Advertisements

Category Archives: Guest Post

On Poetry: A Guest Post by Charles Moore

PoetryQuote4_zpsa4587647.jpgI write a poem on my white board every day.  Students, teachers, and administrators can see it. It’s a practice I started sometime after the hurricane when I realized how much my students were reading poetry books as their self-selected reading and I thought maybe the kids and I could use another way to connect to language. 

Recently, in a response email to a recent blog post submission, Amy challenged me to write about the poetry that I briefly mentioned in “Part II. Continuing the Crusade for My Readers.”  She called on me to elaborate on the authors that I use in my “Poem of the Day” selections and why I mentioned those in particular.  This took some reflection because an obvious answer didn’t leap fully formed from my head. I think there are several reasons: 

It’s what the kids are reading. So many of the girls in my classes read “Milk and Honey” and Rupi Kaur’s more recent book of poems, “The Sun and her Flowers.” They buy the books themselves and a few weeks ago, members of our dance squad feverishly passed my poetry books around.  Many of those girls don’t even have me as their teacher. They take pictures of the entries that speak to them and re-read when they think they’ve missed something or they want to experience those feelings over again. 

This style of poetry appeals to me.  I like it.  I like to read the poems and consider my own experiences and feelings.  Maybe I’m entering my emotional teenage girl phase, but sometimes these speak to me as strongly as they speak to the kids. 

Like everyone, time is precious for me.  My schedule is particularly tight with my football periods and no real time to plan or collaborate with my teaching peers during the school day.  Like everyone else, I find time when I can and when I’m working on my lesson plans, I make sure that I’ve selected, ahead of time, the poem for each day.  Choosing poems is easy. I try to pick poems that might be meaningful to 12th graders and not too long that I can’t write them on the board.  I might find these poems in the poetry books I’ve already mentioned or even on Instagram.  I have to dig a little, but #poetry produces gold often enough. I recently purchased a compilation of the poetry of Langston Hughes and I have books by other poets on the shelf behind my desk.  My wife even purchased a book of poetry for my classroom when one of her co-workers recommended it.  

 Another place I can reach for poetry is into myself.  I can take what I see and mimic it.  Structure is easy to replicate, but the themes are more difficult. The “notes” app on my phone is full of little thoughts and lines and poems.

 I guess the natural question is, “What do you do with the poetry?” The answer: it depends.  Sometimes the themes of the poems tie into the themes that we see in our reading selections.  Other times, we use the poems to jump-start a quick write.  Most days, we take a second to look at the poem on the board, and move on.

No matter what, I can say that I give my students a window through which to view poetry every single day, and that, I think, is an important opportunity for them and for me. 

A list of resources I’ve pulled from recently: 

  •  Milk and Honey – Rupi Kaur 
  • The Sun and her Flowers – Rupi Kaur 
  • Born to Love, Cursed to Feel – Samantha King 
  • A Beautiful Composition of Broken – r.h.sin 
  • Identical – Ellen Hopkins 
  • The Princess Saves Herself in this One – Amanda Lovelace 
  • The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes – Edited by Arnold Rampersad 
  • How Lovely the Ruins: Inspirational Poems and Words for Difficult Times – Forward by Elizabeth Alexander 

Charles Moore teaches Senior English, coaches JV soccer and shuttles his 10 year old soccer playing son across town 2 days a week. Follow Charles on Twitter at @ctcoach.

Advertisements

After the Hurricane, a Crusade for my Readers — Guest Post by Charles Moore

Lightning woke me at 4:30 this morning. Friday is my “sleeping late day.” I usually roust Clear Creek ISD June 2017 (1)myself around 5:30 and head to the bus barn to pick up a bus for the varsity football game. The much needed rest was not coming today. Please forgive my anxiety with storms these days. It doesn’t seem to abate. Nor do my thoughts of teaching and coaching and facilitating our Student Council.

Last week was Homecoming Week in Charger Nation. This means dress-up days, a
parade and a carnival. Throw in a day of PSAT testing for fun. It was the end of the first nine weeks grading period; a grading period interrupted by something called Harvey. Heck, we can talk about my son’s soccer practice and robotics meetings. My daughter missed her dance class to be a member of the Homecoming Court. You’ve never seen a girl smile so big as when she rode in the back of that convertible holding a tiara on her lap for dear life.

