From Classroom to Coaching

Since I last published here, my positions have radically changed.  I taught another year of grade 7 to an amazing group of students with whom I am still in touch.  It is SO gratifying, and a teacher knows she has made an impact when students choose to come visit.

A position opened in my middle school in the spring of 2015:  Literacy Coach.  I had coached teachers a couple of years before for 30% of my time while teaching a push-in literacy class with struggling 7th and 8th grade readers. The position had been a collaboration with another teacher who also cared deeply about helping students learn to read. That had been a great program, but this time, I wanted something deeper and different.  I was ready for more in my career.  There were more pieces to add to my personal puzzle.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved teaching in the classroom; it was the best part of my 44 years of working in a wide variety of jobs and careers.  But I was ready for change.  No matter how many committees I am involved with and how many new strategies I try, at some point, a person needs a change to stay at the top of their game and to feel fulfilled.  It is my strong belief that this is an issue in the teaching profession:  Once people lose interest for their day-to-day job, they need to leave.

I had not lost my passion, but I needed renewal and revival.  Perusing the literacy coach job description, I realized that the position was different in this posting than in the past: No push in, there would be teaching classes, and more coaching.  After talking with the assistant principal, I found she was looking to redefine the position; it didn’t take me long to submit my letter of intent.

The position was not mine immediately:  I was up against a strong contender whom I respect.  We discussed the job, and I encouraged him to apply.  I knew I could work well with him if he became the coach. We look at many educational issues in similar ways.  His classroom energy, ability to engage kids, and co-teaching collaboration are some of what I admire.  It’s a story for another time, but I now call on him to coach new teachers.

Ultimately, I did get the literacy coach position and immediately the questions flowed about my new endeavor:  How to engage struggling readers so they don’t feel bad about themselves and are willing to improve their skills?  How to encourage non-readers to open themselves up to becoming readers even in some small way?  How to get buy in from my colleagues that I can help them in their classrooms?  How do I know what they need help with?

The puzzle pieces were scattering around me, but I didn’t have enough of them yet to put it all together in my new classroom.

 

 

 

My Literary History

Today as I was updating my LiveBinder for my seventh graders, I was thinking back about my literary history which I always share verbally during the first week with my students.  You see, John Jakes novels were really the end and yet the beginning. I had lots of books around as a child. My father and mother loved buying me books.  The problem was that I was so literal: I knew that Pooh bears did not speak to little boys in the forest, and fish did not jump out of the fishbowl as Dr. Seuss said.  I had all of the books and dolls from Joan Walsh Anglund.  I loved the dolls without their mouths — only eyes and noses — and with my own mind, I brought them to life speaking for them.  I loved sleeping with them;  they created a safe feeling for me at night.  The books had beautiful thoughts about how wonderful the world was. But in my very realistic mind, I knew no one could speak without having a mouth!

 So unlike what research tells us, conversation with high vocabulary at dinner and lots of books will lead to a high literacy ability — as was the norm in my house — I was the exception.

 

Sharing this information as part of my literary history with my students is essential. I teach very different levels of students, but often have students who are not able to comprehend well since I understand that type of student very well.  After all, they are what I was. And yet, every year I have been able to help so many students recognize that reading really is not terrible. 

As all middle schoolers do, my seventh graders come into the classroom at the beginning of the year suspicious. Not only do they not know me, but they are preteens recognizing that they don’t know how to yet trust the world. Yes, there are students who come through my door who like to read — but sadly, they are the exception. Only after I share with them what I went through to become a reader and that now I carry my Kindle around with the 40+ books as well as the two in my purse every day, do they recognize that maybe I will understand them.

 In 1997 at NYU as a graduate student, I thought the professor was insane when she asked my peers and me to write our literary histories.  I had never done this before. And yet, this is what ultimately helps my kids connect with me so much! I wish I remembered her name because I would have to give her a big thank you now. When students understand what we have gone through personally, and they realize that we are very sincere in our words, they then can start to accept what we say as truth.

 

 I became an English teacher because I don’t want kids to go through what I did. Not comprehending for so many years hurt self-esteem, hurt my feelings, and made me feel left out and different.  Sharing my literary history helps putting the pieces together for the kids as well as it is still putting the pieces together for me to become that better teacher/facilitator.