Because you know this is what you thought of when you first saw this post:
So I’ve realized something in the last two weeks of my second year teaching. I suppose if I’m being completely honest though, I’ve realized more than just one “something,” but there’s one thing specifically that’s really been at the forefront of my mind lately.
I think I’ve realized one of the reasons why I love what I do so much.
There are truly so many reasons why I love being an elementary school teacher, and I could probably write a book about all those reasons (On the Other Side of the Desk to hit shelves at your neighborhood bookstore…one day). It’s amazing having the opportunity to shape a child’s life every single day; it’s wonderful knowing that I’m making a difference; Valentine’s Day alone is a reason in itself (potentially my favorite holiday with a flood of candy and hugs from these precious young people) — and these reasons are just scraping the surface!
One of my favorite things about being a teacher is seeing the faces on kids when I read to them.
When I was a kid I really enjoyed reading — I’m pretty sure I had One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish memorized by age two. I was reading the newspaper with my grandpa when I was in kindergarten, and we would make regular trips to the public library (followed by ice cream — what kid says no to any trip that involves ice cream?). I found my true love for fiction in fourth grade when my teacher read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to my class; ever since then, I’m pretty sure I’ve devoured most of his books. I think I read every single Nancy Drew book in the Weddington Hills Elementary library, and I legitimately enjoyed doing book report projects throughout middle school (I was that weird kid who liked homework that you probably found annoying). My family instilled this importance of reading in my life at an early age, and to this day I still find it important.
I want to instill this love for reading and knowledge to the kids I teach.
It might sound kind of obvious that I, as a teacher, want to instill this in children, but I don’t think all teachers have this mindset. This year, after a few schedule changes, I am teaching third grade reading in English to three classes of tabula rasas. I have a whole year to get 60 students on board with this whole reading thing and to have them ready to take this End-of-Grade Test in May.
If you asked me, getting a kid fired up about reading and prepared for any kind of reading assessment doesn’t start with “test prep.” It doesn’t start with forcing them to read certain things. It starts with a choice.
First, it is the choice of the students. With all of my classes, we’ve reviewed how to choose “good fit” books for ourselves. For those of you not part of the education world, this simply means you choose books that are juuust right for you (think Goldilocks and the Three Bears), meaning they are on your appropriate reading level. We used the IPICK system from The Daily Five, which has been incredibly fun and effective to teach to them (we’re using awesome total-physical-response movements with our words, and it’s simply incredible watching some of these kids who speak no English understand what we’re doing by going through those motions as part of the whole class). I explained to the kids that they get to choose the books that they check out in the library and put in their book boxes for right now (once I know their levels I can help them make sure they’re picking some on-level books that they can really access) and they just seemed floored by that!
Giving students choice isn’t the only thing that gets them pumped about reading — it’s also the teacher’s choice to be excited about reading. I know there are teachers out there who really aren’t crazy about reading. That’s okay if you aren’t crazy about reading — that’s okay if you have students who aren’t crazy about reading — but as teachers, we need to make sure that students aren’t completely turned OFF by reading. I have a student in my class who literally pretends to not know how to read because he hates reading so much. We don’t want to foster a classroom where behavior like that is appropriate, do we? Reading is such an integral part of our every day lives, and we encounter it far more than we think we do — it’s a teacher’s job to prepare students for how to succeed in the real world, and the truth of the matter is that reading is in everything.
I made the choice to get excited about reading. I mean, that’s all I’m teaching this year, so I had better be excited about it, right?! One of the first things I did with my classes last week was introduce them to my personal favorite book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I began reading it with one of my classes and the looks on their faces screamed joy in its purest form. There’s one little boy I have who just watches me like his life depends on it — he listens to me read and he watches me read and he is absolutely engrossed in the story. His eyes are bright and filled with sheer wonder about what words will spill out of my mouth next to create new images to match the story in his mind.
It’s magical. Reading to students is a magic of itself.
Every day the kids ask me to read to them. They know I’m stoked about reading, so they’re stoked about reading. I think there is true power in simply reading to students with no strings attached. I don’t think there always needs to be an “exit ticket” or a project to go along with a book — just let the kid listen. Let the kid read. Let him or her experience something that they can only touch through an author’s words. As an adult, I certainly have no exit tickets or projects to do about the books I choose to read. Instead, I have in-depth conversations about books and ideas with my peers — isn’t that more meaningful?
I love teaching third grade because I get to read to these kids and watch their eyes sparkle with every word from the page. I get to watch awestruck minds imagine a place so lovely as Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. It’s the best job ever.
People say you can really tell the talent of a professional when you watch him or her doing what he or she does best. I go to a baseball game and watch a professional team play and I can see their skill by how many strike outs are pitched, how many runs are scored, how many plays were made. It’s kind of harder to do that with teaching I guess since there isn’t always one way to do something well. To me, I think read aloud abilities with children are just one mark of excellence for an elementary school teacher.
Last year, my class checked out and read the most books from the school’s library. I don’t know if the librarian at my new school keeps track of these things, but I would be thrilled if my classes out-read the rest of the school this year, too. I’m on a mission to get kids passionate about the magic that is reading, and I want so desperately for kids to realize how beautiful stories are. Hopefully they take this ever-so-eloquent advice from Roald Dahl:
“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”