Monday, September 07, 2009


(This week, as many of us are in the midst of "beginning of the school year" stuff, we thought we'd spend the week celebrating teaching and teachers in different ways. Each day this week (through Friday), we'll have a post related to teachers--book reviews, reflections, etc.)

I am mentoring an entry year teacher (EYT) this year. We never seem to have time to sit down and talk about who we are and where we've come from. This post is for my EYT.

When I started teaching, there was no formal mentorship program. I went straight from a private university in Denver to a federally listed low-income school in Dallas. Fireplace to fire kind of experience. I remember standing with my across-the-hall neighbor, Jim, looking out at the students walking up to the school on the first day, and saying, "I have no idea what I'm doing." To which Jim replied, "Yes, you do. Just wait and see. You'll be brilliant." Jim became my informal mentor for the first two years of my career. He believed in me. He taught me the importance of caring for each child, meeting the students where they are, and saving time for myself. EYT, I hope to pass these lessons on to you. (Jim also tried to teach me to appreciate a well-made martini. I never got past the olives, so this will be one lesson I won't be passing on!)

In my first year of teaching in Dallas, the Dallas Museum of Art opened its new building, which included an entire wing devoted to educational programming. I asked my grade level team how to go about taking my students on a field trip, and they told me it wasn't done. Luckily, I bypassed them and asked the principal about field trips. He bent over backwards to help me arrange a trip with my students to the new Dallas Museum of Art. EYT, you already know you're not working with that kind of grade level team. What I want you to learn is to take risks. Also, try to connect student learning to local current events and to your passions. Bring yourself and the world into your classroom. Last of all, bask in your ignorance and self-confidence -- when I look back on taking a busload of inner city kids to the Art Museum BY MYSELF (no parent volunteers) I can't believe that nothing went wrong. But what made it a success was that the same was true at the time: I didn't believe that anything would go wrong...and nothing did. Believe in yourself. You'll make great things happen.

After two years teaching in Dallas, I came to OSU and got a Master's Degree in Children's Literature. I was lucky enough to be invited to join a group who reviewed and wrote about children's books for a now-defunct publication called The W.E.B. Sitting around a table month after month, year after year, listening to them talk about books and authors (and eventually being able to join in) was an amazing mentorship. It started me on my mission of reading 52 children's books every year. EYT, I encourage you to read, read, read. There is almost no better way to prepare yourself to teach a reading workshop where the students' independent reading is the key ingredient: know books.

When I started teaching in Dublin, my grade level team, and one key person in particular, Karen, of Literate Lives, mentored me. Actually, we mentored each other. We learned together. We bounced lesson and unit ideas off each other in the morning and got back together after school to see what worked and didn't work. We were a PLC before the term had been coined. I look forward to doing this kind of work with you, EYT. Right now I know it seems like all we're doing is putting out fires, but we'll get to the point where we we share ideas. I may have an overwhelming number of years of experience, but you are the one who is most likely to have really fresh new ideas. (Just for instance, your choice of first read aloud was BRILLIANT! If I had known, I would have so copied you!)

Another landmark mentor for me was a passionate first grade teacher. I would wander down to her room many afternoons at (or after) 5:00 and find her still working there, sorting through student work and happy for someone who would listen to her talk about the amazing thinking that her students were doing, or the amazing writing they were doing, or the amazing conversation they had during read aloud. If there's absolutely nothing else I hope that you will learn, EYT, it is to celebrate your students. Try to remember to be amazed by them every day. And tell them about it. And then come down to my room and let's tell each other about our amazing students.


  1. Thank you. I enjoyed reading about your past teaching experiences and what has molded you into the teacher you are today. Thank you for sharing your ideas, your thoughts, and "Ah Ha" moments. I appreciate your calmness in a world of high-speed craziness. It's purposeful, but you show it's okay to stop, regroup, and find my balance. Thank you for being my "tech go-to" gal. You're wonderful and have a great third week of school.

  2. You are so right when you said we mentored each other. At this point in my career, I realize what a gift that truly was!

    As to your mention of Jodi, I still find myself missing her at times. She was certainly the epitome of a teacher who celebrated children. I actually have her picture with the reading pin from her memorial service on the small bulletin board beside me, included with my family pictures. Again, how fortunate we both were to have her in our lives!

    But finally, the really important question is: what read aloud did your EYT choose that was so brilliant? :)

  3. Mary Lee,
    Your EYT is so lucky to have you! And the two of you will learn so much together!

    Your post makes me want to reconnect with my first five year mentor, Arden, (she moved to California and we kind of lost touch over the years).

    And I want to know about that brilliant read aloud too! Happy new year! CAW


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