I am breaking the informal agreement I made with myself to not be tempted to post this weekend—I have so much else to do. But then I stumbled on this message from Brenda Powers of the Big Fresh Newsletter from CHOICE Literacy, a cool little item that one can receive even if one is not a paying member—the $$ gets you access to more than the public portion. I am not an ELA teacher so I choose to just peruse.
I like what Benda has to say here, and I especially like the analogy she has created because teaching, landscaping, and house painting are three areas of expertise that many, many people feel that they have the knowledge and experience that give them the right to advise. Heck, they’ve all been to school, they’ve watched someone plant a bush, and they’ve painted a room. Brenda carefully and kindly points out the difference.
My husband is a landscape designer/contractor with 35 years of training, experience, and expertise. He is like a walking plant encyclopedia. His work in the field is solid, artistic, and expertly completed. What he imagines and creates is worlds above and beyond what I or any other amateur could imagine, let alone carry off.
Additionally, in my 39 years as a classroom teacher, I have taught 100’s of children to read—no easy feat—and a task that does not stop in elementary school. Nor is it limited to ELA teachers. As a middle school science teacher for the past 22 years, I also taught reading skills and strategies every day.
My parents taught me how to properly prepare and paint a wall, but even with years of practice, my results can never compare with those of the professional painter. And, I would never presume to tell him/her what to do or how to do it.
So, let’s see what Brenda has to say.
[Oh, my gosh. I just noticed that CHOICE literacy comes out of Holden, Maine. Why, Brenda and I are practically neighbors! ]
Believe one who has proved it. Believe an expert. ~Virgil
A few years ago my brother-in-law Paul, who is a landscaper, visited in the fall to start work on our side lawn. Calling it a “lawn” is generous – it was a sloping jumble of rocks, weeds, and more bare patches than grass. Grass seed, flowers, and shrubs would do wonders.
Paul looked out over the mess for a few minutes, and finally said, “We definitely start with the walkway down the slope. Once we have that in place, we can design around it.” My husband Dave, who also has a degree in landscape design, nodded and added, “If we’re going that route then I’d like to do the stone wall next, parallel to it.”
Walkway? Stone wall? In my grandest vision I couldn’t see more than a nice sloping green lawn without bare spots and some pretty flowers. I wasn’t upset or discouraged as I listened to Paul and Dave plan, just fascinated to see the process of two experts at work, and how they could immediately envision something far more sophisticated and dramatic than what was in my mind.
The yard has been worked on over time. The first year the walkway went in. The second year the lawn, stone wall, shrubs and my small herb garden were completed. This year we’ve added more plants. The final result is spectacular – a beautiful small lawn with shrubs that ends at a stone wall, with the walkway down the slope, moving gradually to more and more natural rocks and mosses ending at the lake. Paul was right – the walkway had to come first, because it is the dramatic center to the whole scene. Those steps give the eyes a place to rest, and from there, it’s easy to notice and appreciate the other elements of the design.
I think about that initial consultation with Paul and Dave, and wonder what would have happened if I questioned their plans, because they didn’t fit my conception of what the landscape should look like. In other words, what would have happened if I did what people outside of education do every day to teachers, putting in my two cents about what the design should be, since it was my lawn and I had plenty of experience with lawns?
Early in the year, the vision teachers have for our students and what needs to be done first can be far different than those of folks who don’t have teaching degrees. They may wonder why in the world it is essential to sing or spend more than a day on getting to know you activities, when there is so much urgent reading, writing and testing to be done. They might also question a few of the books in your classroom library. Maybe they wonder why graphic novels or Captain Underpants take up space on your shelves? They do have lots of experience in classrooms after all.
Yet teachers know without kindness, respect, and especially, a shared understanding of what we’re about as a community, nothing else will work well all year long. Once we know our students, we know the wide range of texts that might pique their interest, and they aren’t always the books we find fascinating. Without a choice of texts, from challenging to escapist, a child will never learn what it means to browse and balance their reading choices.
It takes patience to explain this to outsiders. . .and also the confidence to be firm in what we know and have experienced as experts on teaching and learning when outsiders just won’t stop challenging what we do. We see what others can’t, simply because we are masters of our craft. [Brenda’s words–my bolding here.]
I love my side lawn, in full bloom now late in June. I marvel at the end results that are possible sometimes when we let experts work their magic. Explain everything well to parents, but in the end, with a few you may need to say, “Trust me on this – you’re going to see something miraculous by the end of the year.”
To my teacher friends and colleagues: Check out THE BIG FRESH. Get on their mailing list even if you do not want to subscribe. The links attached to this week’s newsletter are about READ ALOUDS for the first days of the school year. You can’t go wrong with that! I always like what Brenda and Company have to say.