Guest Post: Jennie Fitzkee

Jennie is an American blogger. She is a truly inspirational teacher of young children, with a real love of reading, books, and education.
She is not only the teacher I wish I had had, but the one we should all have had.

https://jenniefitzkee.com

Here is her guest post.

How Reading-Aloud Made Me the Teacher and Person I Am Today.

My very first day of teaching preschool in Massachusetts, thirty-two years ago, was both career and life altering. Lindy, my co-teacher, asked me to read the picture books to children each day after our Morning Meeting. Sure (gulp)! I was new, scared, and unfamiliar with many children’s books. I had not been read to as a child, except for The Five Chinese Brothers from my grandmother. I still remember the page that opens sideways, with the brother who could stretch his legs. One book, and to this day I remember it vividly.

The book I read to the children on that first day of school was Swimmy, by Leo Lionni. It was magical for me, and for the children. The story line, the art, the engineering, the words… it was a taste of something I knew I had to have. And, I couldn’t get enough.

The next few decades I consumed children’s books. I realized that the more I read aloud, the more the children wanted to hear stories and be read to. I displayed books in my classroom front-facing, so children were drawn to picking up and ‘reading’ the books. In this way, the children wanted to handle, hold, and turn the pages of books. This was a big deal! It was true hands-on learning, with exploding questions and interest. I was the yeast in the dough, or perhaps the books were the yeast. Oh, our Morning Meetings grew. We had to include a children’s dictionary on the bookshelf so we could look up words that were new. That was fun!

By this time I had become picky about good books. Whenever I read a good book, it sparked so many questions and conversations, that sometimes it took ‘forever’ to get through the book. The first time I read Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky, it took forty minutes to finish reading the book. I started with the inside cover, a picture of the courtyard, and simply asked questions; “Where is this?” “Does this look like Massachusetts?” “What is different?”

Reading picture books triggered big discussions. I often stopped to ask questions. Sometimes I would simply say, “Oh, dear…” in mid-sentence and let the children grab onto that rope. Yes, I was throwing out a lifeline, a learning line, and it worked. It was exciting, always engaging.

Before long, I started reading chapter books before rest time. This was unconventional for preschoolers, yet it felt right because children were on their nap mats and needed to hear stories without seeing pictures. I started with Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, and have never looked back. The first thing children learned was ‘you make the pictures in your head’. This is thrilling, because we now have non-stop reading and multiple discussions, without pictures. Thirty minutes of pretty intense reading-aloud. My chapter books include the best of the best.

My teaching had become language based and child centered. Often there were ‘moments’, things that happened because we were reading all the time. Reading had spilled over into my curriculum. The day we had set up a restaurant in housekeeping, children were ‘reading’ menus and ‘writing’ orders on clipboards. I was spelling out the words to one child and listening to questions about the menu from another child. I doubt these moments would have happened had I not read so often in the classroom.

I wanted to tell families what happened, about moments of learning, and of course about reading-aloud. So, I started to write more information in my newsletters, and include details. I wrote, and I wrote, sharing small moments and relating those moments to the big picture in education.

I attended a teacher seminar, and Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, was the keynote speaker. As he spoke I wanted to jump up and rush over to the hundreds of teachers in the room, screaming, “Are you listening to this man?” “Do you realize how important his message is?” Instead I wrote him a letter and included one of my newsletters to families that spoke about the importance of reading-aloud. That sparked his interest in my chapter reading, and he visited my classroom to watch. I’m included in the latest version of his million copy bestselling book.

My public library asked me to direct a library reading group for second and third graders. This was another new adventure in reading. I read The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes, among many wonderful books. Again, these were new books to me, and I loved it. This past summer I embraced YA books, thanks to reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I read every Kate DiCamillo book I could lay my hands on. Every one.

My reading and reading-aloud continues to grow. Thank you Read-Aloud West Virginia for getting the message of how important reading is to the public. We are making a difference.

Jennie

I have followed Jennie’s blog for a long time now, and I don’t even have children. But I get inspiration and wonder from reading about her dedication to teaching, and her love of the kids she cares for. Please read her blog. And if you have small children, you will want to follow her heartwarming stories of a life devoted to education, kindness, and compassion.

102 thoughts on “Guest Post: Jennie Fitzkee

  1. I love reading all about what made Jennie, Jennie. Every word exudes her enthusiasm for reading and inspiring children to read. I follow her blog as well and also have no children to read to but she gives me hope for our future generation. I wish they could clone her a million times. I adore this special woman.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Thank you Pete, What a fabulous woman! I would love to have had her as my teacher. I know how rewarding reading can be as I adored it from joining the library at around seven. After following various pursuits and writing awhile, I worked as a ‘Dinner lady’ in our local school for ten years and home-schooled a few boys who were behind in their reading. I found it very rewarding, and discovered one shy little lad went on to University in later years and surprised me by writing and thanking me for my patience!! And that was just one child. Imagine being able to mould hundreds…..What a gift!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Joy! I love your Dinner Lady story. You never know when you might make a difference. And when you find out that you did, it is joyous. The simplest things can make a difference. Reading aloud makes a big difference. My next two posts speak to that, each in very different ways. Joy, I love, love your blog (thank you, Sally Cronin). Many thanks for your wonderful words.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Pete, I must tell you that Charles was one of my first blog followers. He is an English professor at two top colleges over here. He reads aloud, I read aloud. He knows that it’s the most important thing. I know that, too. He reads Shakespeare aloud, I read Charlotte’s Web aloud. We have the same common bond. I tell Charles that I get my children ready for his class. 😀

        Liked by 3 people

  3. This was wonderful to read. I too loved to read children’s books to my students. I started teaching kindergarten 38 years ago. Reading to my students was an important part of my day. When I transitioned to middle school 6-8 graders I still read books that fit the science unit at the time.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m glad you had the same experience, Lauren. I also read to older children at the library. As you know, it makes a tremendous difference. And it’s fun. Thank you for reading and commenting. I’m pleased you enjoyed this!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Hi Julie! Your father definitely gave you the love of words. I keep a children’s dictionary close by so we can look up words together at school. Children think this is so cool. Most have never seen a dictionary before. When I retire I want to read for the blind, or read at an assisted living facility. I already read aloud at the library. You are right on using all the senses. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for this post Pete. How I wish I had a teacher like Jennie when I was a kid.
    I cannot time travel and mend what happened when I was a kid, but I promise to read aloud to my kid everyday.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I was delighted to start my day reading Jennie’s thoughtful words. You are right on the mark with your words of praise for her, Pete. One doesn’t need to have children to see that she is someone who makes things clear in children’s eyes and connects with them in a manner we wish all teachers did.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, Pete. I wish all teachers carried a favorite book in their pocket so they could pull it out to read to children – whenever. The ‘no scheduled time for reading’ is the worst. When I don’t have a book, I tell a story. The children’s bathroom is popular for reading and Jennie Stories. You might remember the story of the junior high principal in Boston (Jim Trelease book) that turned the school around simply by having teachers read aloud. Apologies for the ramble, yet I can see you smiling and nodding your head. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I know your little ones are too small for this, but I regularly brought in whatever book I was on and read with the kids during silent reading time. I was always asking them about their books, and they were, in turn, interested in what I was reading. We should model what we want the kids to learn.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Exactly! I’m not surprised you carried a book around and read during SSR. You were a role model! And children love it when you’re interested in them and ask questions. It all fans the love of reading fire. While my kids are too young, instead I tell a story, from real to pretend, to something I make up along the way.

          Liked by 2 people

  7. My parents never read a story to me or my siblings during childhood, and I don’t specifically recall my elementary school teachers reading stories, although I suspect they must have done so. I did like reading as a child, though. My first books were Hardy Boys adventures, and then I quickly (around age 10) moved on to “The Lost World” (Arthur Conan Doyle) and “White Fang” (Jack London)—books which I’ve reread in both English and French translation as an adult. Those early books inspired me to write a long adventure story in my spare time at home, which I might still have somewhere. I also wrote an essay—a strange one about a special tombstone. My elementary school teacher told me I should become a writer someday…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for adding your memories, David. I wasn’t read-aloud to that much in school. The teacher used to makes us read out lines from the books in turn. But I wish I had had Jennie to read to me. 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. What a wonderful story, David. I was never read aloud to either. I never visited a library as a child. I have racked my brain to try and tried to remember a teacher reading aloud. I can only recall Beowulf. The teacher was awful, so that turned me off to reading. Very sad. Thank goodness you had a wise elementary teacher. 🙂 Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Father read to my sister and me every evening when were little and I think that is what gave me a love of words. I also read with a dictionary at my side to increase my vocabulary. I fear that pictures have become more important than words nowadays and worry that children are losing the ability to listen.
    I record newspaper articles and read for the blind locally and am delighted that audio books are becoming more popular. We need to educate people to use all their senses – but , then, I am preaching to the converted.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. A fantastic post, very inspiring. I hope many teachers (and parents) take note. Oh, the joy of reading… Thanks, Pete and Jennie, and keep up the good work! (I agree with you, Pete. We should all have a teacher like Jennie in our lives.)

    Liked by 3 people

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