Slice of Life: Thank You Mr. Flagler

It’s Tuesday and time for Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers. Thanks to Dana, Tara, Stacey, Betsy, Anna, and Beth for the wonderful place to meet up. Read more slices and link up with your own here.


A few weekends ago Chris Lehman’s EdCollab Gathering presented an online workshop. How lucky we are to have such access to so many powerful ideas and educators. I watched Sara Ahmed’s session on capturing Middle School hearts and minds. She spent 45 minutes highlighting some wonderful ideas she uses in her San Diego classroom that makes me want to preorder her new book, co-authored with Harvey “Smokey” Daniels.

In her session, Sara showed how she and her students create a sort of identity chart or “Me” map. I’ve done things like this before, but I wanted to see if it would help me, and maybe my kiddos, find some inspiration for slicing. Sometimes you just need a new tool!

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I let my map sit for a while.

Then up popped that midnight wakeup call.

It was Wednesday, actually Thursday morning, and my daughter woke me up in a panic.

“Mom, I have to write a five-paragraph essay on Emerson and transcendentalism.”

I kid you not.

Ok, how hard can this be. I weave into her room heart pounding from the adrenaline surge still coursing through me. I pull out the text book. Oh my. An excerpt from Emerson’s Nature is three pages amidst this massive 600 page, 10 pound text that covers all of American Literature in tiny pieces.

My reaction: Can we Google it? Seriously isn’t that what any resourceful person does?

Googling was forbidden.

Ok. I try to read the text and make sense of the rubric. It was way above my reading level, at least at 1 am.

I don’t think I could pass 11th grade AP English.

Certain that all her hopes and dreams were destroyed, she dissolved into tears, cursed my ineptitude and wished her brother was home to help.

I went to bed.

The next evening, she presented me with a well-written piece. But how?

“I just talked to my friends. Each told me their interpretation of the text. I thought the text through with that in mind  and wrote it.”

Brilliant. She has her own PLN.  This girl will survive.

The happy ending was filed away.

Meanwhile, my reader self and my teacher self all coalesced with Sunday’s #titletalk chat on reading levels; triggering some older memories.

When I was 10 years old, I wasn’t much of a reader and not much of a test taker. By today’s standards, I would not have met Common Core expectations.  If I was a young person today, my very literate, educated parents would have worried about low scores (because I probably would have had them), blamed it on the media or maybe the teacher.  I wouldn’t have measured up.  Had I been given my daughter’s English assignment at 16, I mostly likely would have failed and had another reason not to like reading.

Fortunately I didn’t have that text as an 11th grader. I had a teacher who read short story with us: complete, unabridged stories by Hemingway. We read and discussed as a class. We wrote. We were taught as long as we had support for our theories in the text, our point of view would be considered. It was a community of readers, talkers, and thinkers. It was fun. This class made me want to pursue literature classes in college.  Mr. Flagler changed my reading path.

As parent conferences and the grading period approaches, I will tell my students and their parents the story of my 10-year old self. That we measure student’s reading level only as a tool to understand how to help them become better reader; not to measure their worth or their future success. That we spend our year focused on growing their love of reading while working on their reading skills, so they want to do and can do more of it as they go through their school years and beyond.

I am grateful for my 11th grade literature teacher and will keep him and my experience close as I confer with my students. Thank you so much Mr. Flagler. For allowing me to fall in love reading and the possibility it holds out for all of us. I hope I can measure up.