Slice of Life: Best Laid Plans

All summer I’ve been reading, thinking, and planning how my next class will read, write, talk, listen, and learn together. I’ve gone to sleep imagining my room design.

Today reality began, and the enormity of it takes my breath away. I start to have that I’m already behind sensation. To reassure myself, I pull out my plans for the year. It looks reasonable all drafted in Google docs.  All I need to do is set up the room.

I arrive early and open the classroom door. Waxed floors gleam. Desks, chairs, boxes, and random pieces of furniture are in places I don’t want them.  The bookshelves are empty, and the cabinets packed.

I move tables, reposition book shelves, stack books,  empty cabinets, break a fingernail, remove a few desks. Baskets form with collections of mystery, adventure, school drama, biography, poetry. After a few hours, my imagined space starts to take shape.

Around 2:30, I call it a day and walk through the office, where two large boxes labeled 5th Grade Running Records, catch my eye. My plans to spend the rest of the day reading dissolve, and the data follows me back to my classroom.

Armed with a civilizing glass of iced tea, I open up T’s folder. I had his sister a few years back. I look through his running records, spelling inventories, writing samples. I go back in time looking for clues. I take notes. Student after student.

A profile of the class emerges. One of levels and scores. A snapshot. A valid and important one. The data provides me with a starting point. Teacher notes and student writing give me hints as to where I might go to meet each child as a learner. But that’s not all I need.

I know T’s level, but I don’t know T. What he likes to do, what he hates, how he spends his time. His attitudes toward reading, his ability to empathize and persist when things get difficult, his dreams, his wonderings.  Knowing T as a reader, a writer, a thinker, and a human is my job. It’s why teaching is ever challenging, ever fascinating.

This summer and every summer, I research, imagine, plan and create units for the upcoming year.  Units to grow readers like T. I’ve got teaching points, mid-workshop interruptions, and anticipated small group conferences, but it’s  just a map with an end of year destination. Once T and his 31 classmates enter room 5, recalculations are made, and we adjust the route. In a few weeks, we’ll hit start, and the journey begins.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesday. Read more slices here.