How Reading Aloud Made Me The Teacher And Person I Am Today [Guest Post]

Today’s post is brought to you by Jennie Fitzkee. Thanks, Jennie!

Guest post by Jennie Fitzkee: How Reading Aloud Made Me The Teacher and Person I Am Today

My very first day of teaching preschool in Massachusetts, thirty-two years ago, was both career and life altering. Lindy, my co-teacher, asked me to read the picture books to children each day after our Morning Meeting. Sure (gulp)! I was new, scared and unfamiliar with many children’s books. I had not been read to as a child, except for The Five Chinese Brothers from my grandmother. I still remember the page that opens sideways, with the brother who could stretch his legs. One book, and to this day I remember it vividly.

The book I read to the children on that first day of school was Swimmy, by Leo Lionni. It was magical for me, and for the children. The storyline, the art, the engineering, the words… it was a taste of something I knew I had to have. And, I couldn’t get enough.

The next few decades I consumed children’s books. I realized that the more I read aloud, the more the children wanted to hear stories and be read to. I displayed books in my classroom front-facing, so children were drawn to picking up and ‘reading’ the books. In this way, the children wanted to handle, hold, and turn the pages of books. This was a big deal! It was true hands-on learning, with exploding questions and interest. I was the yeast in the dough, or perhaps the books were the yeast. Oh, our Morning Meetings grew. We had to include a children’s dictionary on the bookshelf so we could look up words that were new. That was fun!

By this time I had become picky about good books. Whenever I read a good book, it sparked so many questions and conversations, that sometimes it took ‘forever’ to get through the book. The first time I read Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky, it took forty minutes to finish reading the book. I started with the inside cover, a picture of the courtyard, and simply asked questions; “Where is this?” “Does this look like Massachusetts?” “What is different?”

Reading picture books triggered big discussions. I often stopped to ask questions. Sometimes I would simply say, “Oh, dear…” in mid-sentence and let the children grab onto that rope. Yes, I was throwing out a lifeline, a learning line, and it worked. It was exciting, always engaging.

Before long, I started reading chapter books before rest time. This was unconventional for preschoolers, yet it felt right because children were on their nap mats and needed to hear stories without seeing pictures. I started with Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, and have never looked back. The first thing children learned was ‘you make the pictures in your head’. This is thrilling because we now have non-stop reading and multiple discussions, without pictures. Thirty minutes of pretty intense reading-aloud. My chapter books include the best of the best.

My teaching had become language based and child centered. Often there were ‘moments’, things that happened because we were reading all the time. Reading had spilled over into my curriculum. The day we had set up a restaurant in housekeeping, children were ‘reading’ menus and ‘writing’ orders on clipboards. I was spelling out the words to one child and listening to questions about the menu from another child. I doubt these moments would have happened had I not read so often in the classroom.

I wanted to tell families what happened, about moments of learning, and of course about reading aloud. So, I started to write more information in my newsletters, and include details. I wrote, and I wrote, sharing small moments and relating those moments to the big picture in education.

I attended a teacher seminar, and Jim Trelease, the author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, was the keynote speaker. As he spoke I wanted to jump up and rush over to the hundreds of teachers in the room, screaming, “Are you listening to this man?” “Do you realize how important his message is?” Instead, I wrote him a letter and included one of my newsletters to families that spoke about the importance of reading aloud. That sparked his interest in my chapter reading, and he visited my classroom to watch. I’m included in the latest version of his million-copy bestselling book.

My public library asked me to direct a library reading group for second and third graders. This was another new adventure in reading. I read The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes, among many wonderful books. Again, these were new books to me, and I loved it. This past summer I embraced YA books, thanks to reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I read every Kate DiCamillo book I could lay my hands on. Everyone.

My reading and reading aloud continue to grow. Thank you Read-Aloud West Virginia for getting the message of how important reading is to the public. We are making a difference.

About Jennie:

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It’s the little things that happen in the classroom that is most important and exciting. That’s what I write about. I am highlighted in the new edition of Jim Trelease’s bestselling book, “The Read-Aloud Handbook” because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.

