For My Friend & Mentor

After being on a bit of maternity leave, then moving away for a while so my husband could complete his JD/MBA, I was back home and ran into a teaching colleague from my first couple of years teaching at a middle school. We spent a few minutes catching up, and toward the end of our conversation I was shocked to learn that a close teaching friend had passed away peacefully while I had been gone and busy with my life in other places. I can’t stop thinking about her. It’s been a bit of a shock. Especially, I think, because as a young(ish) teacher (in my mid-twenties), I don’t really think of those kinds of things happening. I am so focused on learning and growing and teaching right now, at the beginning of what I hope is a long career in education, that I don’t think much about the path that continues after teaching. My dear friend had retired shortly after I had left that school on maternity leave, and had had a long and wonderful teaching career. My thoughts lately have been largely about her–so much so that I had to write them down:

I remember how I felt my first years of teaching–who doesn’t remember the blur of disillusionment and hopefulness and exhaustion and revelation? But I vividly remember how you made me feel. They say you were a mentor to many, and I am one of that many. Countless teachers in their first years often find themselves in survival mode, but you made me feel like I was thriving. I was pushed to grow through the meetings I led and committees I served on, and above and beyond all I was pushed by my students to be the best I could be, to be innovative and revolutionary. I would talk with you about these things, about research I’d read, strategies I was trying, successes, failures, and frustrations, and you were always so impressed with me. You can’t imagine how this made me feel–that beyond just the success I felt with my students, you noticed me and my efforts and knew without a doubt that I stood out, that I could make a real difference. Doesn’t every teacher want to make a difference? I do. And you did, not just to your students but to me.

We laughed as co-conspirators over silly teacher humor and you helped me get through the day with your homemade treats. I was a little in awe of you as a teacher because you had so much experience and wisdom, but also as a person because you were someone who was always curious, always learning. Sitting by you at the faculty room lunch table always led to a new revelation about the way the world worked, or about something worth reading. You showed me what it meant to be interested in the world and people around you, and how to share that with your students and your peers. I like to think that you helped me develop that love of learning even more as you encouraged me and cheered for me.

I grew to have a confidence in myself because you showed me how great I was and how great I could be. Recognizing those things in others is one thing, but you always expressed them too. The kind, quiet, but passionate way you approached learning and teaching was such an example for me. You showed me friendship and love, and I’ll never forget it.

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Nonfiction Book Picks from This School Year

Now that we’re partway into summer, I’ve been able to curate a short list of some nonfiction reading I’ve done this past school year–and these are the standout titles. Make some room on your summer reading list!

20170991The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession
As a younger teacher, it was really eye-opening for me to learn about the major ideas and thinkers that have shaped American education into what it is today. Things make a little more sense now. I also feel like I have a clearer vision of where I’d like to see things go with the future of teaching and education.

22571757It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love And War
A pretty incredible account of Lynsey Addario’s life as a war photographer, including life-defining moments such as being kidnapped, working with local people to get photographs, and more. Reading this gives me so much more understanding of what goes into a photograph taken in/of a conflict zone, and how much meaning and effort is behind it all. This memoir is fascinating, inspirational, and even suspenseful.

22609334Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis
Another eye-opener. This book gives voice to thoughts and questions that, as a teacher and a person, I’ve had for a while. Why does the past and its abundance of opportunity seem so golden compared with now? And why does it seem do hard to overcome some of these obstacles that I see students and others face? Identifying some of the factors and causes of these things was insightful for me as a teacher, but also in recognizing what opportunities I’ve had and what others around me are likely to have, and subsequently, how much we can help in turn. A thought I liked:
“…schools, though not a big part of the problem, might be a big part of the solution.”

8520610Quiet: The Power of Introverts in A World That Can’t Stop Talking
This has been getting a lot of attention lately, for good reason! (See her TED talk here.)I’m sure that this book, or parts of it at least, will speak to introverts everywhere–it’s pretty reaffirming. In the beginning I felt at times her tone was a little defiant, but as I settled into the book I started to really like the examples and the people whose stories she shared, particularly those of highly successful and innovative people that you wouldn’t otherwise think of as introverts–top business leaders, influential teachers, etc. the ideas that we should help everyone learn and succeed in their own way, as well as how to better handle group dynamics were enlightening… Particularly if you’re a parent or teacher, or an introvert yourself.

23158207How Google Works
I’ve talked about this book before. The short story: My mind is spinning with all the ways this could apply to teaching/education. Loved the parts on the “smart creative”, passion, and the “learning animal”. Really fascinating to learn about Google, too. Funny and reflective.

18377959Building A Better Teacher: How Teaching Works
The idea that teachers are made rather than born is an extremely important one. Especially in light of teacher evaluations, changing and new policies, and all the other things going in in education right now. This book concentrates on some big names in education that have worked or contributed in some way to showing that you can teach teachers how to teach–like Magdalene Lampert, Deborah Ball, Pam Grossman, Doug Lemov, etc. Some I’ve heard of and some I haven’t, but now am interested in work they’ve done. Plenty of great takeaways for teachers (I liked the ideas behind community “lesson study” from Japan, Instructional Activities, and the approach to academic rigor), but it also provides an overarching view of teacher education–where it has been and the direction it’s headed.

12743473The Storytelling Animal
A wonderful perspective on the role story plays in our lives. I enjoyed the ideas behind the evolutionary aspect of stories. It might be a little ironic that I didn’t really enjoy how the book was written–I would have liked less pictures with captioning that tended to go off on tangents and more of the research. But the points he makes about stories are really fascinating, and his “simulator” theory of storytelling is well worth the read.

13259960The Smartest Kids in The World And How They Got That Way
Teachers, Administrators, Parents, Anyone Who Cares About Education: read this! I really liked this book even though I’ve seen a lot of the research and articles before. It’s fairly common knowledge that the US is struggling with learning, especially when measured against other countries. While the facts were familiar, the insight that Ripley provided into not just our education system but other successful education systems worldwide was revelatory and sometimes unsettling. She does acknowledge that what works in other countries may not work in the US; we have more diversity and a different kind of government–but excuses like these are not going to be enough to stand on. In the end, Ripley has done some great storytelling and analyzing of the facts and ideas, and come up with something that is hopeful and informative. I’ve seen the bored students, the students who could do more but don’t feel that any more is expected of them, and I agree, things are at a turning point. This book adds something valuable and worthwhile to that discussion.

You can follow me on Goodreads here. Also, a few books on my radar (anyone else read these yet?):
25590449From Master Teacher to Master Learner by Will Richardson
From Goodreads: Seamlessly adapt to an ever-changing culture. Educators must continually adjust to the present world and its digital technologies to create effective classrooms. Investigate the qualities and roles you should adopt to grow into a master learner, and explore the tools and techniques necessary to coach students in gaining the skills and literacies they need to become successful learners.25072947

The New Teacher Revolution
From Goodreads: Today’s classroom demands teacher innovation and rejection of outdated practices, especially when someone tells you it’s “always been done” a certain way. In this book, Josh Stumpenhorst details his methods for improving student outcomes with unorthodox thinking. Content includes: Building relationships built on trust and respect, not fear and punishment. Why you need to rethink homework and letter grades, which—in their current forms—are harming learning, and how to leverage technology by not treating it as a “shiny toy”, but rather fully understanding their power as tools for massive progress.