My favorite childhood days were those summer days when I was satisfied with the world around me. Those days that were unplanned by my parents or my swim schedule. The days that were created by me.
Days that I found the shade of a cool tree and searched for four leaf clovers.
Days when I chalked and hopscotched up and down my driveway in the hot sun.
And days when my bothers and sisters and I would float through the dark basement, on our foam folding couch, pretending we were lost and enduring the dangers of the sea.
So it won't surprise you that my favorite summer days as an adult are unplanned days. The plain days that are filled with mundane things that bring me peace an contentment.
Days when I can take time to sip my tea and listen to the morning on my back porch.
Days when I sort out and re-create the organization in my kitchen cupboards.
Days that I can mull over a meal, grocery shop and prepare dinner.
Days when I end up at the bookstore browsing picture books for hours.
And days when I linger by kitchen window and appreciate the crisp hydrangeas in the shade of my neighbors tree.
So here's to summer,
To extra time
and days that we create.
When I resigned from my job back in November, Mercedes Schneider, a Louisiana teacher, author, and education advocate asked if she could interview me about my decision. She wrote a series of posts about my story on her blog and asked me to write the closing post in the series. She's written many thought-provoking posts on her blog at at deutsch29.wordpress.com.
Below is the letter I wrote, reflecting on the past, living in the present, and dreaming for the future.
My name is Ann Marie Corgill, and I have taught and learned from children in grades one through six since August of 1994. I know for a fact that my purpose on Earth is to teach and learn with children and then share that learning and growth with others.
When I resigned from my job as fifth grade teacher back in November 2015, I never imagined– or invited– the media frenzy that would accompany it. However, I am grateful to Mercedes Schneider, who knew immediately when she read of my resignation on Al.com, that the story published wasn’t my story, and it wasn’t the whole story.
Readers, this is the first time my fingers have hit the keyboard since I wrote the goodbye letter to my students back in November. Before Christmas, Mercedes requested I write this post, and I have been hesitant. Frozen at the keyboard. Shut down by the idea of putting myself out there one. more. time. I’m channeling my inner Brene Brown and deciding to be vulnerable once again. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do for children, for my fellow colleagues, and for our profession.
As you well know, so much of what gets tweeted, posted, or commented on is more often than not “sound-bitten” and sensationalized at the expense of accuracy and truth.
It’s extremely important for you to know this: Mercedes sought the truth from me.
She didn’t talk to a friend or reporter or remain satisfied with quotes from another article’s gossipy and slanderous message. She contacted me personally to get the truth. Moreover, instead of simply interviewing me over the phone, she took a personal day from school and drove five hours one way to interview me about this career-altering decision that I had just made. Not only did she care about the truth, she cared about my life as a teacher. She cared about my story. I was blown away by her effort and determination to hear what I had to say.
Isn’t that the greatest contribution our students ache for and need from us, their teachers? They need us to enter each year committed to finding the truths about each one of them and to build those relationships from the ground up, rather than relying solely on the, “Oh dear…let me tell you about this kid….good luck with that.” kinds of stories that follow some children. Students need us to be the teachers who will listen intently to their stories with open ears and open hearts, without judgment, and then help them live their lives and pursue their dreams passionately, courageously, and truthfully.
Isn’t that what we ache for as teachers in our world today? We need people who professionally publish stories– or who hold influential offices– or who oversee the spending of state education funds– to really hear us. We need these people to respect our expertise, to listen, and then to act with passion, courage, and conviction as we transform education together, for the benefit of children.
I am confident that when listening and then writing this series of posts, Mercedes knew that this was not just a singular story of a teaching career. She knew it wasn’t just my story.
So, What Next?
Right now, in January of 2016, I have no idea about what next school year will bring. Seriously. Honestly, for the first time in my life, I have no idea. Here’s what I’d like to say:
This is NOT the last time I will ever set foot in a classroom.
I was created to do this work with children, no matter what the newspapers and tweets might say.
My job isn’t to stress over what’s next, but to make sure my heart is whole and my eyes are focused forward. I can’t take on God’s next assignment if I’m worrying about what the media and about what anonymous commenters who hide behind names like @ChickenDaddy#1 have to say.
I’ve been dwelling, re-thinking, re-reading, worrying, wondering, and wallowing in the press coverage and pain of that resignation.
