The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Teacher Appreciation Week

In past years, I have used at least one post during Teacher Appreciation Week (the first week of May) to think about those teachers who have influenced me in my life and my career. These men and women have been a huge impact on my life and have really helped me become the person I am today. Earlier this morning, a post by a friend on Facebook made me think about another group of teachers that I admire, teachers I have never actually met in person but know about through their books, their blogs, and their Twitter accounts. These are the teachers I wish to acknowledge today, even if they never see, read, or even hear about this post.

Some of these teachers are men and women that I have interacted with through various online social media resources, others I have only admired from afar. All of them are, in my opinion, exemplars of the type of dedication and passion to education that I hope to emulate in my own work. This is in no way a comprehensive list. There are surely many more who deserve praise and accolades for all they do. Many of them do have blogs and I have linked them on here whenever possible. In no particular order, then, are the teachers who have influenced me, even if they don’t even know I exist.

First on the list is Esmé Raji Codell. I have written about her very briefly in the past, usually by sharing a favoured section of her book about her first year of teaching. I’ve never met her, although I’ve heard that she has visited the Champaign-Urbana-Savoy area (what I like to call Chambanavoy) in the past. I read her book, Educating Esmé, as an undergraduate at the University of Illinois. It was one of the few required books that I both purchased and kept that year. I loved her story, her passion, her dedication, her honesty. It was her own diary from her first year as a teacher that actually inspired me to create a daily blog about my adventures, first in substituting and now as a fourth grade teacher.

Another teacher that I learned about through a book and later a movie is Erin Gruwell, famous for her Freedom Writers project in California. My mum got a copy of her book at a school board conference she attended one year and offered it to me. I read it and was captivated by the idea that student writing could be used as a force for social change. I also realised that the best writing will come when it is authentic–when students are writing for a purpose that is important to them and for them. I have tried to keep that in mind when I have my students write in my classroom. Whether they are responding to literature, thinking about social issues, expressing an opinion, or explaining how to do something, I want them to feel like their writing matters to their audience, even if that audience is just themselves. And while I’ve never had the opportunity to meet Ms. Gruwell, I have met one of her students, Manuel V. Scott, and I was impressed by the legacy that his high school English teacher passed on to him and that he is now passing on to others.

Mr. Greg Michie is a teacher from Illinois that I learned about through his memoir, Holler If You Hear Me, written about his experiences as a middle school teacher in the Back of the Yards neighbourhood of Chicago. Mr. Michie is one of those teachers who learned that the only way to truly reach his students was to meet them where they were. He found literature that appealed to them, he invited them to bring their lives and their culture to the classroom to share and to be accepted, and he made sure that each of his students knew that he really did care, even if they didn’t care back. His book is another one of the few selections from my undergrad days that has stayed in my personal collection and has been read more than once.

Not all of the teachers I am writing about today are teachers I know through books. Many are teachers who I have met through their blogs. As mentioned above, I have made an effort to link their blogs here if I felt they were relevant and worth sharing. (Spoiler: If I like a blog, I think it is worth sharing with others!) Honestly, I have no idea how many of them even know that I have shared their blogs or that I am a teacher blogger. I have no idea if there is even one other blog that has linked to me. And, again in all honesty, I don’t mind. I don’t blog for the traffic or the accolades. I blog because it allows me  to reflect on my teaching. I just realised that I have already written over 800 words, so I hope that these teachers will not feel slighted if I mention them all in one batch. Each one writes for a different purpose and has captured my attention for a different reason, but they all have one thing in common: they love teaching and they love education. So on this Teacher Appreciation Week, my thanks goes out to my online teacher colleagues and mentors (although they don’t know it!):

  • Mr. Colby Sharp, co-founder of the Nerdy Book Club and the person who inspired my own first-day-of-school welcoming speech
  • Mr. John Schumacher, a fellow Nerdy Book Clubber who uses videos and book trailers to get the right books into the right hands of the students who visit his library
  • Ms. Katherine Sokolowski, a fellow East Central Illinoisan and middle grade teacher who is devoted to sharing her passion for reading with her students
  • Ms. Pernille Ripp, a teacher who has taken social-emotional learning and fully integrated it into her classroom in a way that makes me constantly realise that there is so very much more I can be doing and so very much that I can stop doing to make room for the important stuff
  • Ms. Jennifer Orr, a teacher on the East Coast who has inspired me to be open and honest about my experiences as a teacher in a Title I school, but also to be positive and upbeat about all that happens
  • Amanda and Stacia, whose approach to mentor texts has gotten me to use far more picture books in my teaching this year than I have in all of my previous years combined
  • Mr. John Spencer, who is brave enough to write about what we can and should be doing differently, even if it isn’t very popular among the news media and political circles

To all of you, thank you so very much. I know I am a relatively obscure teacher in a relatively obscure school in a not-quite-so-obscure small urban community in the middle of corn and soybean fields, but I have been inspired by you and appreciate all that you do!

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