September 14


My Top Ten Joys by Erica Shipow

I have to admit: the start of this school year has not been easy. I don’t like admitting that. It’s not even halfway through September, so it feels a little early to be saying that I’m already exhausted, already losing my patience, already unsure of my teaching. It’s this nagging sense that something isn’t quite right, and it’s been hanging over me since the first few days back at school in mid-August.

I’ve been trying to figure out what’s causing my latent unease, and I think what it comes down to is a lack of joy. I experienced joy in spades this summer – the joy of meeting like-minded colleagues at a writing teachers’ conference, the joy of taking the time to read up on some new strategies for reaching my students, the joy of finding new books to bring back to my classroom in the fall. When I returned to school, though, a lot of that joy disappeared as my colleagues and I jumped right into analyzing our data from last year, updating our curriculum to reflect new standards, and agonizing over just what our kids would be assessed on at the end of the year. Don’t get me wrong – this is all good stuff, and I am extremely proud to be working at a school where we do this kind of “heavy thinking.” But in all the analyzing and planning and worrying, some of the joy started to slip away.

Luckily, a little of that joy has returned now that students are in the building and I can feed off their energy, but I’m still struggling a bit, especially now that I have met my kids and am starting to fret about all that I need to teach them before the end of the year. I need a little inspiration. So, in order to keep myself in check and make sure I don’t lose sight of my bigger goals, I have come up with a list of “joys” that I would like to “teach” my kids before the year is up. This list is no more or less important than my list of reading and writing standards and goals; it’s just…different, and hopefully complementary.

Without further ado…This year, I plan to teach (or rather, inspire my kids to discover):

  1. The joy of finishing a good book and knowing exactly what you are going to read next.
  2. The joy of finishing a good book and having absolutely no idea what you are going to read next (oh, the possibilities!).
  3. The joy of finding out that someone else loves the same books you do.
  4. The joy of finding out that someone absolutely HATED a book that you absolutely LOVED (and vice versa).
  5. The joy of finding the right words at the right moment.
  6. The joy of not having the right words at all and just letting the wrong words bounce around in your head for a while.
  7. The joy of listening to someone else’s words.
  8. The joy of discovering a new word, new turn of phrase, new book, new author, new genre…
  9. The joy of finding your voice.
  10. The joy of sharing your voice.

That is my list of joys. What’s on yours?

Erica Shipow is a 5th grade writing teacher and librarian at Boston Collegiate Charter School in Boston, MA. When she was four, she threw a book down the stairs and was instantly reprimanded by her mother, who told her that “books are our friends.” She is happy to have made friends with so many books since then. You can find her on Twitter at @BorisReads.