Monday, February 15, 2016

fight for fun

There are three books that have shaped my teaching more than any other: Reading with Meaning by Debbie Miller, Teaching with Intention by Debbie Miller, and Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop by Patrick Allen.

In Patrick's book (I'm pretending we're on a first name basis), he recounts a conversation from years ago that he had with a friend and colleague.  They were out for coffee, chatting about former students and retired teaching friends when rather out of the blue, Patrick's friend asked him:

"What are your guiding principals?  What are you willing to fight for?"


I can only imagine these questions begin thrown out by a wide-eyed, inspirational administrator to kick off the first staff meeting of the year.  There's a brand new group of kiddos ready to trample the doors in less than 24 hours.  Welcome letters need copying, desks need name tags, and hallway displays already need more tape. Teachers' minds are swirling with to-dos, and we are being asked to consider our guiding principles.

Double ugh.

These really are the kind of questions that make the teacher in me cringe. Not because they aren't important questions, but because I should have a really good answer, and up until a few years ago, I didn't.

My guiding principals were whatever my mentor teacher told me to do, and I was fighting for survival, fighting to get out of my school by 5:00 at night, and fighting to stay one day ahead on lesson planning.  And let's be honest, I was totally losing those fights.

I was comforted my Patrick's response. 

"I don't know."

He, too, was taken off guard, claiming the casual conversation between colleagues was feeling more like a job interview.  He ended up rattling off some answer about every child being a learner, thinking strategy instruction, building community, blah, blah, blah.  His colleague called him out on such a ridiculous, fluffy answer and told him to really think about these questions. 

It was to my great advantage that I was reading this book during the summer.  And not just any summer - a summer before I had children.  Can you say "time on my hands?" To my credit, I used this time wisely and really thought about how I'd answer these questions.

By the end of that summer, I'd typed out my answers, and they've been in the front of my lesson planning book for the past six years. 

What are my guiding principles?  

There are a million ways to run a classroom, many of which are effective, but what beliefs would determine each decision I make? I wrote out eight beliefs, but number three seems most applicable to my current musing.

Children learn best when I am engaged and genuinely enthusiastic. 

What am I willing to fight for?  

What do I believe to be so important to the education of my students that if someone told me "Uh uh, Mrs. Becker, no more of that," I would be passionate enough and knowledgeable enough to fight for?

Fun. I would fight for fun.

A few weeks ago, a teacher popped into my office after school.  State testing season is just around the corner, and the stress of it is bringing out the crazies in us all.  We got talking about numbers and percentages and who passed last year and who didn't pass and by how many points and bubble kids and rubrics and constructive responses and testing tips and tricks and pretty soon we just had to laugh at how ridiculous we sounded. 

"Are you having fun teaching?" I asked her.

"I always have fun teaching," she said.

"What about your kids?  Are they having fun at school?"

"Yes and no.  I've worked hard to create an environment that allows for fun, but they dread the repetition and the demand.  They know we are all pushing for a better score. "

I hated that she was right. 

"We're really gonna have to fight for fun around here, ya know?  But I think it's possible."

Since that conversation, I keep thinking about that phrase - fight for fun.  The fun isn't going to just happen; we will have to battle through standards, assessments, teacher evaluations, assessments, data charts, and yes, another round of assessments to find it. But hidden at the bottom of that pile is the thrill of learning and the joy of teaching that drove every educator into their classroom.   

We've started to convince ourselves there isn't time for fun.  We aren't allowed to have fun because  fun isn't rigorous enough.  (Good grief.) 

At the beginning of this month, I became a "traveling  instructional coach," working now in three  elementary schools instead of just one which has given me a great opportunity to be in even more outstanding classrooms. Every moment in a classroom is a confirmation to me that teaching is hard.  Education is an exhausting place to be right now, and the government isn't doing anything to make it easier. But I still believe that fun is possible. I believe it because I see it. I see classrooms dancing, singing, and laughing.  I've seen art projects,  paint, and even glitter.  I have seen science be an icky, sticky, mess and social studies involve costumes.  I've listened to teachers read books in such a magical way that a carpet full of seven-year-olds break out into applause. And it is no surprise to me that in those classrooms, the ones where teachers are fighting for fun, all those assessment and testing scores just kinda fall into place. 

(I will now dismount my soapbox.)


  1. Keep fighting my friend...
    We need people who have the endurance and the strength like you do.

  2. Joy, I love your thoughts!!! When did we lose the "fun" of school??? I always watched the best teachers have fun in their classrooms, with their kids and with their peers. We have put do much emphasis on government regulations and assessments that we have lost sight of what's best for kids....and therefore for teachers!!! As I continue my work with educators I am more convinced than ever that RELATIONSHIPS are the most important factor in an effective school. What better way to build relationships than through fun. I certainly understand the pressure of testing but I have also seen the best teachers and principals continue to find ways to make school fun! I think many times we use the standards and state expectations as excuses for not having fun. But in reality is that just an excuse for not trying harder to be more creative and spending the time and energy to create opportunities for fun? I've seen classes bake pies on Pi Day! First graders celebrating the alphabet for 26 days with special activities! Second graders performing a Readers' theater. Students duct taping their principal to the wall. Fun in's still there. Keep fighting for it! Miss you!

    1. Debby, thanks for reading, thanks for your thoughts, and thanks for letting 300 students duct tape you to a wall! :)

  3. Love, love, love this.....made me long a bit for a classroom.

  4. Love, love, love this.....made me long a bit for a classroom.

    1. Thanks for reading, Amanda! Even as a coach, I long for the classroom lots of days!

  5. 1. I love that everytime I read your post I am reminded of how much I value you and your mindset.
    2. I love our conversations and where they go.
    3. I will always fight for fun beside you, my wondeful Fun Warrior

    1. Thanks for being willing to talk about the important stuff with me!