Now, I’m moving forward and claiming this whole hard experience as part of my story, one that will polish and refine me for the next work.
Alabama is my home; my family is here, and I believe there’s something big, serious, and specific I need to do in this city of Birmingham to help others. That’s all I know for sure.
Just because I don’t exactly know what’s next for me does not mean that I will stop dreaming big, crazy dreams. I’m a believing-in-dreams-coming-true kind of girl.
I dream of leading the team that creates a school, from the ground up, in downtown Birmingham, Alabama.
I will refer to it as “Our School” because I’ve had this conversation for years with numerous like-minded friends and colleagues. I believe it’s safe to say that when this dream comes true, it will come true because of a community of like-minded educators, believers in children, and staunch supporters of high-quality public education.
First, I’ll tell you what this school is not, and then I’ll explain what the dream could become. The details are below are aspirations toward which we will be constantly reaching:
It’s time for dreams like our school to become the reality in my state and around the country. Teachers must write the counter-narrative for our cities, our states, and our nation. Our current educational climate gives us ample motivation and multiple opportunities to speak loudly and share our expertise about how to most effectively educate future generations of children.
I believe in a future for our nation in which a majority of classroom teachers are at the table when decisions are made, bills are passed, acts are signed, and laws are enforced.
I believe in the future of my state, the state of Alabama, where we hear the teachers’ voices and see their expertise in the legislation passed.
I believe in Birmingham, Alabama. The Magic City. My city. A city that refused to live in the shadow of its past and chose to move into a future where children from all parts of the city, from families with different races, different cultures, different bank accounts, different hopes, and different histories come together to live, learn and teach as one community.
I thank all who have encouraged, supported, and prayed, for me, and for all students, and for the future of education.
The seasons of my teaching career have been filled with joy and heartache, opportunities and dead ends, light and darkness, and time and space to grow.
Here’s to truth, joy, and the possibility of making dreams come true for teachers and children.
Ann Marie Corgill
Many of you have heard or read the news of my resignation this past week. It's been emotional to say the least. I'm writing this morning to say thank you. Thank you to colleagues, family, and friends from all over the country and world who have written to encourage, support, and stand beside me as I made the most difficult decision of my life. This does not replace a personal message, phone call, or in person thank you, but because there are so many of you, I wanted you to at least know for now how much I love and appreciate you all.
Children are more than numbers, more than test scores, and deserve to be treated as humans who will lead us into a bright future. This week I made the decision to take the stand for teachers who deserve the same respect. The work we do with children, the lives we invest in, the years we prepare to be the best professionals we can be, cannot be measured by a test or by a federal government regulation. I had to make a difficult choice to stand for future of teachers, future classrooms of children, and the future of our profession-- or simply allow bureaucracy to win again.
What's most difficult is leaving those fifth graders, that community, those ten and eleven year olds who put on their own armor of protection and challenged my every teaching move. What's hardest is leaving those children who, underneath the armor and the anger have hearts that are tender and emotions that are raw and lives that are difficult.
What's wonderful is that we live in a time where we can connect at any time, in almost any way. The kids and I are blogging now, and oh, what powerful words they are speaking. They are pouring their hearts and their lives into these posts...on their own time, in their own way, for their own purpose. It proves to me that writing can lead us out of our pain and into a world of hope, connection, and possibility. I wasn't allowed to say goodbye in person, but here's the letter I wrote to the kids to make sure they knew that THEY are what matter.
Our certifications do not define us. It's the lives we touch and change that matter most.
On August 5, I began the year with a new group of second graders in a new school. For these children, I was the consistency in their lives, and they quickly learned I would be there each day to teach, learn, hug, problem solve, question, and hope that what I was doing was making a difference in their lives. Every day pushed me to my professional limits, and I am convinced I was learning as much from the children as they were from me.
As the weeks passed, I could see glimmers of hope and a community being formed.
"Where is I Broke My Trunk? That Mo Willems is a funny guy!"
"Darrion stole my Fly Guy book!"
"Can I have a conference with you?"
The language of readers, writers and mathematicians floated above the noise and chaos.
We moved from, "I hate math!!" to "When are we going to play magic circle? Are we counting by 10's today?"
From "Who dat girl name?!" to "Can we do that name game again in morning meeting?
From "I GOTTA USE IT!!" to "May I use the restroom please?"
