writing.
On Monday, Stacey announced TWT’s new team of co-authors and contributing writers. She shared that I am moving from the co-author role into a contributing writer position. As a contributing writer, I will still share posts here on TWT, but less frequently. Thus, this is my last official post as a co-author.
I’ve been part of TWT’s co-author team since 2015. At that time, I just made the move from teaching kindergarten for over ten years to teaching third grade. My children were so young- Alex was 4 and Megan was 2. Beginning a new grade level felt like an adventure- I was filled with ideas and excited to try different types of writing with older students. So much life has happened in seven years- including, most recently, a global pandemic that still hasn’t really ended.
Can I tell you a secret? I’m a little lost.
Everything is fine, it’s just somehow, I’ve lost my groove as a teacher and a writer. That spark, fire and excitement has been replaced by a sense of survival and keeping my head above water. Teaching through a pandemic, trying to help children who’ve been greatly affected by their interrupted schooling, yet being given the same-as-always scope and sequence which hasn’t taken into account that students have changed…its taken a toll. There are other factors as well- I’m mid-career now and questioning my place. Colleagues and classmates who graduated with me are administrators or authors and I sometimes think that I am in the same exact role I was hired for 20 years ago: classroom teacher. Is it wrong not to have advanced? Do I want a different job in education? How can I balance career with the desire to be a present and engaged mom to two children who won’t be children for that many more years? I used to feel I had so much to share and a passion to do so. Now, I’m worried I have nothing new to add to professional conversations. I’m not always in my integrity with what I believe about good teaching and what I practice. That doesn’t feel like a place I want to stay- I need to find my way back home.
Recently, I was asked to be a keynote speaker at the Molloy College Kappa Delta Pi Honor Society Induction. I’m a graduate of Molloy College and it was such an honor to be asked to speak. As I put together my speech, I found a poem I wrote on my blog in 2015. It was a poem inspired by the emphasis on state testing and linking teacher’s evaluations to student test scores. But it was a poem that captured the fire and love I felt for teaching. When I read it to the Kappa Delta Pi inductees, it still deeply resonated. It has always meant so much to me to be a teacher. Here is the poem:
You Must Tell Them This
(Inspired by Linda Opyr)
You must tell them this:
Teaching chose me.
It’s broken, expanded, and filled my heart,
and I’ve learned more than I taught.
You must tell them why I became a teacher-
to be the lantern
lighting the way to literacy and learning
to show students that your choices matter-
your words and actions always count.
You must tell them I always wanted to be better.
Never felt the complacency of “good enough.”
Never thought of teaching as just a job
or a paycheck or 10 months until summers off.
You can’t take a vacation from yourself-
and I am a teacher.
When they speak to you of data points, rigor, and fidelity,
tell them I never saw my students as numbers,
never felt that reading a script from a page
deserved my faithfulness.
Names and stories are what live in my heart.
They can save their Danielson rubrics,
their ranking and rating and sorting.
Assigning me a number and a label
could never inspire a passion or ignite a flame
that wasn’t already burning within me.
When the scores are published
and blaming fingers point at teachers
judging, criticizing, bemoaning,
beseech of them that one number
does not tell the whole story,
cannot sum up a year of living,
breathing, struggling, succeeding,
sharing, listening, laughing,
You must tell them this:
Good teaching has never been about
one measure on one test
on one day.
It’s about every day,
bringing the best of yourself
and sharing your failures,
showing students the honorable struggle
to lead a worthy life
not measured by income, grades, trophies,
but by the kindness shown,
by tolerance, acceptance, understanding offered.
By finding your place in this world
and then doing what you can do
to make it better.
Tell them to keep their merit pay.
Tell them to stuff their “highly effectives.”
Tell them the little girl who asked Santa Claus
for teacher books and supplies
and played school for fun for years
and dreamed of being a teacher
and worked hard to become one
and is still trying each day to be a better one,
tell them she doesn’t need them to define her.
She learns from her students each day.
Her heart has broken, filled and expanded.
Teaching chose her.
And despite them and their efforts to paint her
As inept, greedy, lazy, failing,
she still chooses to teach.
You must tell them this.
When I look back at this poem and all my blog posts written here on TWT, they tell a story of a teacher. A teacher who valued student voice and writing. A teacher prioritizing writing despite the challenges. A teacher who believed in her own abilities and felt confident to share her ideas. Rereading my posts makes me proud of what I’ve accomplished and hopeful that my own words can help me find my way back to what feels right and good about being a teacher of writers.
Thank you for being such a wonderful and uplifting community. Being a co-author here has meant so much in my life and I’m so honored that the team asked me to come aboard all those years ago. It’s certainly not goodbye for me, as I’m staying on as contributing writer. The expectation of writing and sharing here on TWT will hopefully help me get my groove back. Once again, I’ll be ready and willing to share the ways I’m teaching students to create their own words that will someday lead them home, too.
Here are my top 5 most personally meaningful posts that I’ve written for TWT: