Category Archives: Maggie Lopez

Taking a chance on reading aloud

One of the most prevalent memories I have from my childhood is being read to.  Every week, my mom would load my sister and I in the van and head downtown to the library where we would practice returning, renewing, and selecting new books.  I can still see the orange carpet in the children’s library, the shelves that stood only as tall as a seven year old, and hear the crinkle of the plastic covers that protected each precious story like shrink wrap.  During the week, my sister and I vied for places on her lap as she read aloud each book. I wouldn’t say she was a theatrical reader, I don’t recall her trying on different voices or even pausing to ask us what we thought, but it was her voice telling a story.  Isn’t that the magic of being read to?

Read alouds in K-12 classrooms have immense benefits, although their usage and popularity have ebbed and flowed overtime, as discussed by Steven L. Layne’s book In Defense of Read-Aloud which Amy writes about along with practical strategies for implementation.  This summer, I began to notice much discussion around reading aloud in the adolescent classroom and my interest was piqued.  My challenge to myself this summer was to try implementing read alouds, not just think alouds, in my classroom.

Admittedly, I got a little scared.  Then I chickened out. 

Having just hours to submit a book list to the department chair and having never visited the school I was about to teach at, I was unsure how a read aloud would be perceived by my new students and new colleagues.  So, I played it safe and opted to start the year with a full class read aloud using one of the required texts, The Crucible (I work with a curriculum that includes highly suggested texts for English 3, American Literature in the state of Utah, which has led me to a balance the requirements while choice).  I put students at the center of the read aloud, hoping they would embrace and take ownership of hearing a story versus reading it.

Did I fear a lack of student buy in?  Yep. Did I wonder if my pedagogical reasoning would be questioned?  At some points. Am I planning for a class-selected read aloud in the coming weeks?  Sure am!

Students loved it.  

I loved it.

We laughed, we questioned, we build community, and we worked on critical reading skills. We also enjoyed the story–there is power in students hearing a story, even when they’re 16 or 17 years old.

IMG_0312.JPG

6th period was so into reading, they literally begged me to read the deleted scene between John Proctor and Abigail Williams once they discovered it at the end of the play–how could I say no?  While we were all entertained with Sam and Noa’s reading, we were able to discuss how the scene adds to and takes away from the text as a whole, in addition to making inferences about Miller’s choices.

Building upon Layne’s research, here are the benefits I noticed in my classroom:

  • Students received a foundation of reading strategies to start the school year.  As a play is essentially a “think aloud,” with the narrator teaching students to make inferences about characters, conflict, and the social setting. Prior to starting, we discussed our reading voices, what Chris Tovani has labeled as “Interacting” and “Distracting” voices in Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?.  The interacting voice is what makes connections and predictions, asks questions, develops an opinion, and identifies confusion as we are decoding words.  The distracting voice is what pulls a reader’s attention away from the text (Tovani 63). For struggling readers, the narrated parts and asides modeled this “interacting voice” and we implemented “Fix Up Strategies,” as defined by Tovani, when our distracting voice overpowered our interacting voice, leading to muddled comprehension. We paused to recap the plot, ask questions, and make predictions during our full class reading.  Students had permission to pause the read aloud and we implemented these strategies together and practice themselves.
  • Students made connections between the false accusations and lies of Salem and our current world.  I never had to answer the age-old English question of “Why are we reading this?”  Big win when students understand the relevance of a common text to their world.
  • Students became comfortable reading and sharing–many began taking on the person of the accused, answering using “I,” demonstrating they were engaged in the text and thinking like the characters. This has created an environment where their voice and opinions matter.
  • Students dug into their choice reads in their own time because much our class time, aside from writers notebook time, was dominated by The Crucible.  Without realizing, students began to develop the habit of reading daily on their own time. Sa-weet!
  • I gained incredible insight into my students’ preferences, personalities, and habits.  I immediately learned who participates in the theater program and who only volunteers when the role is small.  I learned who needs to be engaged fully to keep on task and whose brain wanders thus requires reminders to “enter” the scene.  I learned who likes to lead, taking charge in the scene as the main character, or play the mother hen and keep everyone “on task” as a narrator. You learn who always brings their book and who always forgets, who annotates and who ponders.  It was like watching a collaborative group unfold.
  • We built rapport.  I believe beginning with a play set the tone that our classroom environment is one where we work together and discuss literature–what we love, what resonates with us, what we can connect to.  Our classroom is one where reading is an enjoyable experience.

“One key benefit of a consistent read-aloud is that kids enjoy being with text; this affects attitude, and attitude precedes action. Kids don’t take books home and read if they never have any pleasant experiences w.jpg

I also wonder if their reading was deepened because we read together as a community, bringing 20+ backgrounds and ideas together to create a collective understanding.  Maybe the struggling students thought “I can do this” for the first time. Maybe the advanced student thought “Now I more time to read what I want at home” for the first time in a long time. Maybe other students simply thought “Huh, this wasn’t so bad.”

