Paying it Forward

For as many years as I’ve been teaching I’ve been doing a very special Thanksgiving lesson with my students. It has been so long since I started it that I don’t remember how the idea came to me. I just know that it has been a favorite in my lesson box. I talk to the kids about how during Thanksgiving time we are asked to think of what we are thankful for, and the kids come up with the same answers, family, friends, dogs, etc. Then I tell them that there is a whole group of people that we don’t often stop and thank, our past and present teachers. I then read them to wonderful book by the talented author/illustrator Patricia Polacco, Thank You Mr. Falker .

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If you have never read it, it is a story about a young girl who loves to draw and has trouble learning to read. When she finally gets to 5th grade her teacher recognizes her struggles and spends time before, during and after school helping her finally learn to read. There is so much more, but I don’t want to spoil it.

After we read the story we talk about how important teachers are in our lives. Then I ask the kids to think of a teacher to write a letter to to give them thanks. We define teacher as anyone who has played a role in teaching us something, school teachers, coaches, parents, etc. I require the students to include at least two specific memories or things the teacher did that you remember. After they draft, revise and edit the letters we gather them up to be delivered. I include this note so the receiver understands why they got the letter.

Thank You! After reading the book Thank You Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco, the third graders chose a teacher they wanted to recognize and write a letter and thank them for specific memories they had. You are the lucky teacher chosen!

I want to thank you for all you do and I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Love,

Mrs. McDermid

Most students usually choose someone in the building so delivering is usually easy. I am currently teaching in Denver and this year the students sent me on quite a bit of an address hunt. I tracked down some retired teachers, and I also sent letters to past teachers in Washington State, Michigan, and Israel.  

The response to this project has been tremendous.  Both teachers from the building and parents have told me how much the letters meant to them. And on a few occasions the students receive a letter back, via snail mail, from their chosen teacher.

Last week, Matthew, a student from my class, got a response from his first grade teacher, Mrs. Lieberman, in Michigan. Matthew and I opened the letter together. In it was a beautiful hand written note from her with her memories of Matthew, she included pictures of him in her class, and also added a word puzzle, because she remembered he liked them.  I was blown away and touched by this note.

I emailed Matthew’s parents to tell them how sweet this woman was. Matthew’s mom said that she was going to send her a thank you for the thank you. Here’s where it gets paid forward; when Mrs. Lieberman wrote Matthew’s mom back she told her that this lesson meant so much to her she was going to do it with her students.

To Mrs. Lieberman, I am happy to give you this lesson as I hope by having you continue the tradition with your kids, more teachers can be touched by students who are thankful for the things we have done.

Thank You, Mrs. Lieberman… Thank You…

Sudden Impact….

The voice inside my head was right, if you build it they will come.

I’ve spent the last 60 school days trying to instill a love of reading and books with my 3rd graders. And a few stand out moments are shining through that I am thankful for.

I got a tweet from a student the other day that she got a library card and took out her first book. I don’t care what age, finding the public library is a wonderful resource for any soon to be book lover. I was so happy she shared that experience with us, having her mom take the picture and tweet it to us.

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Student’s trip to the public library

Also, our typical snack time consists of half the students sitting around my kidney bean table and talking, while the other half sits on the couch and chats. I usually find myself at the table, but last week when I looked over to the couch, I found one student gathering the children for a read aloud. She had the book Tek: The Modern Cave Boy by Patrick McDonnell in her hand and she was saying something like “I’m going to read it to you”. The students all stopped what they were doing and found a spot surrounding her to hear the words and see the pictures.

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Since I’ve started to take the time to go to the library and bookstores, follow people on twitter, blogs and other social media, it has changed how my students engage with books. The excitement I get when I find a true “hidden gem”, as co-blogger Courtney puts it, is such a thrill. I love sharing it with them and the children hear that passion as I read or book talk my latest discovery!

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Friendsgiving

Cheers, where everybody knows your name. Who has or has longed for that place where you walk in and everyone does actually know you and your name? Well, I have that place, but it’s not a bar, it’s a children’s bookstore, called Second Start To The Right, in the city I live, Denver.

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I moved to this city over a year ago knowing not many people. I was told about this magical bookstore in Denver that I had to check out. I went the next week. I walked into the wonderfully name Second Star To The Right and I fell in love. The place is magical! It is a transformed house with a room dedicated to picture books, board books, and chapter books. Hidden throughout are comfy chairs and reading nooks. Most recently they’ve added an educational toy room and a Wild Rumpus Party room.

I was immediately hooked as a mother and teacher. I go to Second Star so often I am friendly with most of the staff. The owner, Dea, and husband, Marc, have been so kind to me and my son over the last year. We’ve talked books, they let me run a book club for kids over the summer, and Marc also came to my school dressed as Cat in The Hat to read to the students for World Read Aloud Day!

If you are ever in Denver you need to go to Second Star, but maybe if you can’t get to Denver, seek out other local bookstores. The feeling I get helping a small business is rewarding enough, but establishing a rapport makes it that much more worthwhile every time I visit.  

I checked my email a few weeks ago and I received an invitation to Second Star’s Friendsgiving. An event they created to invite their family, friends and favorite customers. They served food, had the kids run around their backyard and store after hours, and had crafts available for the kids. Declan and I went and had a blast, making new friends and chatting with old ones we’ve made this past year.

To my Second Star Friends, I thank you for all you’ve done for me this year and look forward to our many magical years of friendship.

Why It’s Important To Shut Up & Listen

Reading picture books is one of my favorite things to do. I can’t wait to read aloud to my students, I’d do it all day if I could.  I cherish the times Declan brings me a book to read to him and he snuggles on my lap. I even had a period in college when I would read bedtime stories to my roommates. What college student didn’t want to hear Cloudy with A Chance of Meatballs?! But recently I’ve realized I read to my students and son so much I often don’t get the chance to listen to other people read books aloud.

Now, as a parent, I get to hear another take on many of my favorite books, through the eyes of my husband, Chris.  As he reads aloud I love to hear his interpretation on books I have read a million times.  I use to read Goodnight Gorilla to my nieces and we’d laugh at the end when the wife wakes up. But listening to it read by my husband he started to point out the balloon on the pages, because that’s what Declan liked at the time. And sure enough did you know that in almost every page of that book there is a balloon?! I had no idea. While reading the Airport Book by Lisa Brown he discussed with Declan how many of the characters have their own stories through the illustrations, that the biker bikes to the airport and then bikes away once he has his bike back from the luggage carousel. I have to be honest I never saw it.  

So, my take away, even though reading aloud is my favorite, sometimes it’s is just nice to just sit back and see someone else do it and you might learn (or see) something new!

Thanks for Reading….

I’ve been anxious for a while about my first blog entry. Should I write about how Declan pulled out Press Here and screamed so loud at the part where he had to tap the page 5 times, or about how I got to meet the very funny and inspiring Maggie Beadie Roberts, co-author of DIY Literacy. Nope, instead I’m taking advice from a seasoned blogger, Pernille Ripp, who I chatted with at a tech conference this summer. Her advice was to write from your heart and what matters to me. And at this moment what matters is my two co-blogger authors, Courtney and Ashley. They both started as professional friends, which quickly turned into personal friends.  We used to see each other on a daily basis as we taught in the same school, but now Courtney moved to a different school and I moved to a different state.  It is nice to know that every few days we text or email to check in. But one of the special parts of our relationship centers around literacy. We are all elementary teachers and have a passion for finding the best kids lit out there. I was so excited to text Ashley the moment I read The Thank You Book, wow, what an ending! (Get all elephant and piggie books if you haven’t already). Also, my Instagram notifications go off each day with Ashley’s post about her two sons’ book interactions.  I smile at their cuteness and often write the titles down to read to Declan. This year, Courtney and I both taught 3rd grade. During the school year, I would text her for advice or offer mine. “What’s your next read aloud?”  or “I just finished Fenway and Hattie, you should read that to your kids!”. On the flip side, I was the first person Courtney texted when she got to meet and chat with Oliver Jeffers. He’s quite a celebrity in our book (and cute too).  So as I go on and on about Ashley and Courtney I want them to know that I value our friendship, but having the same passion of kid lit together has continued to drive my engine to find out more, read more, and share more! I hope if you are reading this that you will enjoy this journey the three of us are taking together.