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'Make It Work': From Fashion to Freedom

BY MRS. MIMI AKA JENNIFER SCOGGIN
 | Jan 13, 2016

shutterstock_210167587_x300When you’re a teacher, every minute of your day feels important. Because it is. Every. Single. Minute.

Often, many of these minutes are mandated. As in, how many minutes you must spend on reading instruction. How many minutes you must spend on writing instruction. How many minutes you must dedicate to character development or math or word study or science or social studies…or basically “insert anything here” and it is all urgent.

My personal tipping point was when I was told to find an additional 30 minutes twice a week to accommodate recorder lessons. Now, I am all for instrumental music but, one, the recorder sounds like a goose in the throes of death, and, two, those 60 extra minutes pushed my mandated minutes so far beyond the actual number of minutes I had with children that I could no longer stand the lack of common sense. I marched to my administrator and said, “I have 330 instructional minutes with students each week. You have now mandated 450 minutes of instruction.”

She replied, “Huh. That doesn’t make a lot of sense. Well, make it work.”

So, in the wise words of Tim Gunn and my former administrator, I made it work. I made it work by choosing priorities for my students’ ultimate success. (Sorry, recorder.) At the top of my list? Independent reading and writing time. Kids get to be better readers and writers by actually reading and writing, not by listening to a teacher talk about them. These independent work periods also allow teachers the time to meet with students one on one or in small groups to address more personalized learning needs and goals. And I’m not talking about reading a pre-determined passage or writing in response to a prompt. Those have their place, but, for me, reading authentic student-selected texts and writing open-ended pieces were the minutes that mattered most.

I began making these minutes a priority by keeping track of them over the course of the week. Every day for one week, I kept careful track of the number of minutes my students spent reading and writing authentically and independently. Then, I analyzed my data. (The Powers That Be just love that last sentence.) Was I happy with the number of minutes students were actually engaged as readers and writers? If not, where could I steal extra minutes? Could I tighten up my own instruction, get creative with time, or trim any fat?

Let’s not get it twisted—this sounds much easier than it actually was in practice. I had to be very honest with myself about time-wasters and make tough decisions. Yet in the end, I was able to specifically diagnose my own redundancy and see how I could contribute to a solution, rather than continuing to complain about the problem of time.

A recent article published in Education Week solidified my fear that I am not alone. Many classrooms struggle to “cram it all in” and, as a result, students are often left with very few minutes to fall into an authentic reading and writing life.

So, yes, every minute is important. And no, there aren’t enough of them in the day. And of course, this reality is super easy to complain about—and complain you should.

But maybe, in this new year of possibility, we can find some time to prioritize and be part of the solution, too.

Mrs. Mimi, aka 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 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.

 

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