When I first started teaching, I didn’t read professional books. Granted, there wasn’t much out there to choose from. But it wasn’t just lack of selection that got in my way. When I did find some professional books I liked, I found that I could only read them during the summer months. If I read during the school year, inevitably I ended up feeling enormously guilty that my classroom differed so greatly from the shining examples of teaching I encountered in my books. The authors were always sensitive, knowledgeable angels of God with patience to spare and apparently no classroom discipline problems to deal with. The writing or reading responses their students came up with seemed so much more profound that what I could coax from my little ones, and the comparison was painful. So, I solved that by just avoiding it.
I chose instead to read professionally only during the summer. Because during those wonderful, lazy days anything was possible. This next year when I met my students they would all be sensitive, caring scholars who would do anything to please me. They would anticipate my every wish and need, surprise me with their intuitive responses to literature, and endear me to the administration, who would be in awe of my expertise in changing the lives of these little ones.
Or maybe not.
What I ended up discovering, by accident or necessity (I can’t remember which), was that if I just jumped in and tried to change my classroom one little bit at a time to reflect the brilliant techniques I read about, the students rose to the occasion. Rather than think, “Oh, what a great idea! I’ll try that with next year’s class” I began to implement changes as I went. I discovered that only 3-4 weeks after what had seemed like a major change I couldn’t imagine my classroom any other way. One year I gave up the basal mid-way through the year and went to small group sets of children’s literature. Another year I gave up the spelling lists and began individualized spelling. Only a few years ago I decided to try math workshop mid-way through the year, drawing from Marilyn Burns’ books for inspiration. Each time the change was a good one, and I ended up feeling grateful that I’d taken the plunge and changed mid-way through. And that has led to an unapologetic addiction to reading professional books, no matter what time of year it may be.