I’ve been teaching for 32 years, but I refuse to think of myself as old. I prefer experienced.
In my first year of teaching a lot of interesting things happened. My first job was at a school that had kids from Kindergarten through 8th grade. I was young. Sometime around October the cafeteria lady discovered that she had been undercharging me for the lunches I would sometimes buy. Apparently, she had thought that I was an 8th grader. That same fall, we missed several days of school because of Hurricane Gloria. That winter, Challenger exploded. Not a good day in school.
In the spring (technically the first day of summer), I got married, but because of Gloria, there was still a make-up day of school the following Monday (after our wedding). My principal insisted that I come in for the last day of school for my 4th graders. So, I brought Nancy in for Show and Tell. We showed the wedding video, had “the kiss” critiqued by 4th graders, had a moment where my new bride greeted each kid by name, adding a tidbit of information she’d memorized about them (“Oh, you must be Taher. I loved your adventure in the desert, can I call you Indiana Taher?”), and had our second wedding reception/end-of-the-year party in the courtyard of our school. Twenty-five years later I found out that, perhaps inspired by the wedding of their teacher, two of the kids in that first class of mine had gotten married…to each other. Love was in the air.
I remember seeing Lucy Calkins speak that fall in our own Town Hall. Inspired by her talk and by the work of some of my mentors, I dove into teaching writing through a workshop model. One image from those early workshops stands out. Two boys, Jeff and Brian, the former being by far the toughest kid in my class, stood at the front of the room sharing a story they had written together. I don’t remember the details, but I do remember that it was an adventure story starring Jeff and Brian…and it was 20 handwritten pages. No one in the audience fidgeted. As the action in the story heated up, so did the readers. Each time Jeff finished reading a page, he didn’t shuffle it to the bottom of the pile, he flung it toward the floor. As he finished the last page, he hurled it toward his audience, the Eighties equivalent of a mic drop. And the class erupted.
This blog will try to rekindle some of the energy and love from those early days of wild writing.