Part of a read aloud’s magic is its power to change student perceptions around books.  My goal, OUR goal, is to create and encourage readers. I encourage you to bring oral reading into your classroom.  I am going to be braver in the coming weeks and embrace a full class read aloud, so students can simply enjoy hearing a story for a few minutes each day.

Maggie Lopez has made the move west to Utah where the mountains are a gorgeous golden purple every day and ski season is around the corner.  She is indulging in promoting banned books this week with students and currently reading a student rec, Brain on Fire.  Follow her on Twitter at @meg_lopez0.

Advertisements

Pop Up Peer Editing Lab

I am always striving to have students meet the standard for writing volume Kelly Gallagher challenges teachers to assign students.  Gallagher argues that students should be writing FOUR TIMES the amount that teachers are grading.  Between quick writes, timed essays for AP, work-shopped poems, creatives pieces, blog posts, reflections, and topic journals, you’d think we would all come pretty close to that ratio.  And I bet most of us are.

A colleague who teaches history has been striving to also be a teacher of literacy (YES!) which has lead to great conversations and collaboration.   In the fall, as his students were drafting research papers, he said, “How do you do it? I can’t give them all the feedback they need.”

I chuckled to myself, thinking of all the paper-management survival tactics we English teachers have.  Then it dawned on me–I have classes of talented, capable writers, why not allow my junior and senior students give feedback to lower classmen?  Wouldn’t that be another form of workshop writing?

Thus the Pop Up Peer Editing Lab was born in Room 20.

Thankfully my school is service-minded, so students readily agreed to be the outsourced editors for teachers.  I let teachers know that we, the English students in Room 20, would be happy to help revise and suggest edits on any writing as a way to improve our skills as writers and give back to our school community.  All we requested from teachers was a bit of turnaround time and paper copies (I know–paper! Who knew that is what these digital natives would prefer!  When asked, many students echoed the belief I likely share with many of you:  paper feedback is more authentic and creates connections).  To date, my students have edited lab reports, history research, art analysis, even middle school writing, in addition to what we do during our time together.

And you know what, it is actually easier DONE than said.  Yep, you read that right!

I think of the Pop Up Peer Editing Lab like a pop up restaurant or store around Chicago, opening when demand is high before closing to move on to a new location, during which demand increases again.  To make this happen, I frame 10-20 minutes, depending on the writing type and how many drafts we have, where I can in our workshop schedule.  Some days this counts for our writing mini-lesson or writing time if we are between class drafts.

As a community of writers, we begin by reviewing the actual assignment students received and the rubric which leads to us generating a list of essential “look fors” and suggestions we are likely all going to make.  To workshop writers, this is like a reverse-mentor text where students are thinking of what an exemplary draft would look like and contain based on the rubric.  After students edit, I merely give the annotated drafts back to the teacher. Voila! As a colleague, I am helping my peers become literacy teachers while my students are helping their peers become better writers.

Peer editing, as we know, helps student writers to develop writing and revision skills through a different lens, taking on the role of an editor and teacher of writing.  The Pop Up Lab has been a useful formative assessment of writing skills for my students because they need to understand the content to teach it through feedback.

 

screenshot-2018-02-22-at-1-34-39-pm.png

A Lab Editor’s suggestion to an ESL student which includes a notice of passive voice, something the Lab Editor Kelsey has been working on in her own writing.

Additionally, the Pop Up Lab edits have given me formative data about what students are noticing and the moves they’re making in their own writing to elevate it.  I often circulate multiple copies of the same draft, then compare the edits and note trends.  The trends help me determine mini lessons or concepts to review, as well as what is sticking with students from modeling and practicing in our notebooks.

We have played around with revision and editing using discipline-specific teacher rubrics, Kelly Gallagher’s RADaR model of revision from Write Like This, Bless-Press-Address from the NWP, Push & Pull, but many times students edit and suggest revisions based on our initial list and their own knowledge.  You could, of course, always ask teachers precisely what they want to get out of the outsourced feedback.  To build this community of peer editing, my upcoming goal is to collaborate on scheduling so my students and their peer writers can hold a conference, supporting talk around writing and revision while strengthening our writing community.

Would outsourced editing and revision suggestions work in your school?  How would you adapt this “pop up” college-style writing lab to suit the needs of your colleagues while challenging your students?

Maggie Lopez is almost done editing her English III, English IV, and AP Language & Composition students’ essays for the year, and just when she finally mastered reading each students’ timed essay handwriting.  Follow her as she moves to Salt Lake City to start a new adventure @meglopez0.

Eulogy writing as a way to employ rhetorical strategies

I find myself like I am sure many AP teachers do, searching for ways, strategies, assignments, etc. where students can apply the writing styles and tools in new ways that expand beyond the timed essay.  My students are developing the shift in mindset that is required for rhetorical analysis, shifting away from evaluating what was said to how it was said.  

During our culminating discussion of Into the Wild, students had divergent views on Chris McCandless–some students sympathized with his quest and others believed him reckