by Mary Roderique
Imagine yourself on an airplane, on your way to a well-deserved vacation. Before you put those headphones on, pay close attention to the safety announcement: “Secure your own oxygen mask first before assisting children or other passengers.”
Now, I’m not going anywhere anytime soon, because I live in Ann Arbor, remember, so I am going to be busy building an ice rink in my backyard over winter break. Even though I can’t take a vacation every time I need one, I can make things feel a little better by taking the time to refuel in my reading life and my personal life.
Teachers are jugglers, keeping so many balls in the air, and sometimes this impacts self-care. So here in midst of the holidays, I want to encourage you, dear teacher, to secure your own oxygen mask first. Here are some ideas to help you nurture yourself:
Perhaps nothing reinvigorates a reading teacher like discovering great new books. So go to the library or bookstore (or both!), grab a stack of books, sit down, and lose yourself. I like to spread out on the floor and take pictures of the covers of my favorite finds. I start three stacks: “buy” and “borrow” and “blech.”
I don’t have to do much work to find the books, because bookstores and libraries do such a good job of highlighting high-interest, appealing books. Look at the displays on tables and the ends of bookcases, the books standing upright on the tops of shelves, books turned so the covers face outward. Also check out the staff recommendation cards/section—there are lots of gems on those shelves. Walk through the series section in the youth department to find new series to try—and old ones you’ve forgotten to recommend (Lunch Lady, Owl Diaries, Princess in Black…).
The biggest thing that visiting the bookstore or library will do for you is to slow you down. The experience of being surrounded by books—instead of pictures of books (sorry, online shopping!)—has an impact. So sit down, slow down, and come to a full stop.
But perhaps the real secret to refueling as a reader is to indulge in nerdy book person stuff, like attending events at libraries and bookstores. They have author talks, crafts, hikes, films. Go to them! If it’s a children’s author, bring your kids. It’s always energizing to spend time with people who spend their days making books. Sometimes it’s hard to go back out at night to go to these events, but do it. It’s always worth it.
I recently followed my own advice and skipped tap dance class to hear the author Jen Mann talk at my library (and got her to sign a book for Bernadette, our reading teacher, because who doesn’t love a signed book as a gift?) When not listing people she wants to punch in the throat, Mann talks a lot about finding your tribe. Sometimes you need to search a bit to find the right fit, but you definitely need a tribe.
I love my teacher friends that I have made across the states and years. It’s a solid tribe that have nurtured me and elevated my teaching, and I always seemed to meet them at just the right time. Always be looking for teacher friends: look in your building and beyond your building to find people that build you up.
But finding your tribe is important with respect to professional development, too. Find what interests you and follow it. It might be a different direction than your required PD, but following your own interests as a learner will fill you up. It may be a workshop, a book, an online course, a blog that you read, a meet up, or even something you start up. Doing something extra on your own instead of just building-based PD will make you extra smart, and it will be exciting and invigorating. Hey, does anyone near Ann Arbor want to read Pernille Ripp’s new book Passionate Readers with me?
Exercise. Sleep. Eat. Drink water. Manage stress. Make a delicious dinner. Better yet, go OUT to dinner. Ride your bike. Tap dance. Take an extra nap. Breathe fresh air. These are all easier said than done when you are busy with the daily work of teaching. But really taking care of you and your body will help you feel better and work better.
I used to run and walk before work every day, and I really liked how that felt. I need to fold in walks again. Maybe I could add some interesting audiobooks or podcasts as exercise ambiance! Let’s make little changes to take care of ourselves and see where it takes us.
Go to the movies, have a party, host game night, take a class, go out to dinner. Do something. Be social. Be chatty; know who people are deep down and what interests them. Teaching well is about being connected to others. All connections you make will strengthen you and elevate both your spirit and your teaching. Being truly interested in others makes you more interesting.
Also, be social with books. Recommend books to students and colleagues. Give books as gifts. I leave books for students throughout the year, putting a book in someone’s cubby with a post-it note explaining why I think they’ll like it. Start a lending library for students, colleagues, neighbors. Reading is about relationships: readers talk about books, share books, and recommend books. My sister and I have shared books for over 40 years, from The Snowy Day to The Storied Life of A.J. Fikr to whatever book we will pass on next. Relationships grow our reading lives, and our reading lives grow our relationships.
Ok, so now you have the stack you bought at the bookstore, the stack you borrowed from the library, and the stack friends and family have loaned you. You might even have a stack of rectangle-shaped wrapped gifts. Now you gotta read ‘em. Read the books. And magazines. And newspapers. And blogs.
It’s not decadent or selfish to slow down and read—for a teacher, it’s our life’s work. We need to know who we are as readers and live a solid reading life so we can help our students find and develop their own reading identities, too. I try to practice the same advice that I offer students and read an author, series, or a cluster of books about a topic. Often, I read “kid” books. This is my favorite thing to do, especially when reading grown-up books seems too hard to fit in. Children’s literature is a quick, enjoyable read. Plus, I am building my recommendation bank for students. And if my favorite books as an adult are from the series The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, so be it!
Bottom line, dear teachers: block out the noise of mandates and paperwork. Close your laptop. Check your email later. Fluff a pillow, grab a cup of tea and a good book, jockey with the dog for a place on the couch and begin to READ. When you are recharged as a reader, you are prepared as a teacher.
You’ll feel good, and ultimately, your students will benefit, too. Because when you are living well, your teaching is an extension of that.