Saturday, March 18, 2017

Pivotal point in my career - #SOLSC Day 18

I love March, when during the Slice of Life Challenge, I commit to writing on a daily basis. It's fun during 31 days of posts to watch the ebb and flow of my writing. Some days I'll be incredibly pleased with how a post turned out; other days I'll just be glad I posted anything at all. A huge thanks to the gang at Two Writing Teachers for hosting, organizing, and commenting on this ginormous event each year. I appreciate the community of writers you encourage the entire month of March, and all the Tuesdays the rest of the year. Thank you, thank you.

**This March, I plan to connect as many posts as possible to my #OLW for the yearSAVOR.** 

***And I apologize to any reader who has heard the story embedded in this post before, but this story changed my professional life forever. As I reflect back on a 36 year career, this story is worth telling one more time.***

What was one of the pivotal points of your career?

My trainer asked me this question during our training session today. We had been talking about my retirement, and her question, coming as I was doing a variety of arm exercises, felt like it came out of left field. But I was able to respond immediately.

The summer I came to Dublin, and was assigned to teach fourth grade. I moved in across the hall from a teacher who was new to Dublin as well. At our first meeting  after the usual pleasantries, she asked me if I had ever heard of writing workshop, Donald Graves, or Lucy Calkins. My reply to her was a triple no; I had heard of none of those. So she handed me two books she had read about writing workshop and asked if I would read them, and think about them with her. My love for workshop and really learning more about the art of teaching began then, in August of 1986.

There have been other pivotal points in my career, but I truly believe that all the other moments would not have happened had Mary Lee Hahn not moved in across the hall from me in August of 1986.

Our first exchange shaped the arc of my professional career for the 31 years I have taught in Dublin. It began with that conversation, but morphed into so much more.

Hey, I had the best lesson in writing workshop today. Do you have time to chat so I can share and process what happened?

Oh my gosh. My mini-lesson flopped today. Can I run it by you?

I'm trying to think of how to help this writer. Would you mind taking a look at her writing with me?

I've been acquiring all these poetry books, and I have enough now to devote one entire bookcase to them. How cool is that?!! 
(Now anyone who knows ML at all, knows this last comment was definitely her! The rest of the comments could have been either of us on any given day.)

For the two years we were on the same 4th grade team, we were in each other's rooms before school, at planning, and after school, working on the art and craft of our teaching, especially in regards to literacy. I lost track of how many professional books were purchased and read during our time together at Deer Run.

Our relationship was the standard to which I have held all future collegial, collaborative relationships.

I hope that, at some point, I have been able to give the gift of professionalism and caring about the art of teaching literacy to someone else, the same way Mary Lee gave it to me. Because it truly is a gift that I have been savoring for a lifetime.

The first two professional books ML introduced to me.


  1. ML has gifted so, so many of us with her collegiality, professional wisdom, and gentle spirit.

  2. What a gift to have a mentor-friend in this profession! So glad you shared this story.

  3. Relationships can infuse such passion into teaching. It certainly challenges and forces one to grow in ways that were not at first imagined.

  4. What an impact one person makes on another. I will bet you were the ML to many others in your career. I think there is something magical about the Dublin school district. It has a way of producing the most incredible teachers.

  5. Our mentors really do change our lives. You have such a great friend/colleague in Mary Lee.

  6. This is a great story! I love hearing your passion and excitement through your voice in this slice.

  7. This post makes my heart soar. I hadn't heard this story before. Love it!

  8. What a relationship to treasure! It's one of the things that make going to work a pleasure.

  9. I never heard that story -- thank you for sharing. It is so lovely to hear how we all began and found our paths. I have no doubt that you have done this for others!

  10. This is new to me, Karen. I knew you were colleagues but didn't know that you had taught on the same time. Lucky you, and lucky Mary Lee!

  11. When you find those people, you need to hang on! My "work spouse" moved to a different district two years ago, but we still get together frequently and share what we're excited about in our classrooms. It makes such a difference to have company on the journey.

  12. I love to hear stories of inspiration and revelation in the lives of other teachers. So glad you and Mary Lee met each other and collaborated to help so many students! LOVE IT.

  13. I love hearing this story about you and Mary Lee. You're both amazing. Everyone should be so lucky to have a teaching relationship (and friendship) like that!

  14. Two people changed my life: Don Graves and Jane Hansen. When I read Don's book, "A Fresh Look at Writing" I transformed my classroom. When I read Jane Hansen's book (Don's colleague, frequent co-author, and co-researcher) "When Writers Read" I packed everything I owned and moved to Virginia to get a PhD and learn from her. That's how much those two geniuses changed my life!

  15. Wow, what a powerful experience for you. Love this story. You were very lucky to have this neighbor early in your career. I work with beginning teachers and this is the type of relationship I don't see nearly often enough.

  16. This story never gets old. Every time you tell it, I get to relive the exhilaration of BEGINNING, and I'm as lucky as you are that there was someone there to share that excitement. Now, at this end of our long and varied careers, there is luck and joy in having someone with whom to share the fulfillment.