Making the Journey as an ELA Teacher
Reviewed by Linda Biondi
Are you just starting out on your teaching journey? Or have you been teaching for a while? Is the road a bit bumpy? Smooth? Are you seeking ways to learn more about the teaching of language arts?
Do you wonder why you became a teacher? What motivated you? Was there a particular moment when you knew that this was the journey you wanted to take in life, no matter how bumpy it became?
That’s how Making the Journey: Being and Becoming a Teacher of English Language Arts by Leila Christenbury and Ken Lindblom begins: with an honest dialogue from the authors about their journey to become teachers.
I loved the premise: “…One emphasis of this book, besides imparting technical and professional information, is to encourage you to look at yourself and your experiences.” (p.6)
Journaling your journey
When you read this book, be ready to examine and reexamine your teaching. Be ready to reflect and journal. Although it is not mandatory to journal while reading, pausing at the “For Your Journal” spots in the chapters may help you become a better teacher.
I am sure your first thought is, “I don’t have time to journal. I can just read and get the highlights of the book or ideas and use them in my ELA classroom.” You are definitely able to do that, but as an English language arts teacher, you know the benefits of writing and journaling. It’s about taking those five to ten minutes to reflect on paper (ideally on every teaching day).
Once you get in the habit, you will wonder why you didn’t keep up with it before.
Christenson and Lindblom know their audience well. The book is rich and plentiful with the voices of teachers and students, activities, stories, recommended reading and references. As you read the book, you might feel as if you were talking with your closest colleagues, sharing memorable moments, frustrations, or successes. The authors acknowledge that teaching comes with a great deal of stress but also with a great deal of joy.
They acknowledge the importance of the teacher, the student, and the school. “The three intertwine perhaps more intimately than you had first imagined. Our job is to find a balance configuration that truly serves learning and teaching and that does not kill the mind and extinguish the spirit.”
Think about one of those three legged stools you might find in a classroom. All three legs must be of equal length for the stool to balance. Education is similar. All three pieces of the equation are of equal importance.
The same could be said of these chapters
All ten chapters are of equal importance. They follow a progression that takes the educator through each stage of language arts teaching, from considering the teaching career to the challenges of teaching week to week, year to year.
Ch. 1: The Teacher, the Student, the School
Ch. 2: What It’s Like to Be a Teacher
Ch. 3: Planning for Your Teaching
Ch. 4: Those Whom We Teach
Ch. 5: The World of Literature: Teaching and Selecting
Ch. 6: Nonfiction and Informational Texts
Ch. 7: Words, Words, Words
Ch. 8: Writing, Revising, and Publishing
Ch. 9: The Craft of Questioning
Ch. 10: Teaching Today: Ethics, Social Justice, and the Challenges of the Time
Think about a trip you may have taken several times. Each time you take the trip, you notice something new and you wonder how you could have missed it before. Or it is so new that you drive by, amazed. Amazing is what this book is. It covers everything you need to know and expect when you are teaching language arts. I enjoyed the progression of the chapters. The book began by reminding me of my own life as an educator and moved on to cover aspects every teacher needs to know, from keeping up with research and best practice to everyday routines and scenarios.
While the research, ideas, and activities in this book can be adapted to various grade levels, the core material of the book centers around middle school and high school students. Chapter four, “Those Whom We Teach,” is a chapter that should be read over and over.
Sometimes we become bogged down in curriculum and we forget that the children in those grade levels are not just adolescents but students who are individuals, each with their own experiences, difficulties, strengths, weaknesses. We all have students who may be alienated for reasons that we can never comprehend; students who feel enormous pressure and stress to perform well; students who have experienced circumstances that we thought only existed in novels or television shows.
And we need to be able to try to reach them and teach them, perhaps one day at a time. Chapter four reminds us that we are not alone and that we need to rely on colleagues, the school counselor, parents and the administration. This is especially true for a teacher who is beginning his or her teaching journey.
There’s always something new to learn
As a veteran teacher of over 40 years, I found this book refreshing. There is always something new you can learn about teaching and teaching methods. As a veteran teacher, one might feel as if talking about setting up the classroom seating arrangements might be a bit simplistic. Or maybe how to dress professionally might be a bit obvious. But, as a teacher just starting as a student teacher or first days in the classroom, it is not obvious.
Some of us learned by trial and error and would have given the world to have a book like this at our side. If I were a novice teacher, I definitely would want this book close by – most especially if I’m a language arts teacher. If colleges or universities are considering purchasing a methods book, I would recommend this without reservation.
Linda Biondi is a fourth grade teacher at Sharon Elementary School in Robbinsville, NJ and a long-time Morning Meeting practitioner. She’s also the recipient of several educational grants, a Teacher Consultant with the National Writing Project, and a participant on the NJ Department of Education Teacher Advisory Panel and with ECET2 Celebrate Teaching.