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Category Archives: Guest Post

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. 


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

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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.


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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.


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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.


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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

Guest Post: A Houston Teacher’s Heart

What do you do when a hurricane slams you in the face after four days of school?Clear Creek ISD June 2017 (1)

This was the best first 4 days of school I’d ever had. Tuesday saw us independent reading with self-selected books for the first 10 minutes of class. A habit we will cherish through June. We were moving in and out of our notebooks by Wednesday. Groups were discussing and reporting their thoughts back to the whole class. A community was rising in all four of my senior English classes. My inclusion para-professional and I had worked through the mountain of paperwork and conferred about this student and that one. I had plans to video a class for a whole week to use for who knows what. Who could believe that senior English students could move so far so fast. Our potential was limitless.

My district sent out a message Thursday evening that school would be cancelled on Friday. Some coaches met up at school that evening to stow away hurdles, high jump mats, and benches. We lamented our missed football scrimmage and wondered when we would resume school.

The hurricane projections said it would hit hundreds of miles away and would only be a category 3. We knew the “dirty side” of a hurricane was not a fun place to live, but a few days of rain and maybe a little wind was all I mentally prepared for.

Friday, I went to school to grab my laptop and a couple of teacher books so I could finish my lesson plans, review the game plan for next week’s game against Pearland, and whatever else needed attention. Having been through hurricanes and heavy rain before, I thought maybe we would go back to school on Tuesday at the latest.

Our football staff has a group text that is mostly silly memes and rude jokes. Now it reads like a timeline of the storm.

As I look back on the text threads, there is a definite change in tone on Friday evening when the rain started. We went from making fun of each other to being seriously concerned for one another. The rain fell Friday night but none of us had water in our houses or were flooded in. I even got out of the house to drive around on Saturday. I went to the grocery store for eggs and drove around a bit to see what was what. We spent the day planning for our week one football game and watched the news as the storm worked its way closer.

Saturday night was when it started getting scary. A flood, a deluge of water fell on our city. My wife and I didn’t sleep. It was one of the scariest most nerve wracking nights of my life. 15 inches of rain fell in 3 hours and we were constantly up and down watching the water levels in the street rise and making sure our flooded pool wasn’t about to merge with our kitchen. The coaches’ group chat filled with pictures of rising water and reports from all over south and west Houston. I’m sure we are all too macho to admit it, but we felt that fear collectively and it was a relief for us to know that we weren’t alone in this storm.

When the sun rose on Sunday, my house was still dry and the electricity was on. Others weren’t so lucky. Neighborhoods within a quarter mile of my house were completely flooded out and many of our students don’t have a home to go back to anymore. I’m sure you saw reports on TV of water rescues happening in League City. Those are our kids. I see those families at parent night and sub varsity football games. We shop at the same grocery store and order pizza from the same place. My twitter feed filled with images from our community of families who were rescued in boats and won’t see their houses for weeks.flood

Despite the destruction we endured this weekend, I can’t help but think toward the future. It will take some time, but the flood waters will abate and the roads will clear. At some point, we will reopen our schools. We will ask the students and teachers to come back and the process of building will resume.

Even those whose houses didn’t flood will bear the scars of this terrifying natural disaster. And those whose houses did flood will be consumed by it.

Where will that process even begin? What will I say to them? What can I reasonably expect them to produce?

I have no idea how to answer most of these questions. All I know is that I’m going to tell them that I love them over and over. My classroom will be a refuge from the aftermath of the storms. We can be safe together. We can write about our pain and share our fears. My Student Council class will work to bring some normalcy back to people’s lives whether through food drives, donations, or lending a hand to those who need it. I’m going to give my linebackers the biggest hugs they’ve ever gotten and I’m going to tell those boys, who think they are men, that I love them.

Harvey’s footprint will always be seen on this school year for these students and teachers.

Maybe we can learn about survival and community and love. I think my classroom is the perfect place for those lessons. I hope I’m up to it.

