I sit here in the sunshine, smelling freshly cut grass and sipping my coffee slowly, back home in Oregon after finishing my third year teaching abroad.
I am reflecting on the school year. I think about the things I didn’t do, about what my students didn’t learn. It’s not the best mental space.
I don’t think I’m the only one with these thoughts. Some of us teachers sometimes suffer from imposter syndrome. We imagine we could have squeezed in more conferences, or if it hadn’t been for some extenuating circumstances beyond our control, we would have taught one more unit, and of course, whatever we did, we should have done it better.
I often feel this way. I wish I’d been better at assessment this year. I wish I would have held a few of my students more accountable, and sooner. I wish I could go back and have some “do-overs,” but of course that’s not realistic.
I think a lot of us teachers have these moments of self-doubt, and in these moments we forget about the successes we have shared with our students.
Instead of wishing for things I can’t have, I am going to try something new this June. I am going to think of the successes, the celebrations, and the improvements. My students grew, and I think instead of questioning this concept, I should attempt to validate it.
I think that’s what all of us educators should do in the month of June. Celebrations, small and large, should be spoken out loud, written about, discussed, and high-fived over coffee. We’ve all faced challenges over the course of the school year, and we have overcome. We’ve won.
Let’s talk about it.
I’ll start with some of mine.
Many of my students now remember what it’s like to be readers. They rediscovered that love within themselves, and they can articulate it. They smile about it. And they are grateful. It’s good energy to be a part of.
Many of my students have increased their text complexity comfort zone. I had one student who started the year saying his favorite book was from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Our teacher-librarian then recommended The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian to him, which he read. It was his first book of the school year. He was in grade eleven.
Some time after Part-Time Indian, he picked up A Thousand Splendid Suns, because it was a book that I book talked to the class. He then read The Kite Runner, and didn’t stop there. His text complexity band and comfort zone expanded far beyond what he or I had hoped, and it didn’t take too long. He now says that he likes reading, but before this year he hated it, and never considered himself a reader. That’s a big deal.
I have several anecdotal stories like his. One girl reflected that she is now a competent, confident reader because of the daily book talks. She hadn’t realized how many great books were out there, and she didn’t know how to choose books on her own. Now she does. She’s a better student and is grateful to have rediscovered her love of reading.
Another student has already emailed me about her summer reading. She chose 13 Reasons Why off of the Summer Reading Suggestions board pictured below, and listened to it on her flight home. She took the time to send me a picture of her progress and let me know that she is enjoying it. It my sound like a small thing, but I’m not so sure it is. She’s someone I haven’t had in class before, but our school culture has changed to one that expects reading from everyone, and she knows that her new English teacher thinks it’s just as important as the teacher she had this year did.
On the last day of classes, I asked my eleventh grade students to do an impromptu book talk. I asked them to recommend a highlight from the school year, and to share it with the class for summer reading suggestions. I gave them a few minutes to prepare, and then let them start.
Each student immediately had a book in mind.
If I’d asked them to do this at the beginning of the year, I think only a few of them would have felt as confident with the titles they chose. As a class they organized the time and presentation order, asked each other thoughtful questions, and even referred to our anchor charts about what makes a good book talk. It was a fun and useful end of year wrap-up.
Anecdotal evidence is good, but it’s also nice to look at the numbers. This was the first year our school tried the readers workshop model. By mid-autumn, all of the teachers in our department were all-in, pushing reading hard. It paid off. The circulation numbers in our learning commons went up by 76%.
The teachers and students in our school should be proud. We should celebrate.
Students are using the library more than ever, selecting books, recommending titles, and best of all, they are reading.
There’s a lot to celebrate, and I’m going to do my best to focus on the celebrations rather than the regrets or the things I wish I’d done better. I’ll give myself permission to celebrate what’s good, and not mourn what wasn’t perfect. I’ll of course think about how I could improve the things that need improvement, but unlike other years, I’ll try to commit to myself that it won’t be my main focus.
I know that the school year wasn’t perfect, but the myth of the perfect teacher, the perfect school year, is just that: a myth.
We grow by reflecting on our mistakes, failures, and regrets, but we also grow by reflecting on what goes well, and what we want to repeat with other students and in new classes.
So, as you reflect on your own school year and your own practice, I encourage you to remember the successes large, small, and all the sizes in-between. By focusing on them, we will gain momentum in planning for future school years, lessons, and interactions with our students. We all have stories like or better than the ones I’ve shared in this post.
Let’s focus on the positives, give ourselves credit, and share with each other.
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