My Literacy Hope Chest for Next School Year

A MiddleWeb Blog

I have an ever-growing pile of learning possibilities. Much of it is currently sitting under an antique dining room chair in the corner of my living room.

The items in the pile, mind you, are fanned out for effect, an array of incredible teaching ideas. Some have been explored this year. Some lay dormant.

This pile can either taunt or inspire me, depending on the day. It can be a reminder of things I didn’t do, ideas and discoveries that never had the chance to inspire my students, or it can be seen as a source of hope for the possibilities of things yet to come.

I was forced to clean up my pile of not-yet’s a few weeks ago. My daughter was celebrating her sixteenth birthday, and she needed the living room. She and a few close friends would be coming back here after having dinner in town. Sweet sixteen. This a benchmark birthday.

In days past, girls about her age were given hope chests, to help set them on the path to the future. Back then, this future usually meant a husband and the building of a new and different home. Times have changed.

Joining a timeless tradition

Times may have changed, but the need for hope transcends historical timelines. According to Historyplex, the ancient Egyptians were the first ones to use hope chests for storing precious items, including papyrus scrolls. Writing, whether on paper or papyrus, and the sharing of ideas, was seen to have great value in ancient times. That, in itself, is a source of hope for me.
There are two books currently resting in my pile under the chair. They are both entitled Chart Sense and were written by the late Roz Linder. One contains abundant strategies and anchor charts for a Reading Workshop classroom, while the other is aimed at helping in the teaching of writing.

Throughout the stack, Post-it notes appear at odd angles, reflecting not only opportunities yet unexplored, but also some of this year’s tools that were a source of inspiration. My Mary Right Angle folder is there, resting underneath Linder’s insightful and helpful books. It is bursting with resources from Jennifer Seravallo, Lucy Calkins and Teachers College Reading & Writing Project.

A workshop newbie after five years

It’s a little embarrassing to admit that, even five years after our district adopted the workshop philosophy, my confidence level is still in its teenage years. A lack of confidence in my abilities doesn’t go well with self-doubt. I don’t like still feeling like a newbie after all this time.

I can be pretty stubborn when I am introduced to something new, something I find myself feeling inadequate about. But, as much as this stubborn old-schooler hates to admit it, the workshop philosophy of literacy has opened my eyes to some of the possibilities I have been missing while I nursed my fears.

This is the third year I have served as the co-literacy coach for my school. I applied for this position to help educate myself about how to actually bring the workshop mentality into my classroom. The only way to gain confidence was to gain understanding of exactly what “workshop” was. My hope was to share what I learned with others who may be feeling the same way I did for far longer than was necessary.

When I look at my pile in the right light, the fear and discomfort are replaced by a sense of renewed hope. But I really need a better place to store these haphazard hopes for the 2019-2020 school year.

I need a Literacy Hope Chest

The hope chests of the pharaohs, the ones containing the wisdom of ancient scrolls, were created with elaborate woodwork, complex designs, and intricate hinges. It’s time to bring them back. The only real requirement is that they contain hope, right?

But I need to remember that it takes great time and care to create a beautiful hope chest, both inside and out. Hope can’t be rushed. The hope chest has evolved, in design and appearance, but regardless of time, hope for the future is what remains at the heart of each chest.

Here are some of the items I’ve chosen for my Literacy Hope Chest for 2019-2020:

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Blended (lent to me by “Tepper” this year), Sharon M. Draper’s latest masterpiece
Out of My Mind also created by Draper
Come Back Salmon by Molly Cone (Now considered an historical text, but still a keeper)
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Riding Freedom by Pam Munoz Ryan
The Wild Robot by Peter Ryan
Wishtree also brought to life by Applegate

Limited space versus unlimited possibilities

Next year’s hope chest needs to have limited space, though. It can’t be too big. Too many possibilities, too many ideas still unopened, can lead to regret about all of those little pieces of hope that stayed hidden, each possibility left unexplored.

I have to limit my space, but limited space doesn’t mean limited possibility. The possibilities are endless. Lack of time doesn’t mean lack of inspiration. There’s always the hope that next year’s gang will benefit from the abundant resources I have gathered in my quest to master the art of teaching workshop.

For now, I need to turn back to the present, to the last few weeks of our current school year. I need to leave my pile of possibilities waiting and remind myself to look at all of the possibilities that did happen this year, like our most recent look at the novel Pay It Forward, the topic of my recent post.

With help from our 4T families, this year’s class had a bake sale after school, earning close to $350 to donate to Pets for Vets, the charity they chose to help during our paying kindness forward campaign. The kids also did private projects at home, earning over $200 more to donate to the cause.

And that Sweet Sixteen birthday I had to relocate my pile of possibilities for?

When the girls returned from their ladies’ dinner out on the town, they were bursting to tell me how, out of nowhere, an elderly couple sitting at a booth nearby them, picked up their entire dinner tab. A small moment…a big impact…a welcome dose of renewed hope.

For now, my not-yet pile is back under the chair. There are a lot of garage sales in New Jersey during the summer months. My hope chest is out there waiting for me. I’ll know it when I see it.

Thanks for reading us here at MiddleWeb!

See ya’ in September!

Mary Tarashuk

Mary Tarashuk teaches 4th grade at Wilson Elementary School in Westfield, New Jersey. Mary has been an educator for over 20 years. She has served as content writer and creative consultant for the national, award-winning initiative The Walking Classroom since its inception in 2005. Mary’s work has been published in Education Digest and was honored with the SmartBrief Education 2016 Editors’ Choice Content Award. Trying to balance her old-school teaching style with New Age methods that integrate ever-changing technology keeps her on her toes. She believes that fresh air and exercise enhance learning and engage students of all ages. Follow her on Twitter @maryrightangle and visit her personal blog (launched in 2021) Behind the Doors of the Teacher's Room for some adult conversation.

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