Charles Moore is the senior English team lead at Clear Springs High School in League City, TX. He enjoys leisure swimming, reading, and coaching linebackers. Follow Charles on Twitter @ctcoach

More Than a Coach, a Reader

Clear Creek ISD June 2017 (1)The following is a guest post from an inspiring teacher and football coach I met this summer. He sent it to me the day after my daughter got married, and I’ve been playing catch up with life and getting-ready-for-back-to-school ever since. Sorry, I am late in posting it, Charles. You have to know, this post excites me:  I’m excited for the PD experiences we had this summer. I’m excited for the students who will walk through your door this fall. I’m excited to know you will spread your love of books and reading far and wide — and I’ll be excited, and not at all surprised, when you share a few titles with your linebackers. (Have you read Twelve Mighty Orphans?)


It’s August 6th and my summer is effectively over. We start football camps Monday and I’ll work until 5pm most days making sure helmets are ready, tackling dummies are out of storage, and duties are clear. This isn’t a necessarily dreadful thing because I love coaching football, and this part of the year is rife with expectation and uncertainty.

It’s also, for me, a time of reflection. Did I make the most of my time away from the classroom? Did I find enough time to shower my own kids with love and affection? Did I make sure I did the dishes and laundry and kept the house in order so that my wife had time to relax when she got home from work? I hope the answer to all these questions is “yes,” but I fear it’s a “maybe,” at best.

I was at school most days. The first two weeks after graduation were dedicated to our very first CCISD Literacy Institute, and mornings spent with athletes at Strength and Conditioning camp consumed most of the rest. The Literacy Institute was an incredible experience in almost every way. I learned so much from my teaching partner, Meggie Willner, and we both fell head over heels in love with our group of STAAR Camp students. Working with our curriculum director, Billy Eastman, and Amy Rasmussen made this the most valuable professional learning I’ve ever experienced. Those two weeks will make a difference in the lives of students in my class and the time trade off was more than worth it. Strength camp is bittersweet because I didn’t get to sleep past 6:15, but my football players and my own kids were there for most of it, and seeing them learn and work was worth it. For better or worse, this physical connection to campus means that I never really stop thinking about teaching or coaching. I’m always there.

My summer was, for the most part, wonderful. Whether afternoon napping, writing, playing board games with my kids, or swimming in our new swimming pool, my family and I always found ways to fill our time with laughter and joy. This summer was, however, different, and not just because of our much deeper sun tans. This summer I read like a “real” English teacher should. I’ve always listened while my colleagues extolled the virtues of their summer reading regimen. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve been known to crack open a book on a hot summer afternoon while sitting in the cool air-conditioning, but it hasn’t been my habit. Reading during the summer always felt like “work,” and I shouldn’t be working during my break. I should be chasing my kids around the house, helping them build blanket forts or taking them to the trampoline park. Reading threatened to get in the way of all that fun, but I wasn’t going to use that excuse this summer.

This summer, I consciously committed to being an avid reader, and while I’m sure many of you read much more than I did, that felt like a success for me.

CharlesMoorebookstackI read so many amazing books and looking at my stack makes me realize what an eclectic collection it is. I read fiction, memoir, poetry, a thriller short story anthology, and even a graphic novel. I read the first book in a series, the fourth book in a series and a few standalone novels.

I’m proud of the volume that I consumed (remember I must spend SOME time thinking about inside linebackers). I’m proud of the variety and scope and I think it will make me a better teacher going forward.

These are the books in the order in which I read them:

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

My teaching partner, Meggie, and our curriculum director, Billy, wanted to throttle me when I told them how I felt about this book. They both RAVED about it and I really didn’t care for it. I’m sure a second reading would do it justice because I was dealing with a lot personally and professionally at the end of the school year while reading it, but it just didn’t resonate with me. I hope this doesn’t make me an embarrassment to the profession.

Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies by Lindsay Rebar

They say reading is like a roller coaster and I went with an easy to read book for the Literacy Institute at the start of summer. A super straightforward, gently-paced book was exactly what I needed at the start of summer. I really enjoyed this book and for those seeking YA that appeals to both boys and girls, you can’t go wrong here.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

I loved this book!!! It is a blend of Sci-Fi and fantasy with a strong female protagonist. I loved the author’s take on super powers and the surprisingly effective post-apocalyptic setting. I was tempted to read the second and third books in the series, but I want this world to be there for me when I want to revisit it.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance

This book spoke to my teaching soul. Vance examines a culture drowning in poverty and while it’s a reflection on his firsthand experiences, I felt like there was so much from his past that echoed in mine. I don’t think I realize how much our students’ home lives affect their school lives, but this book made me reflect on it again and again. This book coupled with a viewing of The Shack, directed by Stuart Hazeldine caused a sort of mid-summer epiphany that will change my teaching in the years to come. Another blog post, maybe?

Scythe by Neal Schusterman

I one-clicked this book the day Billy Eastman book talked it at the literacy institute and once I picked it up, I couldn’t stop. It’s original and well-written and even though parts of it were somewhat easy to predict, others still kept me guessing until the end.

the princess saves herself in this one by Amanda Lovelace

I read this poetry book under a shade tree in Wimberley, Texas, on our 16th annual summer camping trip. My mother-in-law noticed how fast I was turning the pages while reading this one and told me it wasn’t a real book. I handed it to her and she read it cover to cover. We didn’t talk about it, but I think we both knew how it affected us: deeply.

Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe by Cullen Bunn and Dalibor Talajic

Determined to read a graphic novel, I picked up one about my favorite Marvel character. I’m not particularly experienced with graphic novels, having only finished George R. R. Martin’s graphic novels that are companions to his A Song of Ice and Fire. It was fun but not intellectually stimulating. Maybe this experience will help me with a reluctant reader or two or maybe give me some “street cred” with my Manga readers.

Matchup edited by Lee Child

Please don’t hate on my man crush on Lee Child. I’m obsessed with his Jack Reacher character and devour anything Child publishes. This book is produced by the International Thriller Writer’s Association and paired a dozen female authors with a dozen male authors to write a dozen short thrillers with varying success. There might be mentor texts here.

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

This book was a quick read for me and it made me feel like an idiot because I didn’t see the plot twist until it was too late. I really enjoyed reading about how Yoon’s main character dealt with her problems the way a teenager would. I think this is an important book for our students to experience. To some, the main character’s relationship to her mother will be an eye-opener; to others, all too familiar.

Vanguard by Ann Aguirre

A vanity read if there ever was one. I love the Razorland trilogy and I couldn’t resist buzzing through this fourth book in the series. The love story made me uncomfortable at first, but I think books should do that sometimes. I enjoyed the happy ending in this book as my summer also draws to a happy ending. A modern Romeo and Juliet story? Maybe, maybe not.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

This might be the top of the list of my summer reading. The story was incredible, the characters were deep and it is set in the same part of the country that J. D. Vance visits in his memoir from earlier in the summer. I love when books connect like that. This is one of the few books this summer that would keep me up late at night reading. I fell in love with this book and can’t wait to read Zenter’s Goodbye Days (if I can ever get it back from our freshman A.P. teacher).

Ah, the ones that got away…

Looking for Alaska by John Green

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

The Last Neandertal: A Novel by Claire Cameron

House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

and so many more…

So now I must start a list for the new school year. I don’t typically read a lot during football season. Working 80-hour weeks and trudging through months without a day off will take the motivation out of me. But maybe I can set a goal for the fall. Something to reach toward even when my knees and ankles are tired and my eyes won’t stay open.

Maybe I can get to school 20 minutes earlier and squeeze in some reading while the coffee percolates. I crush coffee.

Charles Moore is the senior English team lead at Clear Springs High School in League City, TX. He enjoys leisure swimming, reading, and coaching linebackers. Follow Charles on Twitter @ctcoach

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