Slice of Life Tuesday:Learning from Kelly Gallagher, Penny Kittle & the music teacher up the street

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Up the street and around the corner from our house, the dog walking route I take three times a day and every day with my Sophie, lives a music teacher.  There is also a stone wall, a tree and a fire hydrant – prime attractions for any dog alive – in front of this house, so we pause here very often.

In the early mornings, we hear piano scales: precise, disciplined, efficient: the music teacher getting ready for the day.  In the afternoons, we hear student efforts: sometimes fumbling and stumbling, sometimes less so: the music teacher getting through the day. But at night, we hear wave after wave of gorgeously played sonatas, etudes, and the like: the music teacher enjoying her craft for herself.

On some nights,  when the curtains have not been drawn, I can look into the big picture window and see the pleasure she takes in her craft – she is deeply engrossed, often smiling at some combination of notes that sound just the way she wants.  I wish the students I see trudging up her driveway in the afternoon, clutching their song books with grim I-need-to-get-through-this determination could see this side of their music teacher: the side that loves and lives music.  It might change their perspective of music as a chore into music as a gift.

Early this morning, as Sophie and I enjoyed a little Chopin on our walk by the piano teacher’s house, my thoughts turned to two podcasts from The Teacher Learning Sessions I had been listening to and mulling over – a wise and fabulous conversation between Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher:

I love Penny’s podcasts for their learning and wisdom, of course, but also for the love of reading and writing that shines through in each of the conversations she shares: these are educators who live and breathe literacy, just as deeply as my neighbor up the street lives and breathes music.  That kind of commitment and joy empowers and inspires us both as teachers and practitioners of the craft, that’s the kind of commitment and joy in the reading and writing process that we want to foster in our kids, too – it moves them beyond just learning with us for the year and shows them that literacy is a worthy habit to grow all their lives.

Kelly Gallagher closed with these thoughts, which have been rattling around in my brain this Slice of Life morning:

I don’t care how good the reading and writing standards are if kids don’t read and write a whole lot more than they are currently reading and writing. It’s just not going to happen…because a curriculum that is a mile wide and an inch deep is not going to serve my kids…If they’re not reading and writing, I don’t care that I can check off that I covered the standards this year in my classroom…I think we need a mind shift that, yes, we know that we are going to teach certain “stuff”, but what we’re really teaching are readers and writers and THEY are the curriculum.  We’re looking at their needs and we’re looking at where they are, and that is where we start in trying to figure out how to create a classroom that’s conducive to making them readers and writers.  I don’t start the year thinking ‘what’s my test question going to be for To Kill A Mockingbird?’, I start the year by thinking ‘are these kids reading and writing enough?’ and if the answer is ‘no’, then what am I going to do about it?

I love this.  It gets right to the heart of our teaching practices…we need to focus on living and teaching to the reading writing life, so that our kids can see that it is a worthwhile and life long practice.  Reading and writing is not a chore, after all, it is a gift.


22 thoughts on “Slice of Life Tuesday:Learning from Kelly Gallagher, Penny Kittle & the music teacher up the street

  1. I agree wholeheartedly w/ Kelly. I had an interview w/ Steve Peha for his newsletter and referenced Kelly. All that matters is reading and writing. Period. Standards mean nothing when they are about focusing on the standards and ignoring the people in the room.

  2. Your words have triggered so many internal conversations – a reminder from the beginnings of my teaching life: Neil Postman’s Teaching as a Subversive Activity. That relationship between teaching and learning is the key. It’s always about us and them, not us and the curriculum. I don’t remember who said it, but the problem with the latter is that it is the football theory of education and when you try to cover a lot of curriculum, most of it stays hidden.

  3. That is the passion I hope to find in teachers when I work in a school. Unfortunately, that is not what I usually find. At least your students have the benefit of a teacher who sees them and teaches them, not only the standards. Great analogy with the music teacher!

  4. This is so beautifully crafted. Love the humor and the seriousness of the topic.

    The comparison between what you notice outside the music teacher’s home and your understanding of writing/reading/learning via the podcasts speaks clearly to me.

    Thank you, Tara.

  5. This is quite beautiful. I love your description of the piano teacher’s discipline, passion and joy behind the scenes and that parallel that you draw to teachers and teaching and specifically reading and writing and how passion shines through. Thank you for sharing the links to the podcasts. I look forward to listening to them when I have a bit more time.

  6. I love the way you began this post with the story of the piano teacher. I agree that one must be passionate about teaching young minds. Our passion is what will imprint them; it is our gift to them. Reading and writing are the necessary tools for a fulfilling and productive life. Now if we could only get the administrators and test makers out of the way…!

  7. I love the walk with Sophie- something for her, something wonderful for you too. Learning passion for the music teacher… for you… for your students… for all students… what a wonderful dream that I wish could come true.

  8. I love the peek at your piano-teaching neighbor, & think too that her students might benefit from hearing her joyful playing. Penny Kittle & Kelly Gallagher are two of my favorite presenters/writers/teachers. The thing I love most is that they are still teaching, can tell us what they think, & do, right from the classroom. What you shared, so right, Tara!

  9. You words about your walks past the music teacher’s house are very inspiring and true regarding teaching. But, the picture your words painted about the music teacher would have made an wonderful introduction to a short story. I wanted to learn so much more about her and your walks.

  10. What a pleasure this was to read today Tara. I lived near a piano teacher’s house when I was growing up and I loved to walk my dog by there. It felt so perfect and she was so joyously happy when her students came in. Wonderful post.

  11. What a thoughtful post! I was pulled right into the story about the piano teacher, and your connection to teaching reading and writing makes so much sense. Thank you!

  12. What a beautifully crafted post. You took us on a walk around your block and a walk into an importance perspective on teaching literacy. Thank you for this great piece. I will share it with several teachers who can appreciate it.

  13. So beautifully crafted with a message I needed to hear today. I’ve been loving Penny Kittle’s podcast and need to listen to the one with Kelly Gallagher.

  14. What a beautiful story and wonderful connection to teaching. I loved the first podcast with Kelly, but I still need to listen to part 2. A post filled with special teachers in a very special week!

  15. My mother was a piano teacher when I was growing up. I could hear all the stages of the day you spoke about. I was the child who dreaded lessons and practice and hated my mother for making me do it. Yet, the love of music has never left me. That is something she passed on naturally and without even trying. Because when you have a passion, your children or students can’t help but see it. They may complain and wish you wouldn’t make them read or make them write, but they will take the passion with them anyway. They can’t help it.

  16. I haven’t listened to any of the podcasts yet. Putting them on my “listen to someday” list. Excited about a drive to my kids’ house tonight and the drive back from the airport because I’m listening to Rose Under Fire. I’m the teacher relief person during testing. I love roaming the room and checking out what novels the students are reading. “Literacy is a worthy habit to grown all their lives.” Yes, Tara, total agreement here.

  17. I am applauding right now, Tara! I really needed to read your slice today. With our state assessment rapidly approaching, I find myself worrying and fretting instead of celebrating all the great reading we’ve done this year. One of my seventh graders just finished an entire book in two days. She could not tear herself away. That should be enough to settle my nerves.

  18. Thank you for sharing this thoughtful, insightful, and beautifully written post, Tara.
    One of the most rewarding parts of creating the podcasts and sharing conversations like the one between Penny and Kelly is knowing that teachers like you will build on their thinking–mulling it over and letting it rattle around–to find the ways it best helps your teaching practice and, in turn, best helps your students.
    I loved reading this post. (And I loved reading the comments, too.) Thanks again!

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