Classroom Reading Writing

An Open Letter To My Students:

Dear Readers, I forgot to share this letter with you. It was meant for my students, and while they have read it, I feel it is important to share with you too, because you have become part of this journey. Thank you for joining along with me this year or for as long as you have been reading. Thank you for your comments and constant hits on the site, even when I lag in posting. Enjoy!



An Open Letter To My Students:

On the first day of school, the look on your faces when I told you to read five books by the end of September was priceless. And then when I told you, to write for twenty minutes a day on top of that, the fear in your eyes almost made me back down. But at seven years into teaching, I’ve learned not to trust your eyes, at least not in moments like that.

However, the truth is I wasn’t sure if you could do it. I mean my fancy teacher books, blogs, and workshops had said that you could, but I wasn’t sure. It seemed like an insane amount of reading and writing. Even when I asked my Mom about it, she thought I was crazy (and my mom, well she’s my teacher expert hero). And so what you might not have heard in the mist of your fear was the trepidation in my voice— and maybe that has been our journey. Fear.

Maybe what you don’t know about me is that I love safety. There is nothing more comforting than knowing an outcome before a task has begun. In my past, if I didn’t know the outcome, I simply would have found a different way. The risk of failing, the risk of getting hurt or worse being laughed at, has always been too great.

Yet for some reason this year, the fear felt like less of a “stop right there” and more of an “I dare you to try”.

I was at a crossroad in my career passion and you gave me your hands, your pencils, and your trust. At night, sometimes I would wake up panicked, wondering if I had a lesson that would engage you, wondering if I was giving the right amount of feedback, wondering if I was still the teacher you needed me to be.

Then came you. You guys took what I gave you, and brought it to the next level. You exceeded my expectations academically, forcing me to raise the bar again and again. But that wasn’t all; you got excited and started dreaming too. Soon your dreams and ‘what ifs’ became our new curriculum. I wasn’t alone at all; I had 75 people planning with me, giving feedback, dreaming bigger.

I need to thank you for pushing your fears aside. I need to thank you for giving me the freedom to teach you as individuals. I need to thank you for allowing me to fail and for dreaming with me again.

After 180 days together, these are the messages I hope we both take home: When life hands you a healthy dose of fear and you’re not sure you can go on, know that sometimes when fear whispers it’s less a place to stop and more of a dare to press on. When your plans fail, when something doesn’t work, and everything falls to pieces— keep dreaming, keep chasing after . . .  there is a supercar just around the corner.

In closing, I believe children’s book author A.A. Milne has said it the best, “If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together . . . there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

Sincerely your teacher, mentor, coach, editor, hairdresser, stain remover, relationship advice giver, DJ,  fearless dreamer,


Miss Smith


Classroom Writing

Guest Blogger—Lynn Balmer: The Power of Words

When my coworker, Lynn, sent me this piece of writing, I knew I had to share it with you. She is truly ahappyteacher, but this morning she was also ahappywriter.  Nothing makes me happier than passionate people, passionate people writing—they’re my BFFs.

Anyway, she wrote this as a model for her students, to show effective organization. I’m pretty sure it also shows effective voice, style, and everything good writing should be. I love Lynn for sharing like this with her kids; I love Lynn for sharing this with me; I’m sure you’ll love her too. . . .

“The Power of Words”

            I wasn’t the prettiest, smartest, or most popular person in my class.  But like any normal kid, I wanted to get attention from my peers and teachers.  Fortunately, I found a way that was positive: humor.  And no where did that humor come out more than through my writing.  I evolved as a writer from the kindergartner who gripped a pencil tightly with her tongue sticking out as she carefully formed each letter to the  teacher who still hunts and pecks as she types a mentor text for her eighth grade students.

Picture this:  a five year old with a bad hair cut from her grandfather (it was a way for a single income family to save a few bucks) and pink cat eye classes (hey, it was 1963; I was stylin’).  Eager to start school and impress the teacher, I proudly printed my first name at the top of my paper.  L  nn.  Miss McGregor walked by, glancing at my paper as I smiled up at her, despite the stern look she gave me (as the year progressed, those stern looks turned into vicious slaps meant to stifle my chattiness and humorous remarks which I never raised my hand for).   She made no comment, but later that day I got to take a note home to my mom.  My school career had just started; what did I know about notes home from the teacher.  Later that night, my mom informed me that she couldn’t practice my letters and name with me anymore.  The teacher said I wasn’t making my letters correctly, specifically the “y”, and the school had a particular way that they wanted to teach students how to write.  These were different times from today, a time when both students and parents deferred to teachers’ wisdom (and discipline), so my mom dutifully allowed the school to teach me how to write letters properly.  And while writing is much more than knowing how to write your name, my earliest memories of writing are about writing my name, my identity, backwards “Y” and all.  Fortunately, Mrs. McGregor did not smack the joy of learning out of me, nor did she quell my witty remarks, which amused the class.  I loved elementary school, especially reading and writing which came quite easily to me, and I readily accepted the role as class clown.

My writing flourished, however, when I hit middle and high school.  By now I was experimenting with the actual spelling of my name, ranging from the typical “Lyn” or “Lynne” to the more unique “Lyne” which was short-lived because people began calling me “Line”.  But the real power of writing for me came with the status it gave me as a funny person, a natural born storyteller.  Quite a few teaches allowed us to perform skits to show our knowledge, whether it was reenacting Columbus’s discovery of America in social studies or creating a different ending to a novel we’d read in English class.  And here is where I finally got to shine.  I was the writer of the script.  Naturally, I had a star role in the production too, and no matter how serious the topic, I always managed to work some humor into it.  At that time I didn’t own a type writer, but I didn’t mind filling sheet after sheet with blue ball point pen, crossing out a word here to put in a more precise one, inserting a comma there, and sometimes even ripping up the whole paper to start over.  Like most adolescents, I was painfully aware of my appearance (my stylin’ pink eye glasses now replaced by the much more hip octagon wire frames of the 70’s) and while I was limited in my ability to perfect my appearance, I was empowered with the written word, which I used to express myself and to entertain others.

By now I realized that my status in school was someone who was smart, but not too smart, and funny.  While I never ran with the most popular people, I was accepted by them because I could make them laugh.  In 11th and 12th grades I had the same English teacher, Mrs. Watkins, and under her tutelage I created literary analyses, research papers, and my personal favorite: narratives.  Stories about me and my life experiences which I could embellish and make funny.  What’s more, she let me read them aloud to the class (I always volunteered), and I can still picture it:  me at a desk with the chair attached which was in the very front of the room, the blackboard behind me with Mrs. Watkin’s perfect handwriting conveying profound words of wisdom, and the whole classes’ eyes on me as I read my story.  Not that I wanted anyone looking at me too closely back then (I never felt like I had quite the right look or clothes or hair and by now my eyes were so bad that no matter what kind of cool glasses I tried on, by the time my prescription was put into them, I looked like I was wearing the classic geek Coke bottles, definitely not a way to get a boyfriend). However, the real draw of the classes’ focus on me was the power of my written words on an audience.  Maybe Richard wasn’t going to go to the Homecoming dance with me (my fantasy), but I could make him laugh, and that kind of attention drove me to write more and more.  Poetry (most of it really bad) and letters to friends when I went off to college (long before email and texting), and eventually lesson plans as a student teacher for 7th grade English.

Because now writing was not just a way for me to be the center of attention as I made people laugh.  It was something I was good at, whether I wrote to entertain, inform, or persuade.  I chose a career to teach others how to read and write because I loved doing both these things so much, that I wanted to inspire others to love them too (or at least appreciate what the written word has to offer).  And so here I sit, hunting and pecking on my keyboard, writing a mentor text for my 8th grade students, feeling the power of the written words as they seem to almost magically appear on the page (wearing both contacts and funky reading glasses now that my myopic eyes are middle aged).   When I share this written piece with them, in hopes of inspiring them to think about how they have progressed, evolved, and grown in their own lives, I also hope that they appreciate the power of the written word.  And maybe even laugh a few times.