As 2009 ends, the world gathers to reflect, compose a “Best ____ of 2009" list, and dedicate ourselves to improve in 2010. Looking back, 2009 was a stellar year for me. My book, The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child came out in March and through its success, I have traveled the country talking to teachers, parents, and kids about reading motivation and engagement. Always looking for opportunities to expand my professional learning community (Didn’t PLC and PLN become hot acronyms in 2009?), I started a Facebook fan page, dove into Twitter (@donalynbooks), joined Jim Burke’s English Companion Ning, and attended the NCTE Convention. My extracurricular activities continue to bring me new friends and colleagues, provide opportunities to write and speak, and improve my teaching. According to my goodreads list, I read 170 books in 2009--beginning the year with Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls and ending it with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road--, notable bookends for a year of great reading. I have enjoyed myself, learned a lot, and, perhaps, impacted a few readers and teachers.
Of course, the “Best Me of 2009,” the professional me that matters most, is the Donalyn Miller who arrives in Room 1217 at Trinity Meadows Intermediate School each day to teach language arts. The teaching me started my year on August 24th when 93 sixth graders appeared in my doorway. We began our reading and writing community that day and we continue to build it.
While December 31, 2009 marks the end of the calendar year, for teachers, December marks the halfway point. We made our resolutions in August and, for the most part, we won’t reflect, regroup, retool, or regret until June. The idealistic me soars like a phoenix in August, but I often feel that fire shrink to an ember by December 31st --when paperwork, meetings, grades, students’ readiness (or willingness) to learn, emails, standards, mandates, and fatigue overwhelm me and threaten to extinguish the flame. Last summer, after reading Debbie Miller’s Teaching with Intention, I wrote down my teaching beliefs on notebook paper and taped them into the front cover of my writer’s notebook. Revisiting this list comforts me and refocuses me on the classroom conditions I believe matter most to my students’ literacy development.
MY BELIEFS ABOUT LITERACY INSTRUCTION
Students should spend the majority of class time engaged in authentic reading, writing, and conversation.
Students should have access to a wide range of texts that matches their interests and reading level.
Students should have opportunities to self-select books and writing topics.
Teachers are the strongest readers and writers in the room--we should share our literate lives with our students.
There is no learning without relationships.
Do these beliefs still matter to my students and me? That’s an easy one to answer, “YES!” I know that my students appreciate the time we have to read and write and the freedom they have to choose their own books and topics. I see that most of them are engaged, excited, and growing. Taking stock, I should celebrate the successes.
I tend to obsess about what isn’t working: my failure to connect with some students, feeling nervous about sharing my own writing in class (not kidding), and worrying too much about the cool projects the teachers down the hall are doing (that I am not). Rereading this list helps me recommit to these beliefs now, for this year (which is not over), with my current students. Any extras I have piled onto my instruction that prevent me from reaching these goals need to go. As 2010 begins, I feel lighter and more confident by rededicating myself to these core beliefs.
I can’t resist making one New Year’s Resolution. I resolve to forgive myself for not being perfect, not working harder, not caring more, not organizing my life better, or a host of other failings. I resolve to forgive my students for the same.
The opinions expressed in The Book Whisperer are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.