There are many things I love in life. I love warm blankets and cardigans. I love Kellan hugs after long bouts without seeing him. I love my friends. I love my middle schoolers (even when they are, you know, middle schoolers). But there is one thing I have come to love more than many others in my college years: Penny Kittle.
Ahh. Penny Kittle. The epitome of the English teaching species. Ever since I cracked open Book Love as an underdeveloped sophomore, I have had a passion for Kittle’s words and practices within her classroom. I have watched videos of her presenting mini lessons and devoured her books to glean any knowledge possible. I have written blogs and fangirled while listening to her speak live at NCTE with Kelly Gallagher. I talk about her like we’ve been best friends for ages even though I only know her through her words.
If you can’t tell, I feel strangely close to this woman I have never met.
Our one-sided friendship took an even deeper route when I read her book Public Teaching: One Kid at a Time. This collection of 19 essays is personal and, for me, uplifting. Kittle writes about her successes and failures, unafraid to lay it all out on the line for readers to silently judge.
Kittle’s passion for her career and students is easy to see in the essays she includes. She takes us through her trials, triumphs, and everything in between. Readers see the connections she makes with her students as well as the missed chances that still haunt her. We see her walk through her writing process and see stories unfold involving how it impacts her students. We see her care for the kids in her classroom.
But the essential truth is this: when you enter teaching you enter the lives of kids.
Her stories stuck with me. I was impacted by the realness she shared. Her story of setting frogs loose in her student teaching classroom made me laugh out loud. When she wrote about Molly losing her mom to cancer and coming to school to share with the class made fat tears roll down my cheeks. When Kittle let readers in on the Andreas and Peters who she couldn’t reach, I felt the haunting that engulfed her.
Kittle talks openly about an educators need to keep their passion alive. We need to remember why we entered this profession. In Public Teaching, Kittle points out that many educators leave public schools in the first few years of teaching. To not get to this point, “we need to nurture the fire that made us English teachers” (59). We should submit work and read it aloud to students. Giving them the gift of having a writer for a teacher is important; I think we need to remember this moving forward.
It wasn’t the stories that made me laugh or feel sadness that touched me the most – it was the stories of perseverance and love. I love this sentiment Kittle gives at the end of her book:
In my experience, it isn’t the stress that’s left the greatest mark, it is the joy. It bubbles to the surface in the middle of trying a lesson or finds you in a chance meeting with a former student. I consider these moments and think of how lucky I am to have work I love. My career in teaching spans five states, eight grade levels, and hundreds of individual children. Former students have sent me birth announcements and emailed from faraway places. This job is like no other. It will bend your heart to the breaking point one day and exhilarate you the next. It has lessons for a lifetime.
Reading Penny Kittle’s stories made me laugh, cry, and feel joy. She was so transparent in her writing; I felt like it was a conversation the entire way through. As a soon-to-be student teacher, I was inspired by her stories of “making it through” no matter what and realizing that none of us are super teachers.
Teaching is a matter of the heart – big thanks to Penny Kittle for reminding me of that.