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I had the pleasure of seeing author Laura (L.M.) Elliott this evening. Of her many YAL novels, she wrote Under a War Torn Sky and was promoting her new novel (the sequel), A Troubled Peace. Eleven of my students attended which made me very proud. I enticed them with a few read alouds of her novels. I was disappointed there wasn’t a larger turnout…author visits are so special.

The greatest part of the evening for me was catching up with a former student after discovering her brother is currently in my class. I knew that surname looked familiar. =)

Another highlight was when Mrs. Elliott asked for student volunteers to walk through the auditorium aisles displaying the large cardboard posters she brought depicting her research for her historical fiction. I’ll never forget the little boy who walked up and down each aisle s-l-o-w-l-y so each person could see. He smiled the entire time, bursting with pride, and walked down the main aisle backwards when he was returning to his seat, still presenting the poster. All I could think was Vanna White.

Mrs. Elliott spoke from the heart. I kept thinking how proud her father must have been; here she was keeping the stories of the American bombers during WWII alive and captivating young minds.
I also reflected on seeing AVI this time last year, and how, as a first year teacher, I spent a third of my paycheck on his books so I could get them signed for my classroom library. I was excited to see Mrs. Elliott but I felt more like the second-year teacher I am, too, in that I didn’t buy her books tonight because I couldn’t afford them. I do look forward to reading them though! I want to reward my students who attended but I don’t want to give extra credit. I’m thinking of getting some kind of book-related treat–like a cool bookmark or something WWII related. Not sure. Suggestions?

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Sunday Mornin’

It’s Sunday morning. Mom is in the kitchen frying something that smells a little too well-done. Yes, I still live at home. I can’t afford to move out when I’m paying $500/month toward my undergraduate and graduate school loans. My father is also very ill–fighting cancer–and there’s no place I’d rather be than spending every precious minute I can with him.

It’s a beautiful day outside but all I can think is WORKSHOP. Should I do reading workshop or writing workshop tomorrow? Should I do a little of both since I teach 90 minute blocks and I am blessed to see my students daily as a sixth grade Language Arts teacher? I’m entering the third week of school and I’ve yet to “launch” my writing workshop. So far I’ve only “launched” my reading workshop using a popular duo of Miller’s The Book Whisperer and Fountas and Pinnell’s Guiding Readers and Writers.

I feel like I’ve done a great job so far of creating a community-feeling inside each block. The students overall seem willing to please me and more concerned with learning to open their lockers and get to class on time than being behavior problems. I hope this will last.

I finally found my copy of Atwell’s In the Middle in the garage yesterday. I put it there in August, in a crate full of the professional books I lean on most during the year, so I could just open the garage door and put it in my car. But I forgot it was out there. And though I have a million and one things on my mind and items on my “To Do” list, look for In the Middle kept popping up so that’s a huge relief. I plan on using Atwell’s Lessons that Change Writers (if I ever get around to launching my writing workshop this quarter).

I worry about fitting all of the county’s curriculum into the workshop-style classes I’m trying to create. I know if I do it right, and do it well, then it’s definitely possible and will be the most authentic learning environment for my kids. I just hope I can pull it off just being a second-year teacher. It may be easier because I haven’t had time to develop an atittude of “But That’s the Way I’ve Always Done Things!” I think the workshop would be harder to pull off if it wasn’t the only format strongly encouraged while I was getting my license and M.Ed. But I have so many questions and many of the veteran teachers at my school don’t practice The Workshop in their classrooms, and the ones who are, are trying it for the first time and also have many questions, too.

Well, there is a church that meets in my building on Sundays so I’m going to try to get into my classroom to grab some things to work on today for this week. Week Three.

…then why not be the best teacher you can be?

An instructor at an instructional skills workshop posed this question early this summer. I was sitting in a high school library on a hard chair, having just created a name-tent for myself (the first strategy of the seminar), feeling lethargic and unsure this was where I was meant to be during my first official summer vacation as a teacher. But being the nerd I am, I scribbled down each word I heard in my spiral just the same. I figured after I drank some coffee  at our 11:15 a.m. break (not that I was watching the clock), this guy’s words might be something I wished I could reflect on.

“If you are going to teach,”  he said, “Then why not be the best teacher you can be?”

It was a good question. If I am choosing a career in education, and I am going to go to school each day and be paid for teaching anyway, then why not strive to be the best teacher at my school?  Even if I fall short, I will most likely turn out to be a damn good teacher.  

I’ve been turning said instructor’s words over in my mind ever since. [Similar to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fictional Nick Carroway who couldn’t stop pondering the advice his father dispensed: “”Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

I can’t seem to get those words out of my head. I keep asking myself, is this my best?

This blog is intended to keep that question in my head and in my heart. I’ve been to many workshops and conferences and meetings. For this reason or that, some words and ideas are worth writing down and some go in one ear and out the other. This is one question I hear clear as a bell at this early point in my teaching career. I don’t want it to fade into a whisper…