Tell me if this sounds familiar.
It’s the end of the day. Your friends have been dismissed. You return to your classroom to deal with the remnants of learning left all over your floor and spilling out of your beautifully labeled baskets. You pause to eat the chocolate that you snagged from the secretary’s desk on your way back upstairs. And then, it is go time. You begin to move systematically and purposefully through your classroom, organizing and setting up for tomorrow.
Empty the homework basket and make a pile to take home? Check.
Erase the board and write a new morning message? Check.
Straighten up the library and set out tomorrow’s read alouds? Check.
Move to your back table and begin to organize books for tomorrow’s guided reading groups? Check.
Are you picking up what I’m putting down? If not, let me just come right out and say it.
Teachers are creatures of habit and routine. We thrive on predictable patterns and are the epitome of efficiency when left to our own devices.
Am I right or am I left? When we really want to get things done, we create a system, incorporate it into our routine and cruise through these rituals, moving on autopilot.
Let me paint you another picture.
It’s Friday. It’s been a long week. One of those
weeks. Your friends are totally packed up and ready to go. And, despite your best efforts at timing, there are still twenty minutes left to go in the day. You reach for a read-aloud to help blissfully pass this miscalculation in time.
Stop right there. What book did you pick up? Just now, in your imagination. Was it the same cute-pictures-seems-funny-saw-it-on-the-wall-at-the-bookstore read-aloud you always choose?
If you are like me, that "go-to" read-aloud looks the same every time. That’s not to say that these books were bad choices—it’s more that they represented the same choice every single time. A read-loud rut, if you will.
However, one vacation (when I actually had a moment to read for pleasure!), it hit me like a ton of nerdy little bricks. When I read for pleasure I read all sorts of texts—professional journals (nerd alert!), trashy magazines (reality check), embarrassingly popular young adult novels, children’s picture books, cooking magazines, anything memoir, home decorating blogs, humor blogs, and snippets of the newspaper on my iPad. You know, I really mix it up. But when I read for pleasure with my class, the text I choose always feels the same.
In that moment, I thought to myself, “Self, what are you doing? How are you modeling a layered, bold reading life for your friends? How are you developing their sense of identity as readers? How are you exposing them to a variety of texts so they can decide if they are a trashy magazine person or a self-help book person or a DIY blog person?
So, in true teacher style, I spent most of my vacation working. (Bye bye pleasure reading!) I looked up and bookmarked free online news websites for kids. I found and followed several kid friendly blogs that covered a range of topics. I clipped my favorite recipes. I bought a few graphic novels and other texts that previously felt out of my comfort zone. I took all of these texts and I worked them into my rotation. I pushed myself to change my old habits because the reality is there are always going to be days when I find myself with ten extra minutes and forty expectant eyeballs. What I do with those ten minutes? Well, that’s where I can change.
When it comes to cleaning up at the end of the day, checking homework or making sure that our emails get answered, this type of routine is just plain survival. Years of having more on your plate than seems humanly possible will do that to you.
However, as this calendar year draws to a close, I’d like to invite you to rethink some of the other ruts
routines you’ve created for yourself. Are some of them brilliant moments of hyper-productivity? Or are some of them an opportunity for growth and change? Mrs. Mimi is a pseudonymous teacher who taught both first and second grades at a public elementary school in New York City. She's the author of IT'S NOT ALL FLOWERS AND SAUSAGES: MY ADVENTURES IN SECOND GRADE, which sprung from her popular blog of the same name. Mimi also has her doctorate in education from Teachers College, Columbia University.
© 2011 Mrs. Mimi. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise. In Other Words: To-Do Lists—Your Best Friend or Worst Nightmare? QUIET! Teacher in Progress: Focus on the 'How'