It’s that time of year when the energy in the air changes and the school year’s end is around the corner. Soon you will be moving on, and there will be new experiences on the horizon. Exciting, right? The journey has been a great one. We both had ideas about how the year would unfold. You might have thought I would be that teacher who would drive you nuts. Maybe that was partially true. I hoped you would discover a little more about yourself and the world. Little did I know what would really happen along the way. You have gotten to know much more by peeling back the layers of your soul. New pathways emerged as you gravitated to authors who told relatable stories and showed you new worlds. Their voices and written words guided you to write your own truth. You have invested in yourself and found that bit of magic, of not just owning your literacy life, but your life.
As we get closer to the end of the year, my mind is flooded with memories and a long to-do list. The priorities changed because of an unexpected discovery. The other day I entered the classroom closet, aka the “forbidden vortex of random stuff.” I was hoping to find some tissue boxes hidden among the clutter. I didn’t find a single tissue box. I did find an overripe banana, gloves collecting dust, and “lost” homework stashed in the corner. Just as I was starting to give up, I discovered something. An unzipped backpack, spilling out piles of books and notebooks, was hanging off the hook. As I started to pick up the books, I noticed each book was written by Jason Reynolds. Within the pile, there were notebooks filled with writing. One of you, maybe all of you, carried around the treasures of your literacy life.
Most teachers would feel a sense of joy to witness their students embracing the power of reading or writing and I do feel that joy. You have opened my eyes to what is truly possible in a classroom. You have taken charge of your writing. You have owned your reading life. You have had the courage to take big risks and be honest with yourselves. I am thrilled you feel safe enough to share your truth and understand the power of words.
Yet, an overwhelming feeling of fear has settled in. Why? I’m afraid because you have found a place where you are visible, free to create your own learning lives and work together to make each other stronger. How will you hold on to that?
Now, I have to keep it real. I wish someone would have shared with me what I am about to say to you. Through the course of your education, you will encounter many people with the best intentions, but you will be blinded by oppressive systems. If you let them, these systems will tell you what to learn, how to learn it, and when to learn it. At times, the system will try to erase you through exclusion. These acts will not be in your best interest. However, you don’t have to let the system tell you what to do with what you learn or where you will go. You have built a literacy life. Never let anyone or anything take that away.
I have refrained from telling you exactly what to do, but here I need you to listen carefully. You must protect your literacy life. Don’t be afraid to make a decision or to take a stand. You must protect this gift you have given yourself. Anytime you enter a classroom, take a moment to reflect on these questions:
"Who am I?"
"What do I want the school community to know about me?"
"What does this world need to know about me?"
"Who am I as a writer?"
"Who am I as a reader?"
Though it might be hard, remember tests are temporary and classrooms are temporary. Going forward is not temporary. Don’t wait for the first assignment. Don’t wait for someone to tell you what you need to know. Waiting will only create limitations. From the start, have the courage to name and show what you already know so your new teachers get to know you and what you value:
- Walk in with a book that represents your reading interest and you. At the beginning of the year, teachers spend time observing. You want them to notice what you are reading. This will give the teacher an opportunity to see your interests so they can build from that point.
Bring your writer’s notebook and tools. Just imagine what a teacher will think if you walk in with a notebook full of writing. Some teachers might be surprised and others will ask about it. You want teachers to ask. This way you can tell them when you write and what drives you to write. A teacher may not ask you, but they will see that you have an established writing life.
- Find that one person or your squad. Align yourself with others who understand what you want or envision. There will always be that one person in the class with whom you can collaborate.
Lead a conference or ask for a meeting. You have led workshops and provided productive feedback to your peers. Show teachers what you know and how you utilize your tools.
Stand up for yourself and others when you see someone silenced by an injustice. Never let fear get in the way of taking a stand. You can do this by using the power of your spoken or written words to let others know what is happening and how it should be addressed. Do not back down until someone has taken action.
Taking these little steps is a way to protect the literacy life you have built. You have a lot to offer and more to learn. Take a stand and be proud. You have more to add to this literacy life— one experience, one book, and one piece of writing at a time.
Tiana considers effective teaching to be an intersection of continuous co-constructed learning, self-confidence, and lifelong leaders that emerge from teacher teams and classrooms. Silvas feels that the best way to grow as an education leader is through experience in the classroom saying, “I continue to lead from the trenches.” She says “true leadership isn’t what you do in the moment, but the legacy you leave behind.” TIana is a 4th Grade Teacher, and former Literacy Coach at PS 59.