Transport of the mails, transport of the human voice, transport of flickering pictures — in this century as in others our highest accomplishments still have the single aim of bringing people together.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
There are not many things I dislike more than junk email. I never want to add up the seconds and minutes I’ve spent deleting spam and advertising from my inbox, because I’ve probably lost more than a year of my life on email cleanup. These days I don’t have a classroom of my own, so my evil teacher’s eye gets a workout only when a clerk asks for my email address. “You’re just sending a receipt, right? I don’t want any more email.”
That’s why I made a promise to Big Fresh subscribers when I launched the newsletter in 2006. You would receive one email a week from me and one only, and that email would be the newsletter. No extra emails with offers too good to refuse, no special 24-hour sales . . . In other words, no garbage. But I ended up breaking that promise for the first time two weeks ago. My email delivery service was experiencing technical difficulties, and they sent out draft emails from scores of clients, including one from me to the Big Fresh subscribers. To my horror, the email was actual garbage — the flotsam of an unedited lead article, the jetsam of bits and pieces of articles with placeholder links.
After I got off the phone with tech support, I took a deep breath, and sent out an email to subscribers apologizing for the glitch. I then did my best to put the experience out of my head. I felt bad about it, but what could I do? I save true depression for situations that deserve it, like a family member getting cancer or a good friend moving far away.
Then a funny thing happened after the apology email went out. I started hearing from subscribers. The emails kept streaming in for hours, 38 in all. I received more responses to that emailed apology in a day than I receive to all the issues of the Big Fresh I send out in a year. A student from 20 years ago wrote me a long and warm email about her life now, and her memories of our time together. A literacy coach from South Africa thanked me for the newsletter’s impact a world away from my home in Maine. There wasn’t one nasty comment in the replies — just kindness, humor, and support. My favorite of the bunch may have been the one that reassured me, “Don’t worry. You’ll find a way to write about the glitch and it will be worth it.”
Teachers are thoughtful and generous — I already knew that. But this experience also made me realize a newsletter is a thing; an apology always comes from a person. We don’t respond or connect much to things. It’s our natural tendency to connect with (and in this case comfort) people.
This is the time of year when we’re overwhelmed with things in our schools — the curriculum sprint, book orders, tests, scores. We acronym ’em out and get even more distant from any flesh and blood – IEPs, CCSS, AYP. Yet we also know in the blink of an eye the end of the school year will be here. All those things will fall away, and we’ll realize yet again how little they matter. It will be just the kids standing before us before they leave for good. There will be that bittersweet moment of looking each student in the eye for the last time and asking yourself, Did I do enough? Did I really know you? Did all the things, the flotsam and jetsam of teaching and learning, keep us from truly connecting? And then you’ll blink again and the classroom will be empty, the school will be quiet.
Letting go of all that stuff and embracing the peopleness of teaching and learning is the hardest work we do this time of year, and also the most important. It’s a battle fought every day. Thanks for reminding me of that simple truth last week. The best gifts are the ones we least expect.
This week we look at ways to finish the year strong. Plus more as always — enjoy!
Founder, Choice Literacy
Free for All
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Here are some features from the Choice Literacy archives to help you finish the school year strong.
Katherine Sokolowski has a suggestion for a fun and poignant late year activity with students in Football Field Writing:
Franki Sibberson shares ideas for Ending the Year with Literacy Gifts:
Shirl McPhillips captures the energy and urgency we feel as the calendar flies toward summer in her poem and commentary, If We Could Meet Again:
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Ruth Shagoury explains why End of Year Literacy Interviews are so valuable, and includes questions to use in your interviews:
Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan share tips for Getting Books into Students’ Hands for Summer Reading. This is the first installment in their new summer reading series:
In this week’s video, Karen Terlecky confers with Alex, a fifth grader who needs help choosing books for independent reading:
Finally, Megan Ginther and Holly Mueller choose a theme of discovery for their April Literacy Contracts:
That’s all for this week!