"I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library." ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Slice of Life: On Perfecting a Craft

What I have appreciated most about participating in the Slice of Life Writing Challenge is the opportunity to play with and ponder themes, ideas and experiences each week.  I sometimes start thinking about my Tuesday slice as soon as I have posted the last one! Seriously, I do sometimes have an experience in my library on a Thursday or Friday, which experience sometimes gathers momentum and energy over the weekend, and then, it is suddenly Monday and I know what it is I want to write about.

Case in point:

Friday, December 13th.

I was working with my 5th and 2nd grade students.  They are in a wonderfully messy stage of the Mock Caldecott unit. I say, "wonderfully messy" because that's the way it feels and that's the reality.  It is this way, partly because I am trying new things and trying new things can be messy, but this kind of mess is always wonderful because it is about learning new things, for both the students and me. 

The 5th graders are creating book trailers for the Mock Caldecott books.  I tried to put too much into one lesson (per usual) and by the third 5th grade class on Friday morning, I had perfected my explanation of the activity (earlier lessons contained too many assumptions that lead to gaps in understanding) as well as slowed down the pace.  In this experience, the third time was the charm, but all three classes were still wonderfully messy.

During the afternoon, the second graders donned their Mock Caldecott Committee hats and got to work reading and evaluating books. After the first 2nd grade class,  I realized the language was too much of a reach and was not as clear as I hoped.  I quickly revised the lesson to provide more modeling. These students were incredibly patient and worked hard. Another wonderfully messy experience.

Fast forward to Sunday. 

I am out shoveling three inches of heavy, wet slush (this is redundant, but I will leave it in for emphasis to help you can understand my pain, back pain that is). I am shoveling slush - heavy and wet by definition -  while looking back at last week and forward to this week.

I was playing with the idea that teaching is a craft and not a profession.  I first heard this at a faculty meeting about eight years ago.  A young teacher was arguing his case for thinking about ourselves as craftsmen. As a new teacher, I don't think I could appreciate his passion. Today, in my tenth year of teaching, I lean more heavily in this direction when thinking about my experience. I often leave work thinking about how teaching is a life-long learning experience, about how each day I have learned something new, both with and from my students.

I will say that I have chosen the finest and best profession (teaching), but I also know that each day I am working at perfecting my craft as a teacher.  Each day is driven by questions, like: "How can my students learn "x?" "How can I best help my students learn "y?" New understandings bring about adjustments throughout the day, class to class, and from week to week we are growing and learning together.

Yesterday was such a day. 

With four classes back-to-back, I hit two more stumbling blocks in my Mock Caldecott rubric.  

Stumbling block one:
The first graders had never seen a rubric.  Not only did I need to help clarify the language, I also need to find language and strategies for explaining rubrics, demonstrating how each row should have a check mark in each column, drawing my finger across the page to demonstrate.  

Stumbling block two:
Even though we have spent a few weeks crafting and practicing using the Mock Caldecott Criteria, it was too big a leap to go to print.  This lesson ladder was missing a few too many rungs.  In this midst of the lesson breakdown, I drew faces to help clarify, somewhat, average, above average and extraordinary.  These seemed to help.  
I apologized for making it more confusing than I intended. Some students were fine, others needed help, but no students got frustrated, to their credit. Meanwhile, they'll be back after vacation and I'll have a new rubric. We'll start fresh-ish!

I am thankful that there is the space within this profession to perfect my craft, I hope I never stop learning how to be a better teacher and learner.
Every Tuesday, Stacey hosts Slice of Life at the blog, Two Writing Teachers. If you want to participate, you can link up at the Slice of Life Story Post or you can just head on over there to check out other people's stories. For more information on what a Slice of Life post is about, go here.


  1. I think that approaching teaching as a craft allows for both professionalism as well as creativity. And you are so right to pause, watch and learn from your kids before moving on - that's the part that I find especially wonderful about teaching.

  2. I love your description of the students' work as "wonderfully messy" - this is apropos of teaching, too! Wonderfully messy - as any good craft, any great art!!

  3. I like to say that teaching is so, so messy & your descriptions above show that well. The fact that you responded with change shows perception and the marvelous ability to switch gears when things slow down (to keep the metaphor). I like hearing your thinking, think we need to know exactly why we're switching (the professional) but also know many, many paths to take (the craft). Great post!

  4. I enjoyed reading your thoughts about our education. I often end up revising my lessons because the first group did not get what I wanted them to get. In other words, I am perfecting my craft as I change the lesson for students to participate more fully and be able to accomplish more during the lesson. Your post left me thinking about my teaching and my craft. How can I make my craft better?