Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Who Do You See?

Thanks to the team at Two Writing Teachers for linking us up and creating a community in which to write.  I learn so much about writing (and teaching) by writing with this community. 

SAS runs on a rotating block schedule. We have A day and B day and C and D day. The mornings are soft starts with planning time (for teachers or PLC groups) and flex (free) time or Advisory for kids. Tuesday was our second first day of school.

While I want to write about the schedule and the school and the Welcome Back dinner. While I want to write about the army of folks--from security to landscaping to maintenance to food service-- care taking the day to day operations. I want to write about the futuristic Pathways -- learning spaces that are open flexible and mobile. While I want to write about PLCs or the grading policy, today, I’m a selfish writer. I want to hold this shiny moment at my new school and just let it sparkle.  In the challenge that is relocating to  new country and a new school, this moment made me feel ever so connected to the people I call home.

I was standing in the hallway during passing time with teacher and writer, Josh Curnett-- he teaches ninth grade and AP Language across the hall from me. Supportive and transparent, Josh has shared curriculum and tips and how tos with me since last April. I landed knowing I would learn a lot from him based on his chapter in  Global Perspectives. Here’s is just a moment from a day that sparkled with rain showers.

Josh: “You know Penny Kittles’ work?”

Me: grinning, “I do! I would consider her my friend. Well, you know, I know her from her work and from NCTE and ...”

Josh: “Your teaching reminds me of her.”

Me: “Wow! That is … I am friends with Penny Kittle. Well, not friends, friends, but I’ve skyped into her UNH class a few times to talk about my notebook and we’ve corresponded or emailed..”

I hear myself babbling, so I close my mouth and I fall into Penny memories from NCTE: introducing myself to her after reviewing, The Greatest Catch: A Life in Teaching, for California English . Emailing her pages from my notebook after sitting across from her at Middle Mosaic, skyping with her UNH summer students about my notebooks, resting in her Book Love words… she is one of the folks I walk with into my classroom each year.

Josh: “All those New Hamsphire folks, Penny Kittle, Linda Rief, …  what you’re doing reminds me of…”

Me: “Really?” I shift from one foot to another then snake one foot up behind a calf. I tell him I once spent a spring break in Linda’s classroom.” An think how formative that event was in terms of my learning and practice.  

He’s standing stoically at his blue door, nodding to kids as the come down the hall. His feet are hip width apart, solid, an athletic stance.

Josh nods, “Yeah.”

Josh: “You know Donalyn Miller?”

Me: “I do.  Yesterday was her birthday!  I see Donalyn at NCTE and ALAN conferences each year… yes, The Book Whisperer? Reading in the Wild? You know her work? ”

Josh: “Yes. Yes. You remind me of her too.”

My mind goes to NCTE last year, a group dinner out. Then my imagination skips to the long banquet table set up of the ALAN conference. I see book stacks and sleep brown hair and a crisp blouse. I  I see Donalyn engaging my son, Collin, in conversation about books and high school. She leans in and he does too, nodding, listening, talking. When I walk up we talk about our children, her daughter in an IB program in Texas and my own difficulties as a teacher-mom. She tunes in to readers, to teachers, to kids -- her spirit opens and she shares.  I love catching those moments when her book spell weaves its way around Collin’s reading life (or mine).

Me:  “Really?

Josh: “Yeah. I see them in what you are doing.”


Josh’s compliment will resonate with me for a long time.  This is a pink stone moment for me because you know, we teachers. We work hard. Teaching is challenging work and there are times and places where people don't really see us. They may not know us or understand us or be members of our tribe. Josh's compliment felt like it came from a place of knowing, of paying attention, and of intention too. His kind words may even set the tone for my year--what powerful words!  What a label full of portent and positive possibilities he gave me and my teaching today.

He also made me think about how I am with educators. Do I spot peoples' strengths? Do I name their talents? Does what I say build others up? Am I that intentional in how I talk with teachers about their practice? Am I that affirming of others?

I need to go back to Choice Words and revisit Peter Johnston. I am going to learn a lot from Mr. Curnett this year. How lucky am I to have him right across the hall?


  1. How wonderful to have such a good feeling to start the day! You have always embodied the work of the amazing teachers you admire--you are squarely in the category of One of Them. xoxo

  2. I call this double luck (which is a powerful Chinese (I believe) symbol in SIngapore -- ask about it). You ~ Josh = all the influential mentors you both bring to your teaching. Double, triple, quadruple luck!