Thursday, January 5, 2012

Thursday Thinking…

I have always been a teacher.
But I have taught in many different contexts.
I started out as a first and second grade teacher.
Then I was a literacy resource teacher. That was in the days before there were literacy coaches. We had t-shirts that said, "Be a LRT" (Get it- be alert!)
Then I moved to New Hampshire, where I taught undergrads, which I loved.
And then back to the classroom for a year.
After that five years as a district literacy specialist, racing madly between 80 something schools, trying to do just a little good for a whole lot of people.
Then an assistant principal for five years. And after that a literacy coach/reading interventionist for five more years.
And now, this year, for the first time in many years, I am back in the classroom, teaching fourth grade. And I am loving it. But it's hard, hard work every single day.
So I thought maybe I would try a post about things I am thinking about. And I'm sure it will not be anything new to people who have been in the classroom. But it's what I am thinking about right now.

This week I am thinking about books. Specifically classroom libraries. And independent reading. And reading workshop. Some things I am thinking:

It takes a ton of books to run a reading workshop. I am a lover of books. I have probably well over a thousand books in my classroom library. I buy new books every. single. month. Actually pretty much every single weekend. And I don't have nearly enough books. I wonder, then, how teachers who have only the paltry little selections provided by cash-strapped school districts can ever run a reading workshop.

I am thinking about the quantity of books necessary in an urban setting, as opposed to a suburban setting. My kids don't have many books in their homes. Some of them go to the library, but not many. So the books they take home to read are the books from my classroom library. And yeah, I let kids take books home. I have to, if I want them become readers. But those books don't always come back. And travel, even in folders or ziploc bags, can be hard on books. And then they have to be replaced.

There is also the issue of how kids treat books. I cherish books. Adore them. Use bookmarks. Don't turn down pages. I talk with students constantly about caring for books. And still my books are getting really, really beat up this year. Sometimes because my kids don't have a lot of books around, and have not grown up loving and cherishing and caring for books. And sometimes kids just read certain books to death. I know, for instance, I'm going to have to replace my whole set of Babymouse and Lunch Lady pretty much every year. The kids just wear them out. I would love to hear what other teachers do to protect their books.

Closely related to that, it takes a ton of money to run a reading workshop. I make bookstore runs, or order online, pretty much every weekend. This year, I'm trying to limit myself to buying chapter books. And graphic novels. And a little poetry. And every once in a while a picture book, usually historic fiction, or one by an author or illustrator I love. OK, yeah, I guess I just buy books. A lot of them. And that costs a lot of money.

Yes, I search for used books on Amazon. And watch for the buy 3, get 4 ads. And yes, I go to Scholastic warehouse sales. I use book club points if I have them. But remember, I teach in an urban area. My kids don't order books. Any of the book points we have are because I have ordered books. And please don't tell me about going to garage sales and the Goodwill for books. I know you can find decent books in decent quality sometimes. But I am not willing to putting anything less than the cutting edge best in my students' hands.

While I am on the subject of how much I spend on books, I think I have to say something about young teachers, or families that are struggling in this economy. Fortunately, I have taught long enough that I make a little more. I can buy books (at least if I give up other stuff, like nice clothes and dinners out). But I look at teachers that are just starting out. And they don't make much. Or teachers who have other financial issues or commitments (like kids in college!). They can't buy books for their classrooms. And then we wonder why some teachers struggle with reading workshop.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, it takes a ton of knowledge to run a reading workshop. (Again, this is not going to be anything new to anyone who teaches). If you are going to run a successful reading workshop, you have got to know children's literature. Period. No, you don't have to have read every single book on the shelf, but you have to know books. You have to talk books, and advertise books, and sell books. Every. single. day. You have to be able to say, a hundred times a day, "I found a perfect book for you" or "If you loved *** you will love *****)." And yes, as the reading community develops, kids do that for each other. But the teacher is the chief reader. And she sets the tone. And the pace. And if she doesn't love books and know books nobody else, or at least not very many kids, will either.

I'm struck, as never before, by how many teachers don't read. Don't know kids' books. Don't read book reviews. Don't follow blogs. Don't talk to like-minded colleagues through Twitter or groups like "The New Centurions" on Facebook. And I wonder how they can ever run a reading workshop. It's like being a chef and not owning a set of knives. Or buying a set, and then never sharpening them. It just doesn't work.

It also takes a ton of professional knowledge to run a reading workshop. You have to know how to talk to kids about their reading. You have to know about reading strategies. You have to know when to push. What kids need. How to give them the tools they need to decode and comprehend text. There is no place for teachers who are not reading or growing professionally.

I love reading workshop. Wouldn't want to teach reading any other way. But bottom line is that it's really hard work. It takes a ton of books. And money. And knowledge. And I think it's time that we, artists who love our profession, start thinking about how we can make it more accessible to our colleagues who don't have the passion or the skills or the dollars that we have.


Michelle said...

Wow. Lots of great thinking in this post. It's amazing the experience and knowledge you possess, the connections and learning you do daily through Twitter and blogging, and the reading, reading, reading of books -- and yet, you are still trying to improve your craft. I feel the same as you and wonder how so many teachers that I work with also don't keep up on the current research or read books. Isn't that just crazy?!? I'm struggling with that now . . . I want to make a difference in my building, but some days it seems so overwhelming and I'd rather just close my door. But then I'd be like everyone else. Ugh.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and getting me thinking as well! - Michelle

Linda B said...

I agree, with every word. Amazingly, a colleague & I were just talking today about my challenge to get some of the teachers with whom I work to read more appropriate books in their areas so they can help students find just the right ones, & to read more professional books, etc. Maybe it's the economic stress these days, I don't know. But you are so right, Carol. Running reading workshop is tough in all those areas. Best wishes & I'm interested in hearing more.

Mary Lee said...

True. All true.