What My Book Abandoners Taught Me About My First Year of Teaching

Like a puppy at the pound, I’ve seen many books abandoned by my middle school students this year.  Thankfully, I work in a district that supports positive and productive strategies to work through book abandonment.  Instead of forcing students to finish a book (aka forcing them to fake read), we have discussion about it.  We analyze our reading habits.  One strategy I found to be effective this year was to keep a story arc clipped to my clipboard I use for conferences.  When I confer with a reader and they are contemplating abandoning a book, I pull out the story arc and ask them to show me where they are in the book.  When they realize the best is yet to come, they sometimes hang onto the book for a while longer.  (Next year, I’d like to take this strategy one step further with my habitual abandoners and have them mark with a X where they are when they abandon a book.  I predict that those Xs will often be crowded in one area.)

Now, as my first year of teaching comes to a close, I am compelled to analyze my own story arc.  This was originally shared with me by my mentor in the district at the very beginning of the year and has pushed me forward during the rough times.  Often, we see teachers within their first five years make the decision to leave the profession, much like my book abandonders I discussed earlier.  If you are considering going into teaching or are considering leaving the profession, consider where you are on this continuum.

1.  Anticipation:  key characteristics involve romanticizing the teaching profession and perhaps being a little idealistic.  I believe the key here is to maintain your hope and optimism while balancing reality.  Allowing yourself to find joy in the small breakthroughs will help you get through the low patches.

2. Survival:  this is the feeling of drowning, when you don’t have time to reflect on what got you there.  The good news is that sometimes adrenaline can push you through this phase–we have the hope that the turmoil will subside as long as we “just keep swimming.”

3. Disillusionment:  this is where we start to question our competency  and commitment.  This is where we start catching all the sicknesses.  This is where every waking thought is about our students (and let’s be honest, they show up in our dreams, too).  This is where learning gets messy and classroom management becomes our biggest undertaking.  This is where we need grace and flexibility, thank you Lord! This phase can be the longest, slow-moving phase.  So take your Vitamin C and be gracious with yourself, please!  Caution: Don’t make any life changing decisions while disillusioned!

4. Rejuvenation:  Ah.  Breath of fresh air.  We’re finally getting into the swing of things here. We understand the procedures, we are accepting the realities of teaching, and we are finding some success somewhere.

5. Reflection: we begin looking back over the highlights of the year and planning for the next (in fact, I’m out of the classroom today doing scheduling for next year!). We are reinvigorated with a new vision.   Spring is in the air!

This framework helped me tremendously in understanding my own journey and giving me the language to process through what was happening amidst the circus that was my first year (seriously, so much fun, a little chaotic, and I got to wear lots of hats).  I was invited to speak on a panel for first-year teachers and I do believe this arc provides a nice framework with which to design better programs to guide the transitions that come with being a new teacher.  It’s a huge undertaking!  Hats off to all of you who have made it through your first year and good luck to you whether you decide to keep teaching or share your passion another way!



When a book takes you down


I’ve always struggled with keeping a journal. When I was younger, I would enthusiastically start a journal, making sure my handwriting was neat, word choice was precise, grammar and mechanics were correct, and that my voice was collected and mature. Undoubtedly, I’d give up journal writing after that very first entry, overwhelmed by the daunting task of masking my vulnerability with perfectionism.

I had a twinge of that same feeling when I logged on here after a few months. In my last post, I had written a list of books I planned to read over the summer. Since I am a math interventionist, I did the math and found that I had only read less than one third of those books. This is despite the fact that I had many of those books in my possession for weeks, just waiting to be read.

The guilt.

But why?

Listen, I read a lot. And heck, I’m a pretty good reader. So, why wasn’t I able to tackle this modest list of books over a period of three months in which society thinks I do absolutely nothing? How did I become a book abandoner??

I’m glad you asked. There are many reasons why.

I found other great books to read.
I had to finish that series.
I just wasn’t feelin’ it.
The cover didn’t do a good enough job of drawing me in.
I wasn’t in the right season of my life for it.
I needed more of a challenge.
I needed a break from the seriousness: a beach read, or a candy book as my sister would call it.
I wanted to read something about people my own age, instead of young adults.
I was tired of reading about privileged white people in New York, etc.

And guess what? That’s ok.

My incredible colleague, Pernille Ripp (how many times have I mentioned her in the three posts I’ve written?), recently wrote a blog post about guiding our fellow book-abandoning students. She asks us, as educators, to share our own abandonments, log it, ask “why?” then ask “now what?”, and practice total honesty. That’s what I’m doing here. Being vulnerable and honest about my own journey and identity as a reader.

Our students ought not to feel guilt and fear upon abandoning a book. Instead, they should feel compelled to ask themselves why? What next?

And it starts with us. Model the way. And don’t forget the grace.