When A Schedule Falls Apart

I’ve always been the type of person to have a schedule, to get myself into a routine. I write a to-do list for the following day every night before I go to bed. I even include “shower” on those lists. Yeah, I’m that kind of person.

The summer was great. I was home alone for the majority of the day while everyone else was at work. I read, I wrote, I blogged, I swam, I played with the animals, took walks, among other things. But mostly I was able to get a lot of writing, reading, and blogging done.

I had a good rhythm going for a while. Then work started back up again.

Today is my seventh day of work, but I feel like I’ve been back for months. I still babysit every day after work as well and, on top of that, I’m still running the Sunday school program at my church.

I enjoy all three jobs, but it’s exhausting. Nine to ten hours of my day is gone as I chase preschoolers around the majority of the day only to go help a couple of elementary kids do their homework. There’s not much room for writing during those times.

Sunday mornings are blocked off because I’m at church and I do the majority of the Sunday school planning in my free time at my house during the week. Still, not much room for writing.

Before I started back to work, I attempted to create a new “schedule” for myself. I knew it was going to be a flexible one, but I thought that if I could get in just one hour a day of reading and then one hour of writing or blogging, that’d be great.

I still keep up with my routine where I write on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays and I work on my blogs on Thursdays and Fridays. Sundays are either/or, or I just take a break.

But the hour a day? It hasn’t been working so well.

By the time I get home from work, I’m utterly exhausted. It’s tough to stare at the computer screen, my hand can’t remember how to hold a pen, and my eyes suddenly drop if I try to read.

Needless to say, I’ve barely gotten any writing or blogging done since work started. If I didn’t have deadlines for my book reviews, I probably wouldn’t be reading either (and even then I missed a review this month). The only reason I’ve been keeping up with my daily blog posts is because I spent a whole day on my blogs before I started back to work and got the majority of September done.

It sucks because while I absolutely love my jobs, I don’t want to be teaching and babysitting for the rest of my life. I want my career to be writing related. I know that takes time and I’ve been working on it bit by bit, but the waiting game is hard.

I’m trying not to get discouraged, but I know what I want to do with my life. I just can’t get there yet. I’m not trying to be impatient because I know this takes time as well as a lot of hard work, determination, and dedication, but… I don’t know. This was just something I had to get off my chest, I guess.

Sorry if this post seems like such a downer. Let this be a lesson to just stay positive. Even though this post is the complete opposite of yesterday’s post.

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Work is Hard

When you work four jobs, plus write and blog on the side trying to make that your solid career, work can get a bit hectic and busy at times.

I love teaching and I love babysitting, but it’s not exactly what I want to do for the rest of my life. Can I see myself ten years from now still teaching? Yes. But ten years from now I hope to have a few publications under my belt.

I can’t picture myself waking up every morning, going to work, then coming home to just sit around and wait for the next day to come. I can’t live in order to make money and pay bills. I want to actually do something with my life, make a difference, be important.

So I write. So I blog.

I want my writing to be my full-time job. Whether that will ever happen enough to pay my bills, I’m not sure. But I’m going to do it anyway.

What’s annoying about this is that you have to work really hard and work a lot in order to make this happen, which I have been doing and I love it.

But, as stated earlier, when you work four other jobs on top of it…

At the moment, writing doesn’t pay the bills. It’s not my career yet. It’s a passion, but it’s more of a hobby at the moment.

That being said, my other jobs have to come first. I can’t call out sick and write all day long. While that would be awesome, that would be one day I wouldn’t get paid and right now that’s not really an option.

Unfortunately, the world revolves around money.

My whole point to this post was that I haven’t made much progress on my writing lately. Drama has been happening at two of my four jobs and working such long hours, I’m too exhausted to do anything when I get home.

So that’s pretty much where I stand at the moment. I have my work cut out for me for the rest of the month and through June.