These were the glimmers of beginning of year hope, along with my own community of friends, family, and colleagues across the country that nourished me and reminded me that the work we were doing was adding up to something.
I was watching a new community of second graders growing right in front of my eyes.
But at 11:15 on the Thursday before the long-awaited Labor Day weekend, my principal told me I'd be moving to teach fifth grade. "A fifth grade teacher is leaving and the district called and we lost a unit in first grade. So....we're giving the first grade teacher your class and you're moving to fifth grade. You'll need to move your classroom and be ready to go next week."
On Tuesday, the day after Labor Day, I taught and said goodbye to my second graders and prepared to move down the hall to teach a fifth grade orphaned class on Wednesday.
THIS is the reality of public school. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where you learn why we have a teacher shortage and good teachers are fleeing the profession.
This is when the mandates and decisions made by our state, nation, school districts, local boards of education, and "education turnaround committees" are hurting, rather than helping.
This is the brutal reality of pouring your heart and life into creating a community of learners, of saying goodbye to kids who are used to people walking out on them and never coming back.
BUT....here's the beautiful part. Because I am a part of a profession that puts everything into this work for children, I've had cheerleaders, supporters, encouragers, and hopeful reminders of how precious and how valuable our work is for children.
My family and my professional community have emailed, called, blogged, Voxed, written, and reminded me daily that I can do this, and the kids are going to be okay. It's part of God's plan for my life.
I'm living out my purpose in the craziest way possible this year, and I would have walked away and said goodbye to the profession after 21 years, if I hadn't had my "community" to wrap their arms around me.
Today, if you're a teacher in a classroom...walk across the hall and wrap your arms around a colleague you admire. Remind them that the work they are doing is powerful and life-changing.
Remind them that together, we are a powerful and beautiful community who can change the world, one child at a time.
I have been a classroom teacher since August of 1994. Teaching and learning is what I do.
I have a nightstand full of next professional reads and can slip very easily into teacher talk at dinner with friends. I'd rather skip grocery shopping and use my money to buy new crayons and books for the class.
I attend teacher conferences because it's fun, and I get excited about summer staff development. I stalk my educational heroes on Twitter like a boss, and Amazon Prime customer service knows me by my first name.
I've been team leader, committee chairwoman, professional membership officer, new teacher mentor, student teaching supervisor, keynote speaker, published author, state teacher of the year, and finalist for national teacher of the year, along with 21 years of teaching children in grades 1-6 across the United States. Blah. Blah. Blah.
Here's what I have to say about all of that.
Whoop. De. Doo.
Right now, I feel as if I've never taught a day in my life and woke up in the wrong profession.
So if you are a teacher like me and are beginning a new school year, please remember this....because I certainly forgot and decided to let my "experience" carry me.
(Big. Huge. Mistake.)
The only thing that matters are the children that sit before you in that new classroom TODAY. They are different and precious and rare and totally unlike last year's group....and every single one of them deserves our greatest attention, our greatest patience, our greatest love, and our greatest teaching.
No matter what.
No matter if Josie decides to break all the crayons and pencils in the classroom during writing workshop. Just because...
No matter if Jack decides to play the "cutting and shredding game" as he cuts his math cards into pieces onto the floor of the classroom.
No matter if it's more fun for Christian to punch a classmate in the stomach than have a reading conference.
No matter if Carrie tells you she isn't afraid of you and hates people like you.
No matter if wine and oreos become your nightly dinner.
No matter if all you believe about best practice is colliding and running amuck with all you are against and know is wrong for children in your daily teaching world.
(Please note that I am preaching this to myself in blog form.)
Here's what I've learned these first two weeks of my 2015-16 classroom teaching experience: If you are in the education profession, you CANNOT. MUST NOT. WILL NEVER. STOP. LEARNING, and each year will always be a completely different experience.
We must keep our eyes on the prize (the children) and not let all the wrongs get in the way of what's right.
The reason we are in these classrooms is for the children and to give them our best. Because what matters is their growth as learners and people.
And guess what? The children won't be the only ones learning.
Count on it.
(ps....the names have been changed to protect the guilty)
Thank you all for being patient as I try to figure out this new year and continue to share my learning and growth as a teacher and a person.
Hugs to you all!
So this is my 10th day of school with a new group of second graders in a new school in a new district.
But that is a story for another day, another series of blog posts, book, dissertation, prayer group....
And in fact, I will be writing about this experience until I die.
But for today, I'm starting sentences with conjunctions and sharing my love and praises for Jen Hatmaker's new book, For the Love.
I've been working on the post since 3:30am this morning, and at 5:30 am I accidentally deleted the post trying to add a selfie in my cute For the Love T-shirt. That's what I get for trying to make this a little about me.
So, now that I have no post and should be leaving for school in a half hour and haven't prepared for the school day ahead, here's what I need you to do:
Please read the step-by-step directions below.
1. If you haven't pre-ordered For the Love, go buy it today. One-click it. Stand in line for it. Pray that your friend gives you one of her ten pre-ordered copies.
2. Read it. Once you start, you won't be able to put it down. You will laugh, cry tears of joy and sadness, stand up and cheer, see God's grace and love in every moment of your lives, and want Jen Hatmaker to be your new best friend.
3. Share For the Love with all your friends. And your enemies, because they need some serious love.
4. Read Jen's blogs, other books, and go hear her speak when she visits a city near you...or far away from you. It will be worth the trip and you will thank me later.
5. Read this and remember it. It's a tiny sliver of wisdom from Jen and a simple speck of wonderful from a book filled with truth, joy, and possibility.
"You don't need to wait another day to figure out your calling. You're living it, dear one. Your gifts have a place right now in the job you have, in your stage of life, with the people who surround you. Calling is virtually never big or famous work; that is rarely the way the kingdom comes. It shows up quietly, subversively, almost invisibly. Half the time, it is unplanned--just the stuff of life in which a precious human steps in, in the good news personified.....God, make us worthy of Your calling."
I'm off to live my calling. Have a great day, For the Love!!
Art is personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another.
I've always thought of teaching as an art but it wasn't until I read this quote that I started to really think more about why. I skimmed the definitions for art. I found many significant words in the definitions that embrace teaching. I found words like: imagine, express, human, creative, emotional and ideas. I thought more about these words, especially: imagine. I reflected on all the imagining that I do in my work as an educator. I realized that I not only imagine my students but I imagine how they might work in my classroom, where they will work, how long an idea will hold their attention, how they'll interact, how they'll think and how I'll plan for their thinking.
As I imagined this summer, my goal was to plan for some more depth and thinking in an illustration study I've used with my students at the beginning of the year in first grade. This illustration study that we engage in has been evolving for years. It first started with mini lessons I tried directly from from Katie Wood Ray's: In Pictures and Words ( one of my go to texts at the start of the year for young writers). This year I wanted to tweak it even more by focusing and simplifying the study because I know just the idea of "study" can be hard to jump into at the start of the year. This summer I thought about the simplest of ideas for student illustrators. I imagined kids noticing: color, lines and shapes when illustrating. I am using these ideas to guide the study but incorporating other techniques like ideas, layout, character and tone within my mini lessons.
You might be surprised to read that I used Pinterest to collect and re-imagine my unit of study. Pinterest seems like just a visual tool for beginning with an idea. I often use Pinterest pins to give me a quick visual or link ( an idea) I can use and or change for myself. Too often I just repin on a board and forget to come back to it. But, as I thought about how often I would be coming back to the pins for my illustration study, I found myself adding everything I would need when using these links in the classroom. I found myself being more purposeful. I began to add my own thinking using the edit icon (really practicing the questions I would ask my students to notice to think about with a partner). And, I'm trying to keep it fresh by pinning newer picture books to the study, video clips and more digital samples for kids to think about. This has given my tentative plans (and pins) some more depth and opportunities for students to study to think.
This year you can see the pins I am using to guide this study on my Pinterest Board: Illustration Study and this google doc that's guiding my more specific mini-lesson thinking as I re-imagine this study this year.
Because I don't know my students yet, I pre-planned using my past experiences with students and go- to texts.
Of course this isn't set in stone but rather a place to begin and mold as we roll into September. I know the ideas I anticipate with change and grow as I listen to my students and their ideas.
Seth Godin also writes....You can be perfect or you can make art.
Here's to an artful year of planning with your students!
Ann Marie and I thought we would keep it simple! Our theme this year is : Books on the top of our happy pile at the beginning of the year!
Ann Marie's Picks:
I remember my colleague, Isabel Beaton, using the phrase, "joyfully serious and seriously joyful" to describe her classroom at the Manhattan New School, and I believe that's what we're all working towards--creating spaces in schools where children can engage daily in serious and joyful learning and teaching.
This year, I moved from teaching 4th grade in one district to teaching second grade in a new school and new district. I'm thrilled about the upcoming year with my students and colleagues at Oliver Elementary School in Birmingham--so excited that I've been working on and off all summer to design and organize our space for the children.
We started school yesterday, and the students' first day is tomorrow! Since the children come TOMORROW, I decided it was time to put the final touches on our teaching and learning space after a summer of packing, unpacking, planning, sketching, painting, cleaning, moving, thinking, re-thinking, organizing, and moving just one last piece of furniture. (No time like the present to get it all done, huh?!)
My goal is to create a space that promotes community, autonomy, and agency. I want the room to be a place that empowers and intrinsically motivates children to become the readers, writers, mathematicians, problem solvers, artists, musicians, activists, and people they were born to be.
This year, I wanted to change two things about the room arrangement:
1. to provide more choice in seating and working spaces for the children
2. to spread the library around the room for easier access and book selection
Just last night I read a great new blog post about room design and set up by my friend Katharine Hale. Be sure and check it out as well! She really helped me think more about the purpose behind my room design. Also, Lester Laminack is asking that teachers post photos of their classrooms on his Facebook page so that he can share everyone's thinking and help us all design thoughtful and purposeful spaces for our students. Thanks, Katharine and Lester!
Below are "before shots"--to encourage and remind us all that it takes time to create a space that feels joyful, comfortable, and ready for learning and growth. It WILL get there!
Next, is a slideshow of photos of the work spaces and ways that I've organized the classroom library throughout the room.
We've been dreaming about today. Today we celebrate our re-connection to the blogging world and the re-energization of our writing lives. We've longed to be back!
Ann Marie blogged for years at AM Literacy Learning Log and this past year at AMCLearningJourney, and Katie has blogged at Creative Literacy and been a teacher contributor for Choice Literacy. We've missed sharing our favorite books, connecting with others and reflecting on a more regular basis with bloggers, thinkers and tweeters. So, we've been planning a place that we both can call home. A place that we can share and reconnect with you.
We are grateful for our gracious friends who have cheered us on as we embarked on reconnecting: Ruth for helping us design and plan our site and for Franki who nudged us to think together. And now, after lots of conversation on Voxer, we are excited to be creating a home where we can combine our time, thoughts and energy into one space- Truth, Joy, Possibilities...
Truth because we value the honesty of our work. We know as educators we encounter daily challenges but we also know even the smallest of things matter. Small things like listening, noticing and responding. These are what make up the heart of our work with our students and our colleagues.
When we think about truths of our profession, we are also reminded of The Little Hummingbird by Michael Yahgulanaas. In this story, a small bird couragously guides the forest animals doing the best he can in the hardest of circumstances. This reminds us of the work of educators. Men and women who are daily, guiding and listening to their students, patiently changing lives sometimes in the midst of difficulty.
Joy because we believe that learning is innately joyful when we keep our minds on what matters most to our students. Providing students with choice, lots of opportunities for collaboration and reflection are natural ways we equip our students to discover joy in their learning. We show our students the importance of embracing joy in learning when we invite them into a mindset for joy. As Isabel Beaton, esteemed kindergarten teacher at the Manhattan New School once said, "Our classrooms should be joyfully serious and seriously joyful."
and Possibilities (sun image here) because each day brings endless possibilities for teaching, learning, and growing! Our students show us what is possible each day when we slow down to listen, help them find what they love, invite them to create things that matter and then share what they've created with others. Their thinking helps us discover what we can do to help them grow and inadvertently helps us grow in our work. Katie Wood Ray writes...if we told students what to do all day long, we'd be teaching them to think of themselves as people who should wait to be told what to do. So we embrace the people we ask them to become, people who make books, and we teach and teach into this essential identity. --About the Authors
Katie's words remind us of how our students are filled with ideas not only for writing but for thinking, creating and sharing. They are the possibilities waiting to be discovered......the day's all yours, it's waiting now, see what you can do-- All in a Day by Cynthia Rylant.
These are our beliefs and those that will frame many of posts we look forward to sharing each week. We hope you will share in our stories.
Ann Marie and Katie