When I first started in my position as mentor teacher six years ago, I was lucky enough to occupy a vacant assistant principal’s office in my building (we weren’t large enough to need a second administrator at that time). As enrollment grow and space decreased, though, I my workspace was relocated–out of the office and into a closet. A cloffice, my principal kindly labeled it.
And so, for the past three years, I have worked in my cloffice in our fourth grade pod. As far as cloffices go, it isn’t too bad–there’s plenty of space for my desk, books, filing cabinets, and a cozy ottoman for people to sit on when they come to talk to me. Climate control and natural lighting are a bit difficult without vents and windows, but it’s nothing a fan and some lamps can’t handle.
The hard part, though, is being tucked away deep inside the school instead of in the office, which we all know is the heart of the building. The fourth grade teachers have been kind enough to take me on as an “honorary” buddy since I’m residing in their storage closet, but many people in the building don’t even know where my space is located. Even though I’m out and about in the building a lot, many days can go by where my time in my office is completely uninterrupted–no one even stops by to say hi.
Back in January, one of the fourth graders from the room next door paused outside my cloffice for a minute when he was on his way to gather his backpack and coat. “Mrs. Valter,” he said. “Did you know I’m working on some poetry?”
I, of course, encouraged him to tell me more. He spent a few moments telling me about the poems he was writing at home and how he had big plans to put them all onto one big poster. I encouraged him to bring them to show me anytime–I would love to read them.
A week or so later, he stopped in again. “Mrs. Valter! Did you know I’m reading Charlotte’s Web? I’m only on chapter six and I don’t even know who Charlotte is yet, but they tried to kill the pig!”
And so, once again, I encouraged him to tell me more. He told me about how he was reading the book because he likes to read but he just doesn’t ever have time to read at home. I shared with him some of my favorite parts from the early chapters of the book and hinted about how much I knew he would love the rest. I made him promise to tell me how the book was going the next time we saw each other.
A few days later, he was back in my doorway again. “Mrs. Valter, did you know Charlotte is a spider?” That time he came on in my office and looked at the books on my bookshelf, asking me if I’d actually read all of them and looking at me in shocked disbelief when I confirmed that yes, I actually have read almost all of them.
Our visits have continued like this for the past couple of weeks–him stopping in my doorway every few days as he travels in and out of his classroom, anxious to tell me about Charlotte and Wilbur and his feelings about the book.
This week he finished Charlotte’s Web and I could tell he was excited to talk about it when he appeared in my cloffice today. He thought hard to make sure he told me all of the names of Charlotte’s babies and protested about how unfair and shocking he found her death to be. He expressed confusion over the way Fern’s role in the story diminished after Charlotte came along. He told me how much he loved the book and that he wished he would have spent more time reading it in the evenings instead of calling his friends on the phone.
As he left, he looked back over his shoulder and leaned in through the doorway a bit. “Hey, Mrs. Valter? I just started reading Lunch Money. Have you read that one, too?”
“Andrew Clements is one of my favorite authors!” I replied without hesitation. “And that book is one of his best. I can’t wait to hear what you think!”
Some people may wonder why I read children’s books, especially since I haven’t been in the classroom for quite awhile. But the truth is, they’re not just books. Sometimes they’re the exact tool we need to build a relationship with a child.
I’m excited to join other writers every Tuesday (and daily during the month of March) in 2017 to participate in the Slice of Life writing challenge through Two Writing Teachers. Read all about how you can Write. Share. Give. on their website here.