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Writing My Way Back

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 That spark, fire and excitement has been replaced by a sense of survival and keeping my head above water.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,

crying.

Growing.

You must tell them this:

Good teaching has never been about

one measure on one test

on one day.

It’s about every day,

every moment,

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:

Seen, Value, Heard: Poetry to Establish Community

Writing Speeches to Inspire Change: Teaching Writing with a Social Justice Lens

Developing Stamina: Meet Writers Where They Are

A Writer Emerges: Watching My Daughter Grow as a Writer

Write to the Finish!

17 thoughts on “Writing My Way Back Leave a comment

  1. Kathleen, I will miss your regular contributions to TWT. So often you have been the nudge or reassuring needed at just the right time. As a teacher way older than you I understand some of the doubt you are experiencing- is it okay to “just” be a classroom teacher? I say yes, education needs those of us who are still in classrooms to be a voice too- we see the day to day realities and can keep it all real in our own contexts. You are such a leader and I (and my students) benefit from your words that are grounded in your everyday practice. Thank you for your inspiring practice and always honest and beautiful reflections.

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    • Erika, thank you so much for ALWAYS being so supportive of the ideas I’ve shared here. I have greatly appreciated your friendship and ideas. I am very grateful for all you said!

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  2. Kathleen, this is such a beautiful, honest post. I know it resonates with so many educators right now. I appreciate you and your voice so much, and I admire you for being transparent with where you are and what you need. That’s how I know you will be able to write your way back. (And we’re all in your corner, cheering you on!)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much Amy! I’ve loved being co-authors and I am glad to still be teammates here at TWT. I learn so much from you and appreciate your support!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you Kathleen for this honest, vulnerable and heartfelt post. You are speaking for so many other teachers who are struggling with similar questions at this time in education.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My eyes filled with tears as I read this post — and especially the poem — this morning, Kathleen. I’ve known teaching found you as a little girl. You have pursued your dream. And, while I know you feel a little lost right now, I don’t think it’s going to take as much as you think it will to find your way ‘home’ again.

    It’s interesting to me how you struggle with wondering if you should work towards becoming a coach or an administrator because other people your age (which is practically my age) have done so. I struggle with the opposite of this. I wonder what impact I’m making ALL. OF. THE. TIME. as a consultant. It’s not the same as being in the classroom, working alongside children, every day. It’s unlikely any of the kids I work with as a consultant will remember me years from now. But classroom teachers are remembered for eternity by students. You are doing such important work as a classroom teacher. And while it often feels like the system is eating teachers alive, I know you are a kind, compassionate, and student-centered educator and that matters to kids and their families. Your students — be it your former Kindergartners, third graders, or sixth graders — will remember the way you showed up and cared about them, taught them, and learned from them every single day.

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    • What a beautiful comment, Stacey!! Thank you so much. I appreciate the perspective you shared about your own feelings around being a consultant. I am grateful for my time as co-author and I look forward to finding my voice again as a contributing writer. Thanks for believing in me.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Kathleen, your poem is amazing. It deserves a wide audience. I hope you’ll share it w/ NCTE’s EJ. I have a question? What is wrong w/ a career in education spent only as a classroom teacher? Are those of us who never moved into administration or coaching, or who haven’t written a professional book less than those who have? Honestly, I question the motives of many who leave the classroom for other roles in education, positions that put them in power over lowly classroom teachers such as myself. I have seen some pretty crappy professional books floating around and wonder how on earth they were approved for publication. I’ve also cringed when reading things some literacy coaches have written and wondered how that person can be such a poor writer in that role. There is no more important position in education than that of teacher. Period. Granted, that mid-career point is tough, made harder by the pandemic, but for me, the last decade of my 38 years as a classroom teacher were the best.

    I’ve no doubt you’ll find your way back to the joy. You’ve certainly been an important part of my journey in this community. I’m glad you’re not leaving. I always watch for your posts. And I hope you’ll find a way to tune out the noise that makes you feel less than because you are enough. You are more than enough. As a classroom teacher you are everything to those students who are fortunate enough to learn from and with you.

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  6. Kathleen, The fact that you are willing to pull back and reflect means you have great integrity and value your role in education. I have no doubt you will find your way. Your humility and willingness to be who you are has brought me great comfort over the years. I’ve loved watching you grow as a mother and as a teacher. You’re in my heart. All my best. And I’m so happy your words will still be here occasionally. Thanks for that!

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    • Oh, Margaret….thank you! Those words really touched me and I strive to be a person of integrity. You wrote such kind things to me. I always love reading your writing and learn so much from the amazing work you do with your students. You’re in my heart, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This is a poem I wish every person that puts their heart and soul into teaching should have hanging in their classroom. I’m sending it to my son and daughter-in-law, because they are feeling everything you mentioned in this post. Thanks for being the dedicated teacher you are. 🙂

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    • Thank you, Debbie! I’m really honored you shared my poem with your son and daughter-in-law. It helps to know we are not alone in feeling this struggle.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Dear Kathleen: I read the words of your relinquishing the TWT co-author role with sadness but also with commiseration. I understand feeling a little lost – maybe more than a little, at times. There are countless reasons why. For now let me just say this is me giving you a standing ovation for the poem that captured the fire and love you felt for teaching – YES! Exponentially! – and for every word of encouragement you’ve given me and so many along the way in this shared journey. That in itself is the number one requirement for true teaching – the gift of encouragement. Within it lies the spark of inspiration that lights the fires. I rejoice that you will still be here as a contributing author, for you and your words and your heart are so needed, always! I am grateful for you – thank you for EVERYTHING. Here’s to writing on ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Fran! You know I adore you and your writing and always find wisdom, meaning and heart in everything you share. I’m so glad you liked my poem. Thank you for all that you said here and for always being so supportive to me. It means a lot!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh Kathleen! I wish I could give you a big hug. I think you’ve captured so much of what many of us have been feeling…lost. Also, you have advanced in your career. I think you’re still in the place that matters the most, with the most impact. Congratulations on all that you’ve given and shared in this space and beyond. I’m excited to see what you share next. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Jessica! I’m taking your virtual hug. Thank you for all you wrote. I am so happy you are part of the TWT team! Excited to read all your posts.

      Liked by 1 person

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