Teacher Permission

It’s a dicey thing to enter a classroom with a teacher you’ve not met.  Will that teacher welcome you?  How comfortable does she feel about writing?  Has he already bought into a program and is resentful you’ve been hired into his classroom?

Those possibilities have always been true, but today’s curriculum has teacher crazy!  And it turns out that third grade teachers have been particularly assuaged. Last week an instructional resource teacher told me that her teachers took time to tally the amount of time they were supposed to be testing their students and saw that it was 25% of their total instructional year.  Add snow days and make-up days to already heaping workload and midweek I began to see an image– three full helpings of Thanksgiving dinner layered mercilessly on top of each other.  Except some of the expectations are far from delicious.

I’ve always viewed my writing residencies as professional development in action, though given expectations I’ve begun to realize that I need to lower my teacher expectations and satisfy myself with the pleasure I bring to students.

Last week I had a delightful welcoming by a teacher who was not just eager to learn, but open to team teaching, volunteering her perspective and welcoming mine.  As we wrote about her character, one day, we invented similes to enrich our story.  The children could define what a simile was, but I am a demanding writing teacher.  Instead of allowing what I refer to as “been-there-done-that” similes (her cheeks were like roses), I urge “oooh-aaah” similes (her cheeks bloomed shame like roses)–oooh because they’re fresh and surprising and ahhh because they’re just right.

Together the teacher and I urged them on.  “What about the earth under the tiger’s feet felt as soft as…” I paused to let them fill in the blank.

No answer.

“How about as soft as cotton candy,” encouraged their teacher.

And then I took a risk.  “That is definitely a simile that makes a mind picture,” I said, “but do you mind if I push you a bit farther.”

In generous spirit and willingness to aid her children learn, she accepted my challenge. The childrens’ attention was riveted.  A teacher correcting another teacher?”

“So I think the most powerful similes are those that are in the perspective of the character.  Cotton candy is definitely soft, but it wouldn’t be in her jungle world.”  And then I had to leave, I was late for my next class.  “Can you carry on?” I asked and she shrugged.  I could feel her discomfort.

But the next day, I learned that her that conversation had helped her class across a boarder as I learned the next day.  “Something amazing happened because yesterday after you left. I started challenging the children the way you’d challenged me.  And they started challenging each other and our ideas got better.





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