Not long after we started our blog, we worked with readers to think about and create a list of 100 Cool Teachers in Children's Literature. We got the idea from Jen Robinson who had created a list of 100 Cool Girls of Children's Lit. For our list we said "We're looking for thoughtful teachers who understand kids and learning and are active, intelligent people who love their work."
At this time of year, no matter where you are, if there are books, there is a "Back to School" book display. So many books for this back-to-school time of the year. It is funny how in tune I am to "cool teachers" when I read new books these days. What messages are we giving our kids about schools and teaching with the books we read? Does the teacher respect her kids? Is he/she a stereotypical teacher who has to be "in charge" and teaches from the front of the room. As we spend the week celebrating teachers, I spent some time looking back at the list. I thought about which of the books were keys to my own thinking of my teaching--what kind of a teacher do I want to be? I think stories are a great way for us to think about what is possible as teachers. I am not talking about Hollywood stories like Mr Holland's Opus (although I love that story). I am talking about the teachers who do the day-to-day work that makes a difference for kids.
I always love to look over the list of books and remember those favorite teachers from children's lit. Each has taught me something different about the kind of teacher I hope to be. Depending on the day and my mood, different books stand out to me and help me reflect on my own work with students. For me today, these are the books that remind me of what is important for me as a teacher.
I love Mr. Fabiano in Ralph Fletcher's book Flying Solo by Ralph Fletcher. Mr. Fabiano is not really even "in" the story. If you don't know this book, it is about a classroom (Mr. Fabiano's classroom) on a day when the substitute doesn't show up. Instead of letting someone know, the kids decide to run the day on their own. I love this story and this teacher because to me, this is the big goal of teaching. Can my kids learn without me? Have I taught them to be independent and engaged that goes beyond them playing the game of school. Mr. Fabiano has definitely created a classroom of independent learners.
Mrs. Olinkski in The View From Saturday by E. L. Konisburg may be one of my favorite teachers of all time. She is brilliant. This is the story of children who are part of an academic team. Each child brings different strengths and weaknesses to the group and they become an amazing team. Mrs. Olinski's gift is for helping each student find his voice and helping the kids build community between them. What they can do together is far more than what each can do on his or her own and that is the lesson I learned from Mrs. Olinski.
I love Mr. D'Matz from The Clementine Books by Sara Pennypacker. Clementine is a great character. One of my favorites. But it is clear throughout the books that Clementine has a bit of trouble staying still in school. She is smart and busy. A child that not all teachers would understand. But Mr. D'Matz does more than understand her. He genuinely like and values her for who she is and celebrates that. And Clementine knows it.
And I like Mrs. Mallory from The Last Day of School by Louise Borden. Mrs. Malloy is not a huge character in this book. But it is clear through the story that she has created an important relationship with each of her students. That even with the excitement of the last day of school, there is sadness in the end to the relationship that has developed between teacher and student.
And a new book that I think deserves to be added to the list is WILLOW by Denise Brennan-Nelson. This book was introduced to me by a teacher in my school who had brilliant conversations with her students after reading it. For me, this teacher reminds me that teachers are learners first. We can and should learn from our students. We can't keep doing things the way we always have. Instead we have to celebrate the things that the kids bring to the community and invite them to be themselves in our classrooms.