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MCTE Musings

I always look forward to the last Friday in October. Since my junior year in college, I don't think I've missed a fall conference of the Michigan Council of Teachers of English--and I certainly don't plan on it any time soon. Just as I could feel the stress building this past week, I knew that MCTE, just like other quality days of professional development like summer institutes of the National Writing Project, would be a panacea for so many job-related frustrations and would provide answers for questions I've been wrestling with for months.

Like always, I left with my head spinning--and that's a sign of quality professional development. You leave knowing that there's so much more to be accomplished. Your work, despite all the long hours and years of practice, is really only beginning to unfold in front of you.

Yesterday, Penny Kittle spoke about how every student is on a personal learning journey, and I'm thinking about how my classroom reflects that. I've been working hard to ensure that every student (re)discovers the love of reading this year. Reading moves us, but there are far too many readers (I think every student is a reader; they just don't all know it yet!) in my school that have gotten lost along the way. They don't need to all make uniform turns to arrive at the destination of appreciating reading and writing, but we still have an obligation to help each student read, write, and think better every day that they enter our rooms. Like Penny suggested, every student is on a journey. They have somewhere to go. We just have to figure out how to get them there.

A lot of my work this year has been supported by the Book Love Foundation, which generously donated a classroom library to me this year of nearly 500 titles. If you haven't donated to them, please do now! I can't tell you how many past students have commented on the importance of classroom libraries. Past students return and complain that they don't have access to books anymore. We can't expect kids to read or even attempt to create lifelong readers if they aren't in close proximity to books, if they don't feel comfortable in the school library, if they don't have choice, or if they don't have teachers that read voraciously and share the love of reading with their students. I implore you to support Penny's work. It has been a godsend in every way imaginable this year. 

And after hearing Penny speak, I started to think about the "problem" students in my classes. I thought about the students that don't yet share the same passion I do for reading and writing. I think about the students that haven't found connections to the work we are doing, and I think about the students that actively resist the complex texts we are tackling. I'm picturing so many of my students that have endured unimaginable things and have overcome the insurmountable.

How can I foster the energy to create and the passion to care in the classroom? How can I undo or repair years of reading and writing malnourishment?

And I posed this idea to a colleague yesterday: If the majority of my students are resisting a text, do I have the problem or do they?

I'm heading to my classes on Monday with Penny's question in mind: Does the beauty and energy to create still live inside this boy? And I'm determined to work even harder because of that. 


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