Thursday, September 24, 2009

THE FACTUAL (AND FICTIONAL) LIVES OF TEACHERS

An apple to author Bonnie Becker for writing some of the finest first pages of teacher fiction!:
Ms. Plum had the best class in Springtime Elementary.
On a table by the window in warm, clean cages, Clyde, the hamster, skittered and chattered while a brown toad named Hip-Hop softly slumbered. They were nice animals and let everyone pet them.
On the walls hung posters that showed interesting things like the world's biggest milk shake. It was banana and filled a swimming pool! On the shelves well-loved books lay in cozy piles.
Ms. Plum's desk held a vase of plum flowers, and hourglass with plum-colored sand, and a basket. You can guess what was in the basket!
But the best thing of all about Ms. Plum's room was the supply closet. Inside, the wooden shelves sagged with colored paper, jars of crayons, bottles of glue, comic books, rulers and rubber bands. It smelled of chalk and chocolate and something lovely no one could ever quite name.
On this particular day, the day before the first day of school, Ms. Plum stood inside this closet, talking about her new third-grade students. But who was she talking to?
"Oh, indeed," said Ms. Plum in her practical way to the paper and gum and sparkly markers. "They will be wonderful. Hopers and dreamers, helpers and schemers, jokers and heroes. I can't wait to meet each and every one."
The crayons didn't say anything. The erasers were silent, too. School supplies make very good listeners, but they never say much back.
Even so, there were odd murmurs and rustlings from the very back of the closet, where the dark was as soft as black velvet.
Talk about creating an anticipatory set! The full review of The Magical Ms. Plum is here (along with reviews of other fine classroom fiction, including Andrew Clements' new read-aloud masterpiece EXTRA CREDIT), but reading these pages made me wonder: How are you doing? It's been about a month since school began. Is your closet full of wooden shelves sagging with colored construction paper, or is it full of you, hiding? In my coat closet, I would always keep a glossy photograph of Ann Miller, the lovely, leggy, brassy MGM movie star who was never caught without a smile. No matter how I was feeling, I would try to imitate her enigmatic grin before greeting the children, to get us all on the right foot, no matter what had happened the day before.

Some of the most important pieces of advice in the new section of Educating Esme are to think about why you are a teacher in terms of what you have to share. The new guide talks about creating a time capsule of your intentions that you can refer to when you need to regroup and remind yourself of the teacher you meant to be; a teacher "hope chest" of sorts. A month into the school year, are you bringing to the classroom what you uniquely can impart, or are your intentions already sidelined by management and mandates? Are the children all in their places with bright smiling faces, or almost, except for the one swearing at you, or the one who has been absent for three days and you can't get hold of the parents, or...never mind. Do you think Ann Miller felt like smiling every day? Sometimes you've got to fake it until you make it, as they say. We tell ourselves stories about what teaching will be like, but it takes a lot of work to make the facts match the best of the fiction. As teachers, we appreciate (more than the average bear) the power of a self-fulfilling prophecy, and so we must make sure we continue to expect the best from ourselves as well as the children. So put on those plum-colored glasses (they look so lovely on you!) and be as unrealistic as you need to be in terms of telling the story of the great and beautiful things you expect from yourself and your charges. I hope you are having fun, finding and bringing a little of your true self into the classroom everyday, but when it's rough, remember: you get a new day tomorrow, and another chance to greet your hopers and dreamers, helpers and schemers, jokers and heroes with a smile.

Find some more inspiration in the amazing list of 100 Cool Teachers in Children's Literature compiled by the bookmark worthy teacher/booklover blog, A Year of Reading. Which teacher is your favorite? Which one is most like YOU?
Share in the comments section, and you'll be entered in this week's free giveaway for a copy of How to Get Your Child To Love Reading.
Miss Binney from Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary, illustrated by Louis Darling, 1968.
Miss Viola Swamp from Miss Nelson is Missing! by Harry Allard, illustrated by James Marshall, 1985.

4 comments:

Michalesko said...

Esme, it's true that I get consumed by management and mandates. When a school gets on AYP NCLB status, the environment erodes. Thanks for the inspirational reminder!

Kelly said...

Although I love the Junie B. Jones book (she is a riot!), when it comes to teachers I love Laura Ingalls.

MJP said...

I just finished reading 'Matilda' by Roald Dahl and I hope that I'll be able to have some of Ms. Honey's patience in the face of big-beastly adversity.

I also would like to be a little bit of Miss Cribbage in 'My Kindergarten' by Rosemary Wells, and a touch of Dumbledore.

Pinkie said...

One of my all-time favorite teachers in a book is Mrs. McBloom in "Mrs. McBloom Please Clean Up Your Classroom" by Kelly DiPucchio. Living in Texas, Mrs. McBloom reminds me of so many teachers I have had in the past. (I hope to be more organized than her when I have my own classroom though!)