One of my former middle school students is now in college working toward a degree in education. For one of her classes, she asked to interview me about my literacy history. I loved thinking about my past experiences with reading and writing and seeing how those experiences shaped the teacher I am today. I asked (and she gave permission) for me to publish the questions and answers. I hope you enjoy my memories, too.
1) Describe your earliest memory with reading or writing. Is there a particular book or piece of work that first sparked your interest in reading and writing?
When I was in first grade, I would ask my teacher if I could bring home my reading book to finish the story we were supposed to have read in class. I had finished the story. My goal was to read the entire book. I’m not sure why she continued to let me bring home the book because she was on to me. She called my mother to ask her to stop me from reading the entire basal in one evening, so I just locked myself in the bathroom to read it.
2) What is your favorite genre of literature, and how did that come to be your favorite?
I love fantasy. I love being able to escape to a new world where anything at all can happen. I fell in love with fantasy when I first entered Narnia with CL Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. I hospitalized for several days when I was in the fifth grade. A friend brought me her boxed set of the Narnia books to cheer me up. Traveling to Narnia with Lucy, Susan, Peter, Edmund, Eustace, and Jill beat lying in a hospital bed and worrying.
3) How does literacy affect your everyday life outside of work?
I am constantly reading and writing. I read newspapers, magazines, websites, books. I write everything from lists to letters. I cannot imagine life without literacy. Reading and writing make my life richer and more connected.
4) Who most influenced your literacy experiences?
I have always been told I was just like my grandmother. We both loved to read and read constantly. Sometimes the comparison was made with pride. Other times it was made with frustration (such as when getting lost in a good book caused dinner to burn or not get made at all.) My grandmother had a house full of books she loved. I now have a house and a classroom full of books to read and to share. We both are English teachers who love middle schoolers. My mother also made sure that I had books growing up, whether they were stacked on my own shelves or borrowed from the library.
5) When did you first decide that you wanted to pursue a career in language arts education? What or who influenced that decision?
I started lining up my stuffed animals and dolls and little brother for class when I first started school. I can’t remember not wanting to teach. Once I entered college the first time around, I majored in English, but explored ministry options instead of education. A few years after graduating, I went back to school to earn my teaching license. I couldn’t stay away from teaching.
6) How have your personal experiences with reading and writing affected how you interact with your students?
Many of my students tell me that they have never had a teacher as passionate about reading as I am. I love sharing my love of reading and of particular books. There is nothing like creating a run on a book where my students are clamoring to read it. Even better is seeing my students transform from a dormant reader into a passionate reader. Already this year I had a student who first told me that he didn’t’ like reading. A few weeks into the year, I overheard him telling his classmates, “I don’t like to read, but this is really good book. You should read it.” The next week he danced across the room when I handed him a book that was about a topic he is passionate about. I love when students come up to me before school or between classes to share what they’ve just read. Each year I challenge my students to read 40 books during the school year. Most of them think I’m crazy, but many of them meet and exceed this challenge. Even students who don’t meet the 40 book challenge, read more than they ever thought possible. I am as proud of the student who reads 10 books (from zero the previous year) as I am of the ones who read 40 or more. I also share examples of my own writing with my students to use as mentor texts. I let them see the messy process I go through to complete a piece of writing so we can share what we learn as writers together.
7) Can you give me some examples of pieces of literature that have changed the way you think or live?
I have a very short list of books that I call my “required reading for life” list. These are books with powerful themes that contribute to my understanding of what it means to live. They also address issues that continue to impact children and adults throughout time through the truth of story. These books are The Outsiders by SE Hinton, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Wonder by RJ Palaccio. As a child, I was deeply affected by the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis. Professional books that have changed the way I teach include In the Middle by Nancie Atwell, The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, Book Love by Penny Kittle, and Readicide by Kelly Gallagher.
8) Do you have a particular piece or type of your own writing that you are most proud of? What made that piece special?
It’s hard to narrow it down to just one piece of writing. Ever since my daughter turned six (she’s now 15), I have written her a poem for her birthday. I treasure each of those poems that capture a slice of her life for that year. I hope that she treasures them, too. I suspect she does since she always asks for her poem if I’m late getting it written. I also wrote a memoir about failing my driving test when I was sixteen that I share with my students as a mentor text for memoirs. I am proud of the humor that I was able to incorporate into that piece.
9) How has your literacy experience changed as technology changes?
My literacy experiences have grown richer and deeper with technology changes. I started blogging several years ago. In addition to creating a resource for my classes (class assignments, links to homework help, spotlight on student work, etc.), I blog about the books I read. Through blogging and joining Twitter, I have connected with authors I admire. How cool is it to see a Tweet from David Lubar thanking me for being and teacher or having Lois Duncan leave a comment on one of my student’s blogs. I have been able to connect my students with authors as well through Skype visits. They are able to ask authors questions about their books and the writing process.
10.) How do you continue to improve your reading and writing skills outside of your classroom?
I take part in the Advanced Institute of the National Writing Project each summer. For that week, I develop and share lesson plans and personal writing. I also take part in the Slice of Life Challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers. During the month of March, the challenge is to write and post every day as well as read and comment on the blogs of other participants. Through the year, the challenge is to write, post, and share on Tuesdays each week. I also find Twitter to be a valuable resource.
What experiences have shaped your literacy history?
I’m taking part in the weekly Slice of Life Challenge sponsored by Ruth and Stacey over at Two Writing Teachers, where teachers write and share each Tuesday. Join in yourself or head over to check out what’s happening with other slicers. If you’re taking part in the SOL, leave a link to your post. I’d love to read it.