There is a hurricane metaphor in here somewhere, but I can’t find it. The best word for last week is: chaos.

Chopra chaos quote

And yet…I never stop thinking, just like this morning, about my job. Really, I can’t stop thinking about how I do my job and how I can get better at it.

I can’t stop thinking about how I’ve changed as a teacher these last couple of years. Specifically, I’m thinking about how learning about workshop has made me a better teacher, coach, and Student Council Sponsor. My whole approach to this teaching life changed. I ask the kids to take more stake in their learning. I demand that they explore and discover and use me as a resource. It works.

This initial nine weeks was crazy. What with our natural disaster and the recovery and the fact that it was going to only be eight weeks long to begin with. Somehow we made it.

Workshop did that.

What workshop didn’t do was make my students readers. Most of them just didn’t read the first nine weeks of school and their teacher didn’t do a good job engaging them in their self-selected books.

I vowed to change that in the second nine weeks. I sat down with each class roster and noted the progress of every single student in each of my classes. I studied them. I conferred with them about their reading lives. Data emerged. I found that my students fell into one of two categories: Reader or Non-reader. Now that’s an earth shattering breakthrough, I know. The important thing about it is that I knew which one each student was.

So I went to work moving kids out of the books that bogged them down and into books that could engage them. To move them, though, I had to get into their heads and learn about their thinking. What interested them? Not just cars and cliques or dragons and swords, but what themes and what sorts of characters grabbed their attention.

I looked at their college essays and talked to them about what was happening in their lives. I engaged them in talk of who they thought they were. I assigned quick writes about their life as a reader and asked what appealed to their thinking. I checked the progress of my non-readers every day.

Constant Conferring was crucial. Every. Single. Day.

Coach Moore Book Talk List

Keeping a visible record of book talks

Also, I committed to book talks. Every single day.

This is hard for someone who doesn’t have a lot of time to read during this time of year. But I found ways to get books in front of them. I might talk about a book on Monday and then read a short selection from it on Tuesday. Rinse and repeat.

I went down to the school library and checked out books that I’ve read that aren’t in my classroom library. They love it. I tell students over and over, “I need you to finish that one quickly because its on my ‘Next to Read’ list.” I have at least 30 books on that list.

Our results vary. Some kids jumped straight into a new book and took off while others still struggle to find time outside of class. Some students tell me how they find time to read on the bus to their cross country meet or at work at the tanning salon. Most of them are trying and I think that’s really the most I can ask of them. It’s not, however, all I can demand of myself.

I crusade to make them life-long readers and writers. I will not relent. I want them to find the joy in reading that I know is there and if we have to do the hard work together, then I’m all in.

Charles Moore is a senior English teacher at Clear Springs High School in League City, TX. He enjoys leisure swimming, reading, and coaching linebackers. Follow Charles on Twitter @ctcoach and read Charles’ other posts here and here.

Saying Something, Not Just Anything: Student Talk – A Guest Post by Margaret Lopez

Written in the spring of 2017, Margaret Lopez reflects on the value of purposeful communication and strategies to get kids to create questions that get at the heart of a topic and generate meaningful discussions. 

All year, my juniors and I have been workshopping writing and reading different texts for a range of purposes, pairing fiction and nonfiction for some whole class studies (Death of a Salesman and Outliers–a hit!  1984 and current events surrounding fake news and government–loved it!).  I realized a skill I hadn’t closely instructed, we had just “done,” was intentional classroom discussions.  As my juniors prepare to be seniors, Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 8.44.22 PMcollege students, and individuals in the workplace, they need to speak purposefully and ask intentional questions.  I want them to be able to say something, not just anything  From this reflection, and students’ interest in recent protest movements and community issues in Chicago, a social justice unit based mainly on speaking and listening with low stakes writing was born.

