I have been anticipating this day and wondering if I would be able to get my thoughts out about some of the amazing picture books that I've been reading this summer. I'll be honest, I've been taking too much time over- thinking a theme and decided just share which books I've added to my primary classroom this year and a quick why I think they are important. Here goes...
Glad to be joining in the conversation for It's Monday! What Are you Reading? Summer is the best for catching up on professional reading so I thought I would share a book I was invited to read by my primary lit coach:Lynsey Burkins (@lburkins). She is headed back to the classroom next year and asked me to think with her about Negotiating Critical Literacies with Young Children by Vivian Maria Vasquez.
When Lynsey asked me to read this book, I skimmed the first chapter and fell in love with the idea of really listening to my students and the questions they have about their world.
I think that is really the heart of what Vasquez invites us to explore and observe our students during the school day. She says to pay attention to the things that bother them, things that make them happy , the questions they ask, their worries and their passions.
This year I heard kids asking things like...why don't the girls get to play soccer at recess? And, after reading aloud Lauren Castillo's Twenty Yawns with my first graders, a student wondered about how the little brown girl could have a white daddy. I responded to these questions by reading more books that allowed my students to have interactive conversations about gender and race. But , I feel like it wasn't enough. It wasn't enough because I feel like I was missing the action piece for my student. Vasquez writes:
...critical literacies are not just about disrupting, critiquing, or thinking deeply about texts: They also need to be about the active production and redesign of those problematic ways of being. p.4
So this year, we will be talking and thinking together about their curiosities and passions and I want to frame them in a way that they are actively thinking and leading the conversation. We will be creating a space for their questions, texts we read the work they do thinking about these questions and responding to them on what Vasquez calls an audit trail or learning wall. This Vasquez defines as the thinking that is meant to be visible not only to the people in the classroom community but to others in the school community as well. p.37
It seems hard to imagine at first... but I keep slowing myself down to envision it simply: starting with a question the classroom is interested in studying. Then taking photos of artifacts/ stories/ writings that grow the conversation and kids thinking about how one question can turn into the next question. Gradually placing the ideas publicly so everyone can watch it grow---this is what I imagine the learning wall unfolding into. (I know I likely oversimplified this but I need to feel confident about it all as the year begins to really stick with it!)
What I am appreciating about Vasquez's book is being able to read about a classroom wall she negotiated with her students. She shares their questions, how she responded with specific texts and how to respond and teach our youngest learners to think critically about situations with questions---What roles are given to males, females? Who are the powerful characters, weak characters? Do you know people in your life like the characters in the book? What are the things you know people can do that the characters in the book can't do? What can we do to change the story? Who is telling the story? Why might they be telling the story in that way? p.66
I'm still reading and reflecting on how Vivian Maria Vasquez's work will help guide and support our work next year. I've talked with Lynsey about documenting our wall digitally and figuring out how kids will explore topics their interested in, what those invitations will look like and thinking about the time we will have for this each day. I have to say I can't remember feeling so excited to start a school year even after 21 years of teaching. I feel renewed by reading this book and feel like my students now, more than ever are in need of a critical lens with which to view and think about their world.
What would we do without each other?
Everyday I look for inspiration from bloggers, authors, illustrators, songs and spiritual posts. The bits of wisdom I breathe in from their words give me the boost I need to feel and be creative and happy in my job. I needed just that boost in January when were headed back from winter break. Katie Keier's post titled: What Kind of Class Do We Want to Be? gave me the words I needed to help my kids take ownership of developing the teamwork we were headed toward as first grade learners.
My students led the way when we created own chart about the kind of class we wanted to be. We've been coming back to this chart for three weeks now and they love to talk about their ideas. I've noticed it has become a valued conversation when we think back about this chart. The kids are engaged and want to keep thinking about these ideas.
When we started this blog, we posted about what we value about truth...
What better way to start off the year than to reflect some of the truths we are noticing, hearing and learning from our students.
#1. Let go and let there be messiness... there's learning inside the mess
I don't love a mess. I don't look forward to the potential mess that 22 first graders can make during indoor recess or during class projects where lots of tools for creating are out all around the room. I have to mentally prepare the first time we try out a new idea--painting, working with clay or collaging. And, I don't love the mess that happens the first time the kids figure out how to cut out snowflakes! I know that it's temporary. I know how well my students will clean up. So to get through it, I often remind myself to just embrace it. I've told myself...they're little and they need this creative time in projects (which all our students do). But there was more for me to get (again) even after 20 years of teaching this December.
In December, I was looking for a project that would allow my kids to create and share a family story. I used an idea suggested to me by a friend from the book: Show Me A Story. This book was filled with great ideas. So, I tried one--the story mat. Kids would need to have a family story in mind, design a background scene and create their family characters in the story using paper and cardboard. It was like making their own play with cardboard puppets ( they even practiced writing their own scripts). I wanted kids to have unique experiences specifically when creating. So, I listened to my wise educator friends when starting the project. My lit coach said..."set out lots of tools for creating and let them go." But, I was thinking... I hadn't taught them how to watercolor yet. And, then I was thinking what if they don't remember to use any of the illustration moves we've studied this year in writer's workshop. These craft moves (like outlining, using colors with purpose, thinking about facial expressions when drawing...if you want to learn more read In Pictures and Words by Katie wood Ray) would allow their family stories to look perfect!
"Let them do what they can," my lit coach said. So I did.
I was very quiet ( and it was hard).
There were multiple cups of water spilled and lots of colors mixed. There were characters cut in half. Sometimes scenes were so over watercolored that they fell apart. It was a mess for 7 mornings.
But when I stepped back to listen and observe, I realized they were learning much more on their own.
When there were problems, they fixed them: "I have to make my dad again, the paper got too wet Mrs.DiCesare."
" I couldn't cut through the cardboard but Vivian helped me," And, "Do you have more paper towels because we need to clean up the water on our table," is what I heard.
Then I looked to see what they had accomplished and it was what they could do and remember. It didn't matter if it was perfect or even good in my mind. They owned it and proudly shared it with our third grade buddies.
But I keep learning after 20 years, not every project has to look perfectly polished or often the way I think it should. My students and I learn a lot when I let go and let them make a mess.
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!!