Books That Nourish My Teaching Soul by Meenoo Rami
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about things that nourish our teaching soul. I have been also thinking a great deal about things that help us find energy in our work and things that take away energy. I am also realizing the importance of energy and the scarcity of it in schools, especially during this time of the year.
For us in Philadelphia, this has been a brutal winter, which has led to many snow days. It also means that we do not have our original spring break in the school calendar and are looking at only couple of days off from school before the year ends on June 20th. This long stretch of time without any time away from it is going to some toll on us. I know this is not just true for me but many of my colleagues, days away from school actually helps us to get rejuvenated and come more prepared and excited about the work we’re doing with our students. Whether it is going to see art or music shows, spending time with our families, or finally finding time for that book you’ve been wanting to read for months — taking some time away from grading, planning, and teaching actually makes our teacher-brains more energized and ready to tackle the challenges we face everyday in the classroom.
Like many bloggers and followers of Nerdy Book Club, I also turn to books for comfort, escape, rejuvenation, and inspiration. Lately, I have been devouring books by Andrew Smith. If you haven’t read WINGER by him, it is a must read for all of us in room 311 at the Science Leadership Academy. I love discovering and reading new and new-to-me YA authors and their books, and sharing these titles with my students via books talks. Additionally, there are handful of books that I will turn to over and over again for inspiration; re-reading them gives me new insights no matter how many times I have read them before. Here are few of those books for me:
“Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human being pursue in the world, with the world and with each other” (72). These are the word I try to remind myself when I turn to create unit plans, think about the type of work my students and I are going to take on together in the classroom.
I love poetry because of what E. B. White said about it, “When you read, don’t let the poet write down to you; read up to him. Reach for him from your gut out, and the heart and muscles will come into it, too.” And there so many poets to love: Pablo Neruda, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Adrienne Rich, and Wislawa Szymborska. But there is something about Rumi that remains like a home for me. He writes:
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
(Translation Coleman Barks)
It may sound like I am over-reaching here but on my best days in the classroom, I understand what Rumi is saying above, that our work with our students can be an act of courage and surrender/prayer at once.
I love this book and these words by Anna Quindlen because they continue to remind me about my quest to find balance in my life, especially my teaching life. She writes:
You cannot be really first-rate at your work if your work is all you are.
So I suppose the best piece of advice I could give anyone is pretty simple: get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house. Do you think you’d care so very much about those things if you developed an aneurysm one afternoon, or found a lump in your breast while in the shower?
Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over the dunes, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over a pond and a stand of pines. Get a life in which you pay attention to the baby as she scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a Cheerio with her thumb and first finger.
Turn off your cell phone. Turn off your regular phone, for that matter. Keep still. Be present.
Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love you. And remember that love is not leisure, it is work.
So, now it is my turn to get some book recommendations from you, Nerdy Book Club members. What books nourish your teaching soul? What books do you turn to again and again for hope, inspiration, and rejuvenation? I can’t wait to check out some of your recommendations.
Meenoo Rami is a national board certified teacher who teaches her students English at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA, and co-chairs EduCon annually. Mixing moments of joy, laughter, risk and encouragement Meenoo pushes her students to think critically about their connection to the word and the world. She has shared her classroom practice at various conferences such as: NCTE, ISTE, ASCD, EduCon, Urban Sites Conference for National Writing Project, and #140edu. Meenoo also runs a weekly twitter chat for English teachers called #engchat which bring teachers from around the country together to discuss ideas related to teaching of English. Meenoo also works as a teacher-consultant for the Philadelphia Writing Project. Meenoo’s book Thrive from Heinemann is out this month.