Slice of Life: We Know Our Song
Kylene said these words last November at NCTE. I immediately put them on a “stickie” on my computer desktop. They are with me every day. While I write, plan and think at home. While I present, lead and co-teach in schools. While I model, observe and scaffold in classrooms. I don’t know why I reread them again and again. They speak to me and I am not sure why.
Recently I was coaching in a classroom and noticed a conductor’s stand in the front of the room like this one:
At first, I thought what a great idea! Papers won’t slip off, you can clip things to the side, it doesn’t take up much room…
and then the quote hit me. I turned to the teacher.
I love this stand. I love everything about it.
He was trying to be polite and agree that it is helpful and practical.
No, no. I mean I love this stand. What it represents – it is like a symbol.
Now, we had just been talking with small groups of students about layers of meaning in text and I think he thought I might have been joking but I wasn’t. I truly made a new connection to that quote.
As teachers we are not just members of the choir, we orchestrate the choir. We need to know the song so well, in our hearts and in our minds, if we are going to bring it to life for our students. It is not enough to just post the lyrics, put the lyrics in a plan book or sing the lyrics word for word. As teachers we consider the rhythm, how the music adds layers of meaning and the message intended in the composition. As teachers we need to know the song best so we can consider how we are going to lead our students to understand the purpose of our teaching and of their learning. Teaching is not a list of objectives or a weekly plan. We need to orchestrate how we are going to bring those objectives to life in a way that is meaningful, engaging and exciting. When programs, curriculum and mandates are constantly changing how can we feel like we know our song?
If we were to hand the conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra a 375-page book filled with new material, could he conduct it with the same passion and confidence as the songs he knew by heart? Even if the orchestra played the notes, would he be conducting? Would the audience be moved by the performance? If not, would it be due to the conductor’s level of expertise? Would the members of the orchestra be considered at-risk?
Purchased curriculum, units of study and mentor lessons are merely some lyrics. So many new resources can make us feel that we no longer know the words. The stress and doubt I feel among teachers in so many schools makes we wonder if teachers do believe they know the song best. Do they believe Kylene is preaching to them? Can you imagine trying to conduct a song you believe you don’t know (and our orchestra doesn’t even sit still)?
Teaching is an art and a science. Teaching is knowing how students learn and how to bring curriculum to life. We need to remember that is our song. Teachers are both in the choir and conductors of a choir. Teachers have to both learn and teach simultaneously. We don’t get a week, a month or a year to learn and then try to teach. We are expected to learn and then immediately teach. It can makes us feel like we don’t know our song.
We need to remember to hold on to what we know is true in teaching and learning as we are also learning new standards. We are in the choir, but we also conduct the choir. We need to conduct our choir in way that is developmentally appropriate, engaging and fun! We need to give ourselves time to learn, grow and perfect our practice. We are getting some new lyrics, but we know our song. Kylene’s quote has layers of meaning for me and yes, I do believe – even if we may not feel it right now – she is preaching to us and we are in the choir!
Thank you to Stacey, Tara, Dana, Betsy, Anna, Beth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for us to share our stories each day in March. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts and consider joining this community.