I’m counting down the days until summer (less than four more weeks!) where I can put more of my time, thought, and effort into writing and blogging. I’ll be working the summer, but it’ll only be four hours a day for four days a week for only four weeks out of the summer. This is a vast improvement to my 8-10 hours a day five days a week, plus another couple hours on the weekend.

This turned into a ranting-woe-is-me type of post and that wasn’t supposed to happen. I had a completely different point, but I guess this is where my mind wandered off to.

Is it sometimes difficult for you to balance writing, work, and anything else life throws at you?

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Writerly Weekend

Friday: Work was a normal day with the kids, but once they left we celebrated with a surprise baby shower for two of my co-workers; one is a teacher in another classroom and the other is the school’s nurse. After work, it was just me and Dad home so we went out to eat together. We ran into a couple of old friends who we haven’t seen in ages. We didn’t talk long, but it was still nice to see them and know they’re doing well.

Saturday: Kris and I decided that we were going to have a huge writing day! We went to Barnes & Noble per usual and decided to try to stay as long as possible so we could get a lot of writing done. We ended up staying for an extra… it doesn’t seem like much, but we both ended up getting a lot more done than we usually do. I wrote about 7,000 words for my CampNaNoWriMo novel.

To top off the day, we went out with our other sister and friend to see the movie “Home.” I have to say that it was a wonderful movie. Absolutely adorable. And I want my own little pet alien.

Sunday: I went to church. I only had one kid in my Sunday school class. I wasn’t expecting anyone to show up because it was the week after Easter. Instead of doing a lesson, I decided to tidy the room up a bit. I told her she could play and she got really excited and asked to organize the blocks. The blocks take up a few shelves in a corner of the room and it always looks like that corner threw up. So, I told her to go for it. She did a really nice job with it, too. It took her the entire hour and she still didn’t finish.

I didn’t get any writing done on Sunday. After writing 7k on Saturday, I needed a bit of a break from my novel. I did however get some more Sunday school things done because I’m hoping to build a new curriculum for next year as well as start a new blog for it. So, at least I can say I did something productive.

This Week: This week is going to be like any other week. I’m going to try to get my homework done as soon as I can so I can write more of my Camp NaNo novel. I also have to edit the second part of Detective Florence by Wednesday so I can send that into my writing group.

Other than doing homework and keeping up with writing/editing and blogging, not too much is going on this week.

How was your weekend?

Inspiration Explanation

For those of you who read my March: Inspiration Board post two days ago, I wanted to explain further on some of my Pinterest boards and why those things inspire me to be who I am today.

It’s one thing for me to give you a link to my Pinterest and say, “These are all the things I enjoy. I hope you enjoy them, too!”

However, it’s another thing for me to say, “I pinned this because…”

I have a Writing board. I don’t know if you guys know this, but if I didn’t write I would go insane. I need my imaginary friends and I need to go to new places and be in different situations, real or fiction. I also have a Reading board. That inspires me to write. It inspires me to create my own worlds and create my own characters for others to love and enjoy. Reading and writing go hand-in-hand and one inspires me to do the other.

I have a Sunday School board. I am a teacher and the director of my church’s Sunday school. I love teaching to no end and while I don’t particular enjoy going to church (I can’t sit still long enough to get through an hour-long service), I love broadening the horizons of the church’s children. Because I’m just teaching them about God, Jesus, and the Bible, I’m teaching them about life.

Speaking of, I also have a Teaching board. I’ve been teaching preschool for four years and I can’t imagine myself not waking up in the morning to not see those kids every day. I have to ability to teach them a lot and I learn a lot from them, as well.

There are many different TV shows and movies that inspire me as well. Once Upon A Time, The Lord of the RingsHarry PotterPsych, and many more. I have boards for each of those. The characters are amazing and the writers are brilliant.

The same goes for video games; especially The Legend of Zelda and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. I hope to be able to write stories just as well as these game and the movies/shows mentioned above.

I obviously can’t explain all 93 boards to you, but those are the main ones. Those are what make me who I am today and I’m always going to keep growing into someone better. Now you guys know me a little bit better.

I hope you guys are inspired by a lot of things in the world just like I am.