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The Lighter Side of Survival

By Julie Scullen
 | Oct 19, 2016

ThinkstockPhotos-97430222_x300At our first department leader meeting this fall, I asked each person to share a one-word goal for the year. There were 14 people in the room, and three listed survival as their word. Their goal was to survive. One other said persevere and still another’s goal was serenity. Almost a third were thinking about their emotional needs and steeling themselves for what would come next. No one in the room was surprised; in fact several others said they had considered using the same word—survive—but weren’t brave enough to admit it to the group. There was a bit of nervous laughter, and we moved on to business. Teaching is a tough job, and getting tougher.

Inspired by these teaching warriors and Shanna Peeples’ article in October’s Literacy Today, I starting asking teachers for their stories. What happened that influenced your day? What made you smile? What made you change direction?

Hearing stories from the trenches helps us realize we’re not alone. Better yet, our students (and colleagues) might provide us with cause to laugh. I consider humor cheap therapy.

Let me provide you with some cheap therapy.

I was working alongside a dedicated, energetic secondary teacher. On this particular day we asked students to practice reading authentic online text and respond to what they had read. Engagement was high, keyboards were clicking purposefully, and we were feeling the rush of professional success and mentally high-fiving each other.

One young lady who had been typically distracted and disengaged broke away from her response writing and motioned for my attention.

“Hey, Reading Lady. Do I capitalize the ‘h’ in Hispanic right here?”

I smiled, proud of her question. She was making such progress! “Yes, of course.”

As I walked away, I heard her mutter to herself. “Duh. Of course I should. Hispanic is a pretty big religion!”

End scene.

A short time ago I was watching a phenomenal teacher perform a close reading lesson. She had the kids near her in a semicircle, each with a notebook and pencil. A few minutes into the lesson a young man popped up and headed to the pencil sharpener. He started sharpening…and sharpening and sharpening and sharpening and sharpening and sharpening—with occasional peeks to see if the lead was sharp enough yet.

The teacher motioned for him to have a seat. Reluctantly and dramatically he dragged his feet back to his space.

A moment later he popped up again, even more enthusiastically, and dashed to his chair. He dug through his backpack, tossing everything and leaving items strewn all over the floor, chair, and desk. Triumphantly he held up what he had been seeking: a small pencil sharpener.

He smiled and skipped back to his place in the front of the room…and began sharpening. Sharpening and sharpening and sharpening and sharpening and sharpening…. The teacher, valiantly continuing to teach, walked to her desk and pulled out a pencil. She walked to him and gave him a meaningful stare as she handed him her pencil. He looked at it as she walked away, perplexed. Then his face lit up with blissful understanding, and he started sharpening her pencil.

End scene.

You can’t make this stuff up.

To be fair, sometimes my colleagues provide me with cheap therapy as well. For instance, in recent years, I’ve helped to dispel many misconceptions regarding standards and testing. I’ve had conversations with colleagues referencing “formalative” assessment (as opposed to “summalative”). During curriculum writing, somone referred to our “new STRANDards.” One of my favorites is this: “What are we going to do about this CANNON Core?”

We all need to seek out the lighter moments and collect stories from our schools to share. It’s a matter of survival.

Do you have a good story? Share it with us on social media with #ClassroomTales.

Julie Scullen is a former member of the ILA Board of Directors, and has also served as president of the Minnesota Reading Association and Minnesota Secondary Reading Interest Council. She taught most of her career in secondary reading intervention classrooms and now serves as Teaching and Learning Specialist for Secondary Reading in Anoka-Hennepin schools in Minnesota, working with teachers of all content areas to foster literacy achievement. She teaches graduate courses at Hamline University in St. Paul in literacy leadership and coaching, disciplinary literacy, critical literacy, and reading assessment and evaluation.

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  1. Susan Saint John | Oct 27, 2016

    I am currently working on my dissertation and teacher morale is a high priority focus for me.  If anyone has anything to share with me, I am willing to listen and will give you credit when/where credit is due!  THANK YOU for inspiring others to smile and enjoy each moment......teaching and learning is a journey we are on together, not a race to compete against one another!  

    Susan Saint John

    Boca Raton, Florida.33405

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