Advertisements

Category Archives: Reflection

Why We’ll Read More Than an Article of the Week in Senior English

I wish I were kidding. I am still laughing, but this is not funny.

Last week was my first week back to school. We had five days of shifting classes; schedule changes like shuffling cards with every student vying for their winning hand, or at least two out of four classes stacked with friends.

This is my first year to teach senior English (I still have one section of AP Lang), and I felt a mixture of excitement and dread all summer. Twelve years of reading, or not. Twelve years of playing the game of school, or not.

How do I get students to want to read, want to write, want to explore and question and challenge when it’s possible they just want to be done with school? I am pretty sure that’s how I felt senior year. Granted, that was a loooong time ago, but I do not remember any teachers’ names, any books I read for school, anything I learned the year before I graduated.

I wonder if that’s normal. Somehow I don’t think it should be.

But I do not want my seniors to remember me. I want them to remember learning something that adds value to their lives. I want them to remember learning something that adds value to my life as they vote beside me for elected officials, move into my neighborhood, become my doctor, or perhaps teach beside in the classroom next door.

I know the routines of a workshop pedagogy will help me do that, of this I am certain.

We’ll read and think and write and talk. We’ll share our thinking and our writing in small groups and as a class. We’ll talk about books and the themes that resonate and why that might be so. And we’ll write about the things that matter in our lives.

We started all of this in five short days.

I also got a little panicky.

If you are familiar with Kelly Gallagher’s work, you’ve probably heard him talk about why he started Article of the Week. He said he’d given his students, seniors, an article to read, and while circling the room and checking in with small groups, he asked a couple of kids how their reading was going. “Okay,” they said, “except we don’t know who this Al Quaeda guy is.”

Uh huh, seniors. Seniors who had no idea what was happening in their world.

I’m not too sure mine do either.

2017 Face Palm Experience #1:

We’d just looked at images of the destruction from Hurricane Harvey. We’d done some thinking in our notebooks about how these images made us feel and what we could do to help in the efforts to aide our fellow Texans. I walked the room, listening in as students read from their notebooks. Then, I heard this:

“Can a hurricane happen on a lake?” Student A said, “I mean like would a hurricane ever happen on Lake Lewisville?”

I stopped. Wouldn’t you?

Student B answered, “Uh, hurricanes happen on an ocean.”

“So what ocean is by Houston?” said Student A.

“That’s the Gulf of Mexico,” said Student B.

And Student A asks “So what ocean is that, the Pacific?” as she reaches for her cell phone.

I wish I were confident she planned on looking up information about hurricanes and oceans and weather patterns. Somehow I doubt it. I’ve asked her to put her phone away 47 times in five days. (So far phones have not been an issue except with this student.)

Now, I am left wondering:  Will whatever we do in room E111 be enough to prepare my students for the world beyond the halls of our high school? The responsibility is a lead weight on my shoulder.

I sure hope I can carry it.

 

Amy Rasmussen is the mother of six amazing young adults, grandmother of five smart and sassy little people, and wife to a brilliant marketer, sales exec, life coach, and dog lover. She teaches readers and writers in AP Language and English IV in North TX and facilitates professional development on the workshop model of instruction at every opportunity. She loves God, her family, the U.S.A., and all humans everywhere. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass

Advertisements

Student Gratitude – A Guest Post by Margaret Lopez

I didn’t teach last year because I resigned.  I still feel guilty.

When I moved back to my hometown of Chicago, I accepted a position with a well-known, controversial charter school network in the city.  I quickly found it was not the right fit for me.  It wasn’t the students–they were full of hope and sweet in spite of the adverse circumstances they dealt with outside of school.  It was the system.  

If the ACT was king, a strict demerit system was the reigning queen.  Students were part of a system that didn’t see them as individuals, but cogs in a wheel that kept churning out “College and Career Ready” students, as measured only by a test, and using strictScreen Shot 2017-05-01 at 8.44.22 PM rules to keep the wheels turning.  There was no student choice, just multiple choice.  No discussions, just lectures.  No collaboration, just eyes tracking the teacher.

It was horrible.  So horrible that I made the choice to leave.   I felt like teaching to the school’s standards made me compromise non-negotiable parts of my teaching philosophy.  I tried to break the mold, but received teacher demerits (seriously..teacher demerits).   I couldn’t find my way in the system and struggled to officially make the choice to put myself before students.

I made a choice to leave.  But I didn’t realize how many repercussions that choice would have.  There was so much about teaching I missed and what I, admittedly, didn’t take the time to appreciate when I was in the classroom.   I missed students most of all.

I missed the little things, like greeting them at my door, ready to embark on a 50 minute odyssey into the literary world.  I missed wishing them a happy, safe weekend, then anxiously awaiting their return on Monday.  I missed seeing their homecoming pictures and watching them in the school play.  I missed having class jokes and saying hello in the hallways.  I missed reminding every class, every day about an upcoming assignment and the student who had the best excuse when it isn’t completed on time.  I missed waving to students as we each got into our cars to head home.  I missed reminding them to relax, just take it easy for a night.  I missed the chaotic moments in the classroom just as much as I missed the moments when all the fates in the world conspired and each child was rapt in their learning.

I missed transforming the protesting non-reader into a book worm. I missed adding recommendations to my book list from all types of readers.  I missed students asking me what I was reading and why, did I like the book or the movie better , or which John Green book is the best.  I missed the excitement I felt when a student genuinely loved a book or returned a book that I thought had been lost to a locker or car trunk forever.  I missed being moved by a student’s connection to a character.  I missed seeing my bookshelf fluctuate depending on what topic or genre was trending.

I missed reading their timed essays, the writing in their notebooks, the personal annotations in the margins of their books.  As an English teacher, taking home 180 essays over your weekend doesn’t always feel like one of the perks of the job.  Grading becomes tiresome halfway through the first stack of essays, and builds to a mundane, tedious task quickly thereafter.  Until that one essay…the one from a shy student.  The one from the athlete who no one takes seriously.  The one from the student who actually managed to turn something in on the deadline.  The one that yanks you from your near slumber and makes you re-read it because it is so insightful, poignant, and refreshing.  These essays can be few and far between, but when they are uncovered in my stack of loose-leaf paper, they stir up my teacher soul.  These golden essays remind us of the humanity and intelligence high schoolers have within them.

Can students be whiny?  Sure.  Can they be inconsistent?  Consistently, it seems, some weeks.  Can they be forgetful, even with a school-issued agenda and text-message reminders sent to their phones?  Yep.  But they can also be generous, helpful, and shockingly perceptive about the world.  They can be innovative and resilient.  In fact, they usually are every day.

thank

As teachers, I think we often see the best of our students, the qualities their parents miss and their peers don’t notice.  We notice their compassion when they offer to help a struggling student.  We enjoy their passion when they light up on the field.  We see their curiosity through the books they select and the choices they make in their own learning.  I missed learning about each student as a member of my classroom community, and uncovering their beliefs, habits, and ideas slowly throughout the school year.  I missed noticing their growth, as English students and young adults, from August to December to May.  What is more rewarding than taking a step back and admiring an individual’s progress?  We are so fortunate that nurturing and acknowledging individual progress is a routine component of our jobs.

I still think about those kids, the ones I chose to leave behind, and I still feel guilty.  I wonder how they’ve fared as seniors, how they performed on the ACT, if they’re itching to break out of the mold and be free in a few short weeks.  I wonder what they have been reading and writing.  I wonder how I could have stayed and made it work.

There is magic that happens in a classroom.  Sometimes we don’t notice it in the moment or it looks messy.  It isn’t graded on our appraisals or summatively assessed, but it happens, in little moments and big “ah ha” moments.  It happens because of our students.  

thank2

As these weeks get more stressful the closer we get to summer break, I want to challenge all of us to remember the good in our students and try to have gratitude for what they bring to us each day.  To be proud of the relationships you’ve worked to forge with your young readers and writers.  To remember student achievements and how you have supported that growth.  To recall, during arguably the most hectic, patience-testing time of the school year, the young adults that make this noble profession so demanding and rewarding.

Maggie Lopez has six years of teaching experience at large public high schools in Louisville, Houston, and now Chicago.  A graduate of Miami University, she had the pleasure of learning from the workshop masters and is on a continual quest to challenge, inspire, and learn from her hilariously compassionate juniors and seniors. 


Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 8.44.22 PM

Care to join the conversation? We’d love to add your voice! Please email guest post ideas to Lisadennibaum@gmail.com.

5 Lessons from Public Teaching

51A2WRYQAZL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis week I tackled a title that’s long been on my to-read list:  Public Teaching: One Kid at a Time by Penny Kittle.  Published in 2003, it’s Penny’s first book, and has a foreword by Don Graves and an afterword by Don Murray.

(Yeesh…no pressure for when the rest of us thinking about writing our first books, right?!)

I loved this book, a collection of short essays plus an interview with Penny at the end.  It was readable, honest, and spectacularly well-written, as everything by Penny is.  I smiled as I read every page–except for the pages where I was crying.  Even in those essays I found myself impressed by the cleverness of Penny’s craft, both in her teaching and writing.

