Mike, a librarian at a K-5 elementary school, teaches in beautiful midtown Atlanta, Georgia at Morningside Elementary School in the Virginia Highlands and Morningside neighborhoods. An educator for 21 years, he was a classroom teacher in grades 3, 4, 5 and 6 for his first 18 years, and he has been the school librarian for the past three years.
You can check out his Instagram for wonderful book collections and recommendations, delightful directed drawings, and uplifting messages. And here’s what he shared in our recent interview with him:
Epic: How did you get into the profession of teaching?
Rawls: I had no idea what I wanted to do while I was in college. A friend suggested taking an education course with her, and one course led to another. In my junior and senior years of undergrad, I was able to spend time teaching in classrooms, and I found that I not only liked teaching, but I was actually pretty good at it too.
Epic: Tell us a little bit about how remote teaching has been for you. What have been your challenges? What are you most proud of?
Rawls: As the school librarian, it is important for me to stay connected to the students. We just recently returned to in-person learning so things are changing all the time. But, while we were virtual, I was on a schedule to meet with classes weekly via Zoom.
The great thing about sharing stories is that they can easily translate in an online environment such as Zoom or Google Meet. Sharing my screen so students could follow along with digital books helped students connect with the stories I shared with them, as if the book was right in front of them. One of the challenges of teaching remotely is not being able to utilize the library in its full capacity to get kids interacting with tangible books. Although we were able to eventually offer curbside pickup, there’s nothing like browsing the library in person with students and really helping them define and refine their reading lists.
Epic: How do you like to use Epic in your remote classroom?
Rawls: While teaching remotely, Epic was a lifesaver. I knew I could rely on the diverse collection of quality titles to help me address standards, timely topics, and holidays around the world.
Epic: How has Epic impacted student learning in your classroom?
Rawls: The variety of formats available on Epic—including typical digital books, audiobooks, video books, and Read-To-Me books—make literacy accessible to everyone. This has enticed and engaged reluctant readers who may not have been as eager to read a typical book. Students can grow their confidence as readers by accessing a large catalog of titles available in formats that support their reading styles. And the more engaged our students are in reading, the more their literacy skills will support them across the entire curriculum.
Epic: What piece of advice or mantra would you like to share with other educators who might be struggling this school year?
Rawls: Just read. When things get overwhelming, and nothing seems to be going right, just read. You’ll never go wrong sharing stories with students, taking time for students to engage in independent reading, or modeling your own thinking as you read aloud. Sometimes we, as educators, think we need to have a grand plan or a detailed activity to validate what we are doing with our students, when really the simplest of things—like building in time for sharing stories—are often the most valuable parts of a child’s school day.
Epic: Is there anything else you’d like to share with other Epic Educators?
Rawls: Be open to the possibilities of reading looking different from how you grew up learning to read; and remember that audiobooks and video books are real books too. They are still building vocabulary, modeling good storytelling and strengthening listening comprehension skills. Reading is reading.