Saturday, January 21, 2012

Lessons in Photography and Keeping Your Mouth Shut

In November I had the privilege of sharing my sixth grader’s nonfiction writing and my thinking behind this work with a wonderful audience of colleagues…and with co-presenters Linda Hoyt, Ellin Keene, and Seymour Simon at NCTE in Chicago. (Yep. You are so very correct. O. M. G. is what I thought when Linda called and asked me to present with them…three literacy mentors and superstars I tend to stalk at professional conferences.

So here’s the story that leads to every other blog I will post in 2012...

I was the last to speak in our presentation at NCTE, and after I finished, Ellin opened the floor for questions. Heart still pounding from nerves and adrenaline and feeling pretty proud that I didn’t make a fool of myself, I sat up a bit taller in my chair than I was sitting before the presentation began. Armpits were soaked and my ears were red, but I was feeling good.

I look out into the audience, and this nice lady in an orange shirt raised her hand and asked, “Do you take all your photographs?”
This is where pride and confidence get in the big fat way.
I quickly answered her with a strong, “YES, I take all my pictures!”, thinking to myself that she was impressed with my iPhone 4 skills and the photos imbedded into the slides of my presentation.
This is when I quickly feel a Linda Hoyt elbow in my side and the kind, emphatic whisper in my ear of “she’s not talking to you……

Mmmm. Hmmm.
I quickly realize that, OF COURSE the question is for Seymour Simon, PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER who takes the majority of the photographs for EVERY SINGLE PHOTO ESSAY he writes!!
Remember the “I didn’t make a fool of myself” feeling?
That’s gone now.

Graciously, Seymour answers the lady’s question and explains… (God knows what because I was so beyond embarrassed I didn’t hear a word he said and was plotting my crawl under the table to die)
Seymour finishes his answer and then I babble like a fool and get a strong, “JUST SHUT UP!!” from the author of over three hundred amazingly crafted, beautifully photographed nonfiction books for children.

Just. Shut. Up. Great advice from a great man, writer, and photographer.

So since that embarrassing November moment, “shut up” has been at the forefront of my mind. Just shut up. It's critical to let the kids do the talking and the thinking….and make it my job to listen, photograph, videotape, and write about every second of learning that is taking place.

My blog posts from now on will be one of those iPhone 4 photos that captures a pivotal moment in the learning, thinking, and growing of this classroom of sixth grade readers and writers....and the learning, thinking, and growing of this sixth grade teacher.

So now when I’m in doubt about what to do to help my students, I’ll embrace the smart phone and shut up.

To learn more from these wonderful writers, thinkers, photographers, and people, visit their websites below.
Linda Hoyt
Seymour Simon
Ellin Keene

Ann Marie


  1. So glad you're back and blogging!! And even though I understand what you're saying about getting out of the way so kids can learn and share and think, I hope you never "shut up" -- I have learned so much from you, and that's just not going to work if your voice gets quiet. :)

  2. I agree with Karen - delighted to read a post from you again. However, I empathize with your situation and "learning." I have recently been telling myself the same thing! At times, my 'help' at giving them the words to express their ideas borders on 'taking over' :-)

  3. Am I the only one who's a little outraged that he told you to shut up?!?! How rude! Even if it was said in the kindest way with the best intentions, those are not nice words.

    I say, SPEAK up. Your best work has been done when you speak up on behalf of students and to encourage teachers to improve their craft.

    Can't wait to see you in a week or so!