Our university held its graduation ceremony Thursday night. That means that it is almost time for your summer break, and man, have you earned it! I'm sure you're dog tired--the good kind of tired I hope where you can barely see straight, but through it you are proud of how things went for the kids.
And with this terrible economy many districts are laying off teachers (the worst I've seen in my whole career). All the more reason to kick back and take it easy.
But you are a professional teacher. And what is summer vacation for your kids, should really be a summer learning opportunity for you. Everyone knows teacher quality is the key to educational success and this is the time of the year when you can build quality. Even if you have been downsized(knowing more will prepare you for the next job); even if you are in a district that is laying everyone else off (if you are going to have 37 kids in your class next school year, the extra preparation should increase your success).
So, given the importance of summer learning, here are twelve ways to tone up and turn those flabby teaching abilities into muscle.
1. Take a class. If you live near a college or university that has courses in the teaching of reading, see what you can find out (this is especially useful if it has been awhile since you have taken a class—get the cobwebs out and upgrade your knowledge.
2. Read a book on how you can improve your literacy teaching (I have several book recommendations on the widget in the right-hand column).
3. Read some children’s books that are appropriate for your grade level. Children’s books won’t teach kids to read, but knowing the literature that is available can improve your chances of making things better for some kids (I am partial to the Children’s Choices lists on the International Reading Assocation website for a good source).
4. Tutor a student. I know you have been teaching all year long and you’re ready for a break, but really focusing on the needs of one student and trying to figure out how to best accelerate his or her learning is a great way to hone your skills. You’d be surprised how much of that you can take back to the classroom.
5. Travel to parts of the world that have school in session now and visit some very different classrooms from your own. North American and European schools will soon be off for the summer, but in the rest of the world, school is in session. If you haven’t spent time in classrooms abroad it can be eye-opening.
6. Attend an educational meeting or conference. Many organizations have lecture series and workshops during the summer. I know I will be speaking at a couple of those (one at Teachers College in New York, and another at the University of Kansas). These don’t require as much commitment as a summer class, but give you opportunities to connect with other educators and to dig in on some worthwhile learning.
7. Start a book club. I suggested reading a book, but maybe you should read more than one—with your friends. Get a group of likeminded teachers together, select some books, get some wine, and help each other to get smarter about teaching reading.
8. Critique yourself. Every time I finish teaching a class at the university, I go through and revise the course (what worked, and what didn’t, what should I have done, and what will I do differently). I don’t even let myself put it all away until I have taken myself through that exercise. It is amazing how many things you notice about your teaching that are really pretty improvable if you take it on when you don’t have the pressure of daily teaching.
9. Explore a topic on the web. I have been adding lists of websites to this site (over on the right hand side). Right now I have some of my favorite sites with a focus on reading comprehension and on literacy instruction for English Language Learners. Use those resources or build your own, but start to figure out what you could do better and how to do it.
10. Celebrate, but think hard about, your successes. In some ways it is easier to critique yourself than to analyze what is working for you. Which students made great progress this year and why? What did you do that worked? How can you capitalize on that kind of quality next year? When teaching works the teacher owes him/herself a big pat on the back, but what made for this success so that it can be replicated and expanded upon?
11. Read the books your students are going to read next year (e.g., textbooks, basals, anthologies, book sets). No, really read them. Read each story or selection asking yourself, “what are my kids going to find hard to understand? What will confuse them?). Make notes. If you do this, your comprehension instruction will improve.
12. Learn something… really, become a student again. But learn something that will be hard for you. Over the past few years, I have been learning ballroom dancing and how to read French. Both have been very difficult, but the experience reminds you (and sensitizes you) to what is difficult about learning, and to how embarrassing learning can be. So, if you’ve ever wanted to learn how to cook Chinese food, read Sanskrit, or ride motorcycles, it is time to become learners again and to remember what it is that teachers do that really helps.
Have a happy summer. I'll keep posting blogs all summer long. If you want to add to my list of 12 post a response to this blog.
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