It’s 7:45 in the morning. On a Saturday. And I was back at work attending the Literacy Conference. Hundreds of fellow educators were in attendance. All with cups of coffee or tea or Monsters in hand.
Now, I would love to say that I was enthusiastic about this. Truth is, I had been out late chaperoning my daughter’s field trip to Dayton. We didn’t get back until 12:00 a.m. in the morning. And I woke up at 7:00 a.m. to haul my “middle-aged-I-was-up-past-9:30 grumpy gus” self back to work.
And then it began.
It began with our children. Dublin’s kiddos who spanned all grade levels, reading their six word memoirs.
First, if you ever want to get a teacher to listen at a presentation, you show us our kids. We become their instant parents…it’s kind of like those plastic pill looking things that you drop into water and the plastic part melts away and a foam figure is left behind. That’s how we are when our kids are on stage, we are in the plastic (I’m tired, I stayed up late) and then the kids come on stage (just add water), and then we are all like, plastic- melts-away, and we are now full-foamed teachers who just love our kiddos.
Second, these kiddos serve as reminders as to why we will sign up for a conference months in advance all enthusiastically.
I was already in tears, and it hadn’t even been five minutes into the program.
Then she came on.
Pam Allyn. A witty, passionate, sprite of a human being, whose enthusiasm for sharing her love of reading to students, to educators, floated back and forth across the stage. Her enthusiasm, palpable. Her message, empowering. We, we who stayed up late, could do this. We could be warriors in the classroom. We could impact so many readers with our toolbox of skills.
And she modeled them.
She was my coach in the huddle who grabbed my face-mask and said, “Zakrzewski, you’re tired, I get it, but this game is yours. So, go. Do. This.”
So I did.
Session 1: Super Secret Book Clubs.
Book clubs are run by kids. (whaaaaat?)
We read what the kids suggest. (whaaaaaat?)
They set the rules, write their own questions, analyze their own books. (whaaaaaat?)
This is a way for kids to choose the stories that they relate to. That represent them. That show how they feel. Their book clubs, their lives. You listen to them. They listen to you. It can be done, people. Just show them the way. And these two ladies definitely did. And since then, their clubs have grown.
Session 2: Ignite Student Voice in the Secondary Classroom
With each session I was building a common framework toward a belief I hold close to my heart. Every individual has a story. But as a teacher I understand, that not every student has the confidence to tell it. As my girls from Dublin worked through their presentation, they emphasized “The world needs your story,” “Student voices should be louder than ours.” But sometimes we need to help them with the words, to help them see that their own story, the story of who they were, are, and are becoming, is important–for them and for others.
And then lunch.
Look, I could write an entire ode to lunch. But I won’t. But I can tell you…she who stayed up too late, and then got up at seven, also forgot to eat breakfast…so by the end of the session, she was turning into a snicker’s ad–you know the one, where you become someone else because you are hungry. I’d like to think I was probably Sophia from Golden Girls.
And it’s at this part of the program where time stopped for me. Enter Jason Reynolds, author of a number of young adult books (All American Boys, Long Way Down to name a couple).
To quote Renee Zelwegger in Jerry Maguire “You had me at hello.”
From his opening with his flight experience to the end where he reconnected the experience to his own writing of young adult literature, I was captivated.
His main points: humility, intimacy and gratitude. Through writing, he is able to tell stories, his stories, stories of mistakes, of things he’s seen, witnessed, been through, successes and failures. Reynolds creates characters who meet a crossroads and have to choose, and every choice has the potential to change his life. These characters, these people and situations he creates, speak to those who need a voice. They speak to those who have never experienced these situations but should know the situations exist. He creates intimacy between character and reader. And it’s these stories, these written thank yous to everyone in his life and to everyone who is reading them, make me incredibly grateful to have seen him. To witness someone who is inviting us into a world, his world, built by his hard work, determination, many, many stories (and a little Queen Latifah), is an incredible gift to give.
So, while my “middle-aged-I-was-up-past-9:30-grumpy-gus” self drug herself to the conference, my “I-teach-because-I-want-kids-to-have-a-voice-and-be-proud-of their-voice-and-all-the-stories-that-make-them-into-incredible-people” self, left feeling ready to get off the bench and be thrown into the game.
*A huge thank you to all who presented. You gave us your time, your knowledge, and pieces of yourselves. For that, I am incredibly thankful. (And, I also do not regret attending after staying up way too late the night before. Totally. Worth it.)