Being a teacher means embracing constant change. Yet all too often, teachers are told when, how, and why to change. In this monthly column, Mrs. Mimi takes on creating change for herself by rethinking old practices and redefining teaching on her own terms.
It’s SUMMERRRRR! Shall we shout it from the rooftops together? One of my favorite things about teachers is that if you ask most teachers what their plans are for the summer, many of them will say, “Reading!” Okay. Most teachers will say “sleeping late” and then they will say, “reading,” but you get what I mean, right?
My summer reading plans are intense. I have had a growing stack of books on my nightstand for weeks that has climbed to perilous heights over the spring. I have collected books recommended by friends, a couple of books that were gifts, two new books by my favorite authors, and a few gems I discovered by pouring over book reviews online. I also have a list of titles going on my phone and several downloaded books waiting for me on my iPad. Don’t even ask me about the pile of professional books on my desk—those are definitely in the mix too.
I was laying in bed trying to decide which book to turn to first. Did I want to read something light or something more involved? Did I want to read to learn or to be entertained? Whose world did I want to dive into first? I took some time to luxuriate in the decision—after an entire school year filled with making a million decisions every minute, this was one decision I wanted to linger over.
As I looked through my carefully curated titles, my mind began to wander to my students. (Another reality of summer: our students and classrooms are never that far from our minds, are they?) With the go-go-go climate that has been created in schools, do my students have the opportunity to luxuriate over the decision of which book to read next? Are they free to carefully curate a selection of books to put on their “Read Next” pile? Am I taking enough care to help them develop their reading preferences and identities in the face of such an intense focus on data, testing, and accountability?
I took a quick moment and jotted down all the purposes for reading represented in the pile I had collected over the last few weeks. I also jotted down how I found the various titles in my pile. I want to be sure to capture my reading life as authentically as possible so that I can help my students recreate these experiences and opportunities in our classroom. Where can I create spaces for children to share their book recommendations with one another? Am I helping them to cultivate favorite authors and genres? Am I providing spaces for them to read for a variety of purposes?
There is nothing we can do about the larger school climate or your particular school’s fixation on data. I mean, I guess we could wear head-to-toe leather and stage a political uprising, but I’m tired, aren’t you? It was a long school year. However, we can use our summers wisely to rejuvenate ourselves and refocus our instruction on a broader goal for the teaching of reading beyond passing to the next level. Our primary job is to create lovers of reading who are capable of selecting, engaging with, and using text in dynamic ways. A great starting point is to think about why we love to read and how we began our love affair with books.
No matter how late I sleep and how many times I go to the grocery store in the middle of the day (!!), my teaching is always on my mind. Summer is the perfect time to find a bit of mental space to reflect on how I can improve on my practice and bring back some much needed authenticity and joy. Sometimes you just need to sit on the porch with a cup of coffee and a good book to be a better teacher.
And while we are on the subject of summer reading, did you know that yours truly has a book coming out this August? Well I do! And it’s all about how to find and maintain your own fabulousness—because you are and you owe it to yourself to let it show.
Pre-order Jennifer's book, "Be Fabulous: The Reading Teacher's Guide to Reclaiming Your Happiness in the Classroom" now and look for its release in August!
Mrs. Mimi, a.k.a. Jennifer Scoggin, is a teacher who taught both first and second grades at a public elementary school in New York City. She's the author of the upcoming “Be Fabulous: The Reading Teacher's Guide to Reclaiming Your Happiness in the Classroom” and“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.