In my last post I wrote about the complex narratives students bring to the classroom and the importance of teachers understanding those narratives. After that, I had an assignment in my graduate class that sparked some reflection. The assignment was to identify positive resources from past or present that influence your teaching, and then curate them into a sharable document. This assignment has me thinking about the lasting effect teachers have on students.
I wasn’t sure what to do with that assignment until I turned my chair around and started looking at the books on my bookshelves. The ones behind my desk are the ones that currently influence my teaching, but when I walked over to my closet I found another stack of books. That stack in the closet represents other years and other changes in my teaching career. As I pulled the books out, I realized I could make a timeline and meet the requirements of the assignment.
But trying to make decisions about curation led to more questions, wondering, and reflection. I kept struggling with, “Is it the book that changed my teaching or was it the author?” Many of the authors were also my teachers. As I thought about the answer, I realized it is probably both. The books provide information and strategies. The teachers saw my complex narrative and pushed me to be my best-self. Now those books are a lasting artifact that I have on my shelf.
One of those books is Creating Classrooms for Authors written by Jerome Harste, Kathy Short, and Carolyn Burke. I was one of those lucky undergraduates who studied with both Harste and Burke. Burke taught us about reading miscue analysis and shaped our understanding of the reading process, while Harste pushed us to be writers, encouraged us to take up kid watching, and challenged us to consider literacy as a complex process. As an elementary education undergraduate, Harste’s class was a bit overwhelming.
I remember the first lesson in our reading methods class. He came into class, read a picture book, and lead a conversation. Next he asked us, “How did you learn to read?” All the students looked at each other with confused, “I don’t know,” expressions. At the end of class he told us to write the story of how you learned to read and to bring multiple copies of it to the next class. In the next class we made books and we read each other’s stories. Through this rather unorthodox approach we learned that learning to read is a complex process, that there is not just one approach and that everyone’s story is different.
My story was indeed different. I was a returning student. I had quit university for a while, I was working many hours a week to pay my tuition, and I was wondering if I was in the right major. I did not think I was doing very well, and I was struggling with assignments. I remember nervously sitting outside waiting for Harste to return to his office. During our meeting he told me I was doing well. He said struggling is part of the process. He talked about my classroom engagement. He noted I was asking questions, and that showed I was willing to take risks. His encouragement supported me, and I left the office thinking, “There might be multiple ways to be a student.”
Now I realize what an impact my undergraduate education had on my career. It helped me figure out my strengths and weaknesses. Throughout my career I have been willing to ask questions. I’ve tried new things and learned from them. I learned to look at my students and wonder, “What does this kid learn to do next?”
This complex experience of teaching influences others. We learn from each other. We read books, have conversations, and try new things. We read each other’s blog posts and study videos. But no matter the content or the delivery system, the structure or the activity, teaching is about interactions between teachers and students.