I selected three books for students to chose from, and those choices became their lit circle groups.  Students could chose from Half the Sky which discusses female discrimination across the world, Ghettoside which examines policing in a predominately African American community outside of LA told by a reporter who spent years reporting on crimes in the area, or Hillbilly Elegy, a memoir about growing up in Appalachia.

Throughout the unit, we have followed the same routine:  

Mondays are for lit circles, Tuesdays are for extension activities with nonfiction, and on Wednesdays, we discuss all three texts together in a Socratic Seminar.  My goal was a lot of low stakes writing and fruitful discussion.

I think there is a reason that discussion is a central component of the English classroom, as it builds community, facilitates deeper or new thinking on a topic resulting from other perspectives, and is a college and job skill we have the duty to foster and refine in our students.  However, students need to speak, listen, and ask purposefully.  My students know how to talk–at my small school, where classes can be between 6 and 16 students, class stalls if they don’t have anything to say.  The awkward silence lingers.  Then someone says any random thought they have just to break the silence.  But there is difference between saying anything and saying something.  To elevate students to say something about the injustices across the texts, not just anything so that awkward silence doesn’t linger too long, I began with questioning skills.

Magnifying Glass - Questions

It is challenging students to take the idea they’re wondering about and want their peers to contemplate and thinking about it backwards, writing a question that doesn’t give away their opinion, lead peers right to the answer, or simply confuse others.  

We began by running through the list of essential questions from this school year and reviewing their quick writes on the topics from throughout the year.  I asked students what they noticed about the questions, many came to the conclusion that the questions are BIG, meaning they have more than one answer, but those answers aren’t definitive or “right.”  From there, we looked at a list of plot-based questions I made about the first chunk of their reading to compare the lists of questions.  They easily noticed these questions were the opposite of essential questions, meaning they had a limited scope of what response could be correct or on the right track.

Great, they can notice the difference.  Now to teach them to apply this to their own questions. Thank the teaching gods and goddesses for Jim Burke’s What’s the Big Idea?.  I used his entry points into teaching questioning around three types of questions:  Factual, Inductive, and Analytical, having students label their own questions as one of the three types.  Then, we worked on revising after I modeled some examples.   I challenged students to move beyond the factual so we could get to the big ideas and scale up Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Jacely revised her questions to get to the heart of her concern, which was why law enforcement doesn’t seem to care about women that are in trouble:

  • Factual:  On the very first page of chapter 2, what does Nick ask the Officer about regarding trafficked girls?  
  • Inductive:  Kristoff asks an Officer about what exactly they look for and then mentions if they look out for trafficked girls and the officer mentions there isn’t much to do about them. Why do you think these officers seem to not care about this huge issue?   
  • Analytical:  What implications does this have on the community?  Women’s futures?  Are there issues with law enforcement in the communities in your books?

Mishawn revised to include more perspective and connection:

  • Factual: Why is the crime rate so high in Watts?
  • Inductive:  What allure do gangs have for the young people in the community?  How does this create a cycle of violence and crime?
  • Analytical:  What factors, both historically and recently, have lead Watts to become a breeding ground for criminal activity?  In your opinion, which factor is/has been the most detrimental?

I also provided students with question stems as a guide and encouraged students to use these until they felt comfortable framing their questions.  By the end of the unit, student questions were synthesizing the three texts and major ideas.  I noticed students would lead with a question geared more towards their text, then extended the question to the other two text, thus inviting in more conversation and fluidly moving between inductive and analytical questioning.  The discussions moved from inner to outer, from focused on one book to all three books.

Jordan:  How does Leovy expect the reader to believe in the good homicide detectives while at the same time giving examples of racist and uncaring detectives?  What contradictions exist in your book’s community?  Do these lead to an imbalance of power or other injustices?

Ben: Isolation is discussed by Vance as one reason leading to a disconnected, stalled hillbilly society.  How are the people in your text isolated, whether by location, proximity, cultural norms, or otherwise?  Does this perpetuate the problem or is it a solution that hasn’t been capitalized on?

To springboard Wednesday’s seminars, we often pre-thought through the big ideas for that chunk of reading as a way to anchor thinking and create a common entry point into the seminar, and also, so students had something to say.

  • Google Doc Quick Collaboration:  I posted some initial questions on the google doc to get students thinking, then watched the entire class collaborate on 1 document–so cool!  I limited this pre-thinking to about 3 minutes so students didn’t type all of their discussion points.  I also left this projected during the seminar, serving as an anchor chart and inspiration for more questions.  So easy. Minimal prep.  Great results!
  • Discussion Tables:  I made three table tents at three different tables in my classroom, each with a common idea and thread that occurred during that chunk of reading.  I gave students two minutes to discuss how each topic related to their book.  After two minutes, they moved to a new table and could shuffle up their group.  Again, minimal prep and 6 quality minutes of pre-thinking.
  • Essay Highlights:  Students wrote for 20 minutes about the central injustice in their novel, justifying why that, out of all the intersected issues, is the most pressing for the community in the book.  I then typed the major argument from each student’s essay and used it as an entry point into a Wednesday seminar.  Students were able to see the something their peers had to say, understand how perspective and perception shade one’s reading, and make connections across the three texts.
  • Pass Around:  I asked students to write a line from their book that really just hit them in the gut and explain why.  Then, students passed them around the room, spending a few seconds reading what their peer had been most impacted by and why.  I actually couldn’t stop students from talking. Across the table, students were making “OMG” eyes at each other, whether it was a connection with their lit circle peer or shock over what a peer had written about from another text, the conversation was immediately started.

As I have listened to each small group discuss the same texts, it was amazing to hear how the conversation differs from class to class.  I wanted students to experience that, to give them a chance to expand each others’ thinking.  I assigned two digital seminars using our school’s digital platform, and while this is nothing crazy innovative, students posted and responded, I noted many benefits from this type of “discussion”:

  • Students experienced new perspectives and interpretations of the text from their peers in other classes, and I found more students sharing personal anecdotes–students were sharing their personal experiences with discrimination and inequalities.
  • Shy students or those that need more process time were the space to contemplate, revise their thinking, or deepen their response by not having to think on the spot as they would during an oral discussion.  I have many exchange students from around the world (China, Spain, Thailand, and Italy), who have the extra task of interpreting, decoding, and thinking in two languages  By writing, students had more time to think and contribute at their pace.
  • Students were more thoughtful in their responses and more likely to use text evidence to support their argument or open their classmates’ eyes because they aren’t so “on the spot.”  Students used evidence from the book, as well as other articles we had read, thus adding rich context to the discussion.
  • Students had another opportunity to practice practical writing for college.  Many college courses require blog post or digital contributions, and the reality is that most of my students will take an online course at some point in their academic or professional lives, too.  
  • Students received real time feedback on their questions.  If no one responded, maybe the question was unclear, too narrow, or too broad.  Student-led formative assessment–a new trend?
  • Students had a time and space to learn about digital etiquette and practice, something very important as Snapchat and Twitter become accepted means of communication.  As students move into their post-secondary endeavors, they may be communicating with bosses or professors via email and must communicate clearly, without a misinterpreted tone.  We discussed how to politely disagree and how to ask a follow up question instead of answering with bias, as well as the time and place for proper mechanics.
  • I made time to write beside them, contributing to the discussions, too.

Although these strategies were successful in moving my students beyond saying anything at all to fill the void, the best part was how moved my students were by the injustices that exist in our world.  They spoke with such compassion and concern for those suffering they no longer seemed to be kids, but young adults.


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.

Diving In: My 1st Week of Readers/Writers Workshop – A Guest Post by Gail Stevens

September 4, 2017

School started for me last Monday, and with it my journey into Reading Writing Workshop.  Lucky for me I have three colleagues who were ready to try something new, too.  Why try Workshop? So many of our students were not reading. They were Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 8.44.22 PMdisengaged, and so were we. We were feeling  discouraged and something had to give.

At the end of the school year, we invited anyone in our English department who was interested  to join us to discuss the possibility of implementing Reading Writing Workshop. Attendees discussed why we wanted to try this method, and teachers had time to ask questions and voice their concerns. We left that meeting feeling excited and energized by what could be,  and committed to reading and studying about Workshop over our break.

Over the summer, we read Penny Kittle’s Book Love, participated in the Book Love Summer Book Club, and read everything we could get our hands on about the ins and outs of running a workshop in the high school classroom.

Fast forward to last week. With summer over we met back at school to figure out how this workshop thing was going to actually look in our classrooms. We quickly realized that we needed to make peace with being uncomfortable and tolerating the ambiguity that comes with the territory of trying something radically new. We are pioneers, and we have each other and a host of mentors online via Twitter and some amazing professional blogs like this one to guide us in our first steps.

The Three Teachers Talk blog has been a godsend to us. Every day there are thoughtful articles, engaging lessons, and practical tips on doing workshop from real teachers who are teaching real students. The authenticity of this work shines through every post as well as the encouragement we get from teachers who are doing what we aspire to do.

So how’s it going so far?

AMAZING!

We just finished our first full week with students and the four of us are feeling so energized and excited about our first starts at establishing workshop classrooms. Some background on the range of classes we are teaching this year:  I am teaching four year-long sections of English II Honors (on an A/B day schedule). All of my students are also takingAP Seminar, the first AP class in theAP Capstone program. Capstone is new to our school this year, so again, more new territory for us as teachers. I work closely with my students’ AP Seminar teachers and my plan is to support the work my students do in that class in whatever way I can. I also co-teach one section of ESL Sheltered English I. My workshop colleagues are teaching English III & English IV inclusion and honors sections. Here are some of the reading/writing activities we used to begin establishing community in our classrooms:

Day 1 was  “Book Speed Dating” in the Media Center. Students had a chance to “speed date” at different tables (each table was set up with different fiction genres). All students left with a book that day.  We wanted students reading from Day 1.

Day 2 Students began their independent reading at the start of class.  Students read for 10 minutes and recorded the number of pages.  Next, they filled out their Independent Reading Record sheets to calculate their weekly reading goals (using Penny Kittle’s formula). We will use these records when we confer with students to help them design their reading ladders and to guide choices for next books.

workshop one

Students also completed aReading History Timeline. This is something I’ve used before but haven’t done in a while. I like seeing a visual timeline of my students’ literacy development. Students were supposed to choose 8-10 events that helped shape their reading lives. Positive events were to be placed above the line; negative events below the line (some students forgot this part, so I had to have them clarify for me). Students placed their completed timelines on their desks and we did a gallery walk. Afterwards, we discussed common themes, beloved books, shared experiences with literacy. One common theme was students’ loss of interest in reading as their lives have become busier. Almost all mentioned a lack of time to read as being a major contributor to this problem. This only reinforces my belief that if we intend to help students grow as readers, we must give them time to read in class.

workshop two

workshop three

Day 3 we created aPersonal User Manual. I  loved the idea of students writing guides to what matters to them. I shared the mentor text, and then wrote my own User Manual to share with students. I explained to them that I would be doing all of the writing assignments (and setting my own reading goals) with them. They loved this idea!

I am only halfway through reading my students’ Personal User Manuals, but so far I am thrilled with the results. Notice the voice that is evident in their work. This is such a great beginning to the year to be able to identify a student’s voice and encourage it right from the start.

What insights I have gotten into my students after only the first week of class!

Here are some student samples:

workshop four
workshop five
workshop six

All of these activities helped us to get to know each other as well as build community and excitement for books and writing from day one. A great example: even my most skeptical student, a young man I taught last year in English I, found a book he was willing to read. This is the message I received from him this morning that made my day:

workshop seven

What’s next? Students will be experimenting with writingAuthor’s Bios. I plan to have them include their picture with their bio, and I will print these out and post around the room.

Student response to these first steps into establishing a Reading Writing Workshop have been overwhelmingly positive so far.

Thank you Amy Rasmussen andThree Teachers Talk,Penny Kittle, and all of the amazing Workshop teachers out there who generously share their work and enthusiasm for this practice. My colleagues and I are encouraged by the changes we see in our students and ourselves, as we are more engaged and energized than we’ve been in a long time. We hope to inspire others around us who are curious about workshop but are not ready to take that next step.

I look forward to sharing more adventures in Workshop with you.

Gail Stevens


Gail Stevens teaches 10th grade Honors English & 9/10 ESL Sheltered English at Cary High School, in Cary, North Carolina. This is her 18th year teaching, third in high school, after teaching middle school for 15 years. You can email her at gstevens@wcpss.net or follow her on Twitter @jerseygirl_1021.


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.

Reading and Writing When You’re Not Supposed To – A Guest Post by Amy Estersohn

Teachers, I’m stuck in a dilemma: How do you respond when members of your reading and writing community read and write when they’re not supposed to?

Those who sneak a book and read through a mini-lesson.Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 8.44.22 PM

Those who slip a pencil in their hands to continue writing during whole class share.

My initial reaction is to monitor for compliance.  If I tell you to stop reading, you should stop reading.  If I can’t get you to stop reading, then you might do all sorts of other disruptive things, like, I don’t know.

My second reaction is that it’s impolite to broader community.  Attempting to sneak a book during a mini-lesson is not polite to me or to those around you.  Writing while somebody else is reading to you?  Your body language says “I am more important than you right now.”

But there’s a another lesson to consider here: reading and writing happens on its own schedule, and sometimes we get so far into what Nancy Atwell calls the Reading Zone that we don’t want to leave.  We won’t allow ourselves to leave.

I know firsthand what the reading and writing zone feels like, especially as an introvert who needs time and solitude (not necessarily silence, just solitude) to read, write, and think.  

And as educators and observers, we can appreciate that students who read and write even when they are not expected to are in the midst of lifelong lessons about reading and writing.  We’ve won over these teens for the big victory, the way I see it: their writing and reading is of importance to them beyond a grade, beyond what we think, and beyond what their peers think.  No teacher would ever complain that students were making up math problems to solve that weren’t assigned for homework.  No teacher would complain that students were fantasizing about science experiments they’d like to perform some day.

These students are engaged in a revolution of one:

I-began-to-understand

Rather than attempt to interrupt thinking in progress Because I Said So or Because It’s Polite, here are some of the questions I’m considering before I ask students to stop, look, and listen:

  1. Is the stealthy reading and writing intended to disrupt or undermine other student learning?
  2. Is the stealthy reading and writing coming from a student who never or rarely engages in enthusiastic reading and writing?
  3. When will I have an opportunity to measure student progress and understanding of a teaching point?

I adjust some classroom routines to accommodate this stealth, too:

  1. Daily sharing is optional; students can share with a writing partner or friend in small groups and move around the room to share or they may sit at their desks and continue working for more stealth time.
  2. I don’t reprimand students for writing during independent reading blocks, but I also don’t expressly encourage it.
  3. I respect that not all students will be enthusiastic about sharing their work with me, especially if their writing and reading feels private and part of a deeply personal journey.

But … but… there’s always that careful balance between the needs of the community and the needs of the individual, so I’m interested in hearing from you about how you manage this stealth in your classroom.


Amy Estersohn is an English teacher in New York.  She can be found blogging at Teaching Transition, No Flying No Tights, and other education and book review blogs.  Amy was a 2016 recipient of the NCTE/ALAN Gallo Grant and a panelist for the CYBILS awards.


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.

Why English? – A Guest Post by Mitchell Nobis

Why English- (1)

I’ve had a weird year. Many of us have. For me, it has been kind of like a tornado blew my house off to Ontario but left the foundation behind. What do you do in a situation like that? You might first bask in memories and drive to the river to wave hello to your old house sitting in a field somewhere south of Sarnia. (Hello from Michigan!) But after a minute, you can’t keep shouting at your house telling it how much you miss it. No, eventually you go back and examine the foundation that’s still there.

We go to work and deal with one-size-fits-all state mandates. We check the education news and see grant after grant going to STEM courses. We go out with friends Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 8.44.22 PMand hear a hundred citations to or shouts about “fake news.” But what’s the foundation that holds strong through all of this? 

As my main man Hamlet would say, “Words, words, words.” (Granted, he was in a different context when he said that, but then again, maybe not that different.) In the craziness of 2017, I keep thinking about thinking. I keep returning to the humanities. I keep coming back to English. Why English? Why humanities? Why liberal arts?

We might as well ask, why words? So let’s.

Why words? Why do we take and teach English classes in the first place? In the news media and conventional wisdom of the day, business leads the way. For so many of our students, making a million dollars is their goal and only sign of success. Ours is a society that does measure success with bank account commas, so that’s entirely understandable. But if you read interviews with wealthy thought leaders (say, the Bill Gates of the world) or look at a survey of CEOs, you see that they want to hire creative thinkers and collaborators. They want liberal arts majors. They want folks who are good with words. Why? Words are how we show thinking. We need thinkers.

Our work as English teachers is cut out for us and is more important–and harder–than perhaps ever before. Words build a mind. Words build a soul. Words build a sense of self in community. They build the community. Regardless of our students’ career goals, if they are to be successful and thoughtful human beings, they need the opportunities to think, to listen, to communicate, to write, and to speak that English classes can provide in ways that no other discipline can.

Sure, students read in science class but mostly with a goal of learning the difference between xylem and phloem. Yes, students write in history class but mostly with a goal of explaining the cause of—all too often—a war. English class allows the unique opportunity to read, write, and speak with a goal of greater understanding. Our goal boils down to a greater ability to think.

But that’s hard to do. Many people want a checklist approach to teaching English, but that’s not how literacy works in a real world democracy. We have to read information in live time, and we have to decode big ideas on the fly. This doesn’t happen when students can use only textbooks. We need to be okay with having hard conversations and using real-world texts, but how do we foster safe spaces for these discussions? By doing it. We can model for students by actually engaging in deep discussions in our lives and in our classrooms.

English teachers have rare opportunities to get to the deep, real work of an education. (No pressure, eh Teach?) The English department is often the home of the faculty’s most outspoken and deepest thinkers. This is no mistake because the very material we teach increases critical thinking and empathy. English teaches us to read deeply, to pause and think critically, and to empathize. If we embrace this role as teachers, we can help students change the face of America and the future. We need understanding. We need kindness. We need a viable, sustainable society. That is why English classes matter. That is why we study words. We need humanities because we need each other.


Mitchell Nobis (@MitchNobis) is the president of the Michigan Council of Teachers of English, a co-director of Red Cedar Writing Project, and a curriculum support teacher in Metro Detroit with over 20 years experience in the high-school English classroom. He recently co-authored Real Writing: Modernizing the Old School Essay, from Rowman & Littlefield, and for June 2017, he’s posting a poem per day at the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project website.


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.

Guest Post: Find the Light in the Darkness: My English Classroom Post-Harvey

I’m a teacher. My job is to teach children-teenagers-everything English. It is what I was Clear Creek ISD June 2017 (1)called to do 10 years ago. So as I sit here in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, I can’t help but think about what I will teach my students when we return to school and our new normal.

What can my English classroom offer a student who has possibly lost everything in a horrific storm? A student who is staying in a shelter wearing donated clothes because all he could carry out of his flooded house was a duffle bag and the clothes on his back? A student who has braved the tragic conditions to save others from their nightmare of rising water and tangible fear? A student who didn’t flood, but is watching his friends and family suffer the stress of life-altering devastation?

Staying indoors for 5 days straight offers ample time for reflection, so the answers to my questions have come. My classroom has not changed–it is quite possibly the one stable place that Harvey couldn’t touch. Not that he didn’t try. My classroom will remain a safe place for my students to write through the pain they feel. It will be a microcosm for the amazing unity we are seeing in our area. It will allow my students to talk to their peers about shared emotions. It will give students the opportunity to write to process, to share, and to unite. It will be a place where tears are shed and spirits are renewed. It will be a place where students can learn about compassion and what it means to be a community through real-world experiences right in our backyard.

I am not sure I could think of a stronger classroom than that.

And I will lead the way as I always do–through modeling with my own Harvey experience. And when I do, it will probably look something like this:

As I sit here writing these words, I am not even sure what emotions I’m feeling anymore. Fear. Shock. Disbelief. Fear. Sadness. Guilt. Fear.

I don’t think I will ever forget this storm. The fear I felt Saturday night as the rain and wind ripped through my neighborhood is indescribable. At one point, I just wrapped my arms around my sleeping three-year-old daughter and hugged her close to my chest- not to comfort her, but to comfort me. I needed stability because I had absolutely no control over what was ensuing outside my window.

Texts poured in throughout the night- friends and family checking in and reporting the surreal nightmare unfolding before our eyes. Water ferociously crawled up my yard, and I watched with panic. My Facebook newsfeed couldn’t refresh fast enough as I saw new friends reporting flooding with every second’s update. I finally fell asleep at about 4:00 in the morning as the howling wind died down to a soft roar, and the water stayed a few feet away from my house.

What I woke to on Saturday morning is what still sits in my gut. The national news channels- national, people- like CNN and The Weather Channel- were in a place so near and dear to my heart. The place where I went to elementary school. The place where I slept over at friends’ houses. The place my husband and siblings went to high school. The place that taught me what it means to be a teacher. The place I spent the first six years of my teaching career. The place where SO many of my friends and beloved former students live. The place that had been hit like a freight train by this natural disaster called Harvey.

There is something very eerie about seeing familiar places and faces on the national news.

I saw images of my friends on rooftops being rescued by more of my friends selflessly putting themselves at risk to save others. I saw even more of my friends and their babies, some only days old, riding in boats to their safety and riding away from the lives they had known before the storm. I commented on all that I could, but with each comment, my words felt less and less valuable. How many times can you say, “I’m so sorry. I’m praying for you.” before it means nothing?

I received more texts from friends and family far and wide.

“I saw Dickinson on the news. Are you okay? What can we do?”

The scenes I watched on TV and social media were shocking. But the weird thing was, I didn’t cry. All day, I held it together. Probably because I didn’t want to worry my daughters. And probably because I was numb to what was going on–I just kept saying that I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Until one picture came across a text. My childhood friend had been out all day on his boat rescuing people in Dickinson and knew I would want to know how our elementary school, the school my two daughters currently attend, fared in the storm. That’s when I lost it.

TrueCrossCatholicSchool

Once the tears started, it all came rushing forward. I cried for my girls who no longer have a school. I cried for my friends who no longer have a home. I cried for my former students who lost everything. I cried for my sister whose husband drove her suburban up on a trailer at 2am as the waters rose fast beneath his feet threatening to enter their home. I cried for my family who no longer has a church. I cried for my coworkers as I read their terrifying scenarios of rescues from rooftops. I cried at the thought of the stories I haven’t heard yet. I cried because I am stuck at home, flooding all around me, unable to get to those who need me–even if it is just to give a hug to say what my words can’t seem to express.

But behind the tears is an incredibly proud spirit that knows we will bounce back–as a community, as a state, as a nation. We will pick ourselves up and pick up those who can’t find the strength along the way.

It is very easy to let the guilt creep in as I think about why my house was spared in the flood. But I have chosen to focus on the answer instead of the question. I know why I was spared- so I can help.

I will help my students cope through reading and writing. I will listen to their stories and cry right alongside them, all the time reassuring them that we will get through this. I will teach them that through dark times, we must look for the light. I will be that light for them if they can’t seem to find it anywhere else.

I will help my friends clean up and start over. I will volunteer my time to tearing out soaked sheet rock and ripping up soggy carpet. I will offer my home to the ones who are now homeless. I will hug them and catch their tears on my shoulders as they try to pick up the pieces and move on.

I will help my daughters clean up their school and the teachers there (one of whom is my sister) replenish their classrooms. I will help the school rebuild and crawl out of the hole of destitution Harvey has created.

And through all of this, I pray that I will help the world see that there is hope for humanity. If you can’t see it, just come on down to my community and watch because it is in full force all around me.

Now move out of the way, Harvey, we have work to do.

 

Bio: Megan Thompson is the Department Head of English at Clear Creek High School. She teaches AP Literature and Composition and Pre-AP English I. When she isn’t teaching, she spends most of her time chasing around her daughters, Aubrey (5) and Maycee Jo (3), and spending time with her husband of 7 years. Follow Megan @teacher_mmt

%d bloggers like this: