Monday, August 18, 2014

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Happy back-to-school time, everyone! The teachers in my division have been hammering away at new bulletin boards, exciting lesson plans, and team building activities since last Monday. I've really enjoyed my time with my colleagues and was especially impressed with how our division handled back-to-school professional development (more about that in another blog post).

Usually on this blog, I post a summer reading list of books I want to read that summer and hope we'll all read together. I usually cross off two or three of them and then move on. So, this year, I didn't even do that. I knew I'd have to read at least one book for our school's summer reading program and one for the class I took in July. Otherwise, I just let books good books happen to me.

Our school did away with required summer reading where a student writes an essay when we're all back at school a few years ago. I never had to do that in high school, but I understand it was a common practice. We've struggled with wanting to encourage kids to read over the summer but not wanting to squelch any burgeoning love of reading under the heavy stacks of "have to" reading. 

The school's new librarian came up with a couple of ingenious plans. First, she set up student-teacher book clubs. Teachers could select from books we thought kids would enjoy and she facilitated students signing up with a funny video and class visits. We then had two book club meetings in the community over the summer. At one of them, another kid we knew, who had also read the book, stopped by and talked with us, too. Our group read Into the Wild and it spurred a lot of interesting discussions about what it means to be adventurous versus stupid and cruel to your parents. I haven't heard how other book clubs fared. On Friday, we have our last meeting where we'll eat pizza, watch the movie, and talk about the differences in portraying a story across different media.

I also read two great teaching books this summer I want to tell you about. For the Central Virginia Writing Project, I read Penny Kittle's Write Beside Them. This book really helped me refine our writing workshop in my class and create a more structured peer conferencing program. It's definitely an English teacher book. I also re-read Teaching for Joy and Justice which just got me excited as I reminded myself why I got into teaching in the first place: to help students find their voices and project them in healthy ways. I underlined just about every activity in this book. The book's author co-teaches a history/language arts class with her husband, so she's got some great ideas for teachers in other disciplines.

One of my good friends loaned me her copy of I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith of One Hundred and One Dalmatians fame. You know those books that you're sort of angry when you're done because you loved it so much and now it's over? This book made me that kind of angry. C also devoured it and he hasn't read any fiction since the last Game of Thrones book came out.

Brigid Shulte's Overwhelmed helped me think about how I buy into the ideal worker culture that privileges face time in the office over meaningful work that we finish before going home to our families. Two of my new academic year resolutions are to stop trying to multi-task and to let go of trying to feel on top of my work. Teaching, by its very nature, is never done. There are always newer bulletin boards to put up, better ways to arrange desks to facilitate student learning, a cool update to make to the class website. I want to do these things. But I don't want to do only these things. I want to write and practice yoga and spend some time camping. I've never been one of those teachers who can leave things at school on Friday and pick up where I left off on Monday. I don't think I ever will be, but this year I'm going to take one weekend day off from work and try to be more efficient the other six days of the week. I'll let you know how it goes.

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