I bookmarked lots of pages and quotes to share with my preservice teachers this fall, but here are five lessons I took away from the reading that I believe are relevant to teachers of all content areas.

 

No one is perfect.

Penny begins her book with several amusing essays on mishaps from murderous crickets to accidentally-transparent skirts.  She eases us into the notion that even she, the great Penny Kittle, has had some missteps in her career, then launches into a few gut-wrenching essays on what she reflects on as her more weighty teaching failures:  a student we never say the right thing to, one we lose patience with, one we never teach to love learning or reading or writing.

We all have memories of those students, and Penny honors this with her writing.  I loved these vulnerable, humble essays that remind me we all ride a rollercoaster of success when it comes to our teaching.

Classroom management is a myth.

Penny tells the story of a novice teacher, struggling to manage her classroom, making wrong turn after wrong turn as a battle with her students escalates.  She has this to offer:

“Classroom management is really about the management of the heart and soul of your students.  The only ‘technique’ that works is a full-hearted human response to their lives, and to the conditions of school.  In some schools students sit in rows and listen, then rush to their next class, to sit and listen even more.  Try to understand the conditions in your particular school and view the entire day through their eyes. … You aren’t bad.  Your students are children, preoccupied with myriad distractions.  It is a natural state.  School is often the unnatural one.”

This advice was so much better, for me, than the age-old wisdom I got from mentors when I first began teaching and a lesson would crash and burn:  “don’t take it personally.”  I did take it personally, and still do, when I lose a class’s attention or a lesson falls flat.  When I learned the lesson Penny teaches here–“You must teach the students, not the content.  I want every student in my class to know that he or she is more important than what I am teaching”–I had far fewer of those flat moments and many more roundly satisfying ones.

Novice teachers need mentors, not critics.

We’ve all heard the statistics that half our teachers will leave the profession within three years.  As Penny says, “teaching, like marriage, is best when you make it past the courtship.”  The first few years are hard, and what makes them easier is exactly what improves my marriage:  talk.  As a young teacher simultaneously full of ambition and anxiety, I became more even-keeled when I found mentors.  I talked with them, they empathized, they advised.  I felt more prepared for my work, but I also felt less alone when I found a group of peers to encourage and support me.  “We have to mentor new teachers, listen to them, and I guess, hold hands once in a while,” Penny remarks.

Less is more.

“Somehow we decided that four short stories is better than one rewritten four times, and it’s a huge mistake.”

Penny’s assertion about the way many teachers conceive of writing is so true to my own learning experience, and as a result, my own early teaching experience.  I’ve been interested in the idea of simplifying my instruction for a while, and of course, Penny helped me see more clearly how to do it–with revision.

“I needed to have them linger longer over less,” she says, then backs it up with stories about an entire day’s work spent on fragments, the slow process of discovery learning, the work and power of weeks of revision on one genre of writing.  We have to jettison some things if we really want students learning, to keep it simple, to remember that less is more.

Teachers need to write.

By joining a writer’s group of teachers at her school, writing an essay for the local paper with her students, and carving out the time from motherhood to write, Penny learned to be a much better teacher by writing.  Her peer and student readers, as well as her editors, taught her to “be positive.  Encouragement works; criticism hurts.  Be careful with words.”

It’s hard to learn this lesson if you’re not a writer yourself, and Penny shows us her journey to becoming one throughout her essays.  She describes the early days of her writing group this way:

“Their criticism stung.  I didn’t like it.  You have to be careful when you’re correcting someone’s work.  I don’t think I was careful enough with my students all those years before.  It was so easy to just tell them what wasn’t working and think that was helping.  In writers’ group I learned quickly that compliments showed me what I could do and gave me confidence, criticism confirmed my fears and left me frustrated.  When I confidently approached a piece to revise it, I was playful.  When I went back to one in frustration, I usually made it worse.”

We become better teachers when we do what we’re asking our students to do–it’s only then that we can really know what we’re asking of them.  I highly recommend reading Public Teaching, doing some writing (how about with us?), and reflecting on your teaching by doing both.

43ccacd3aa51c2341980e1e34e34cba6.jpgAs we near the end of the school year, I hope you can find truth in one of Penny’s final statements:  “In my experience, it isn’t the stress that’s left the greatest mark, it is the joy.”

Shana Karnes teaches sophomore, junior, and senior preservice teachers at West Virginia University.  She finds joy in all things learning, love, and literature as she teaches, mothers, and sings her way through life.  Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader.

%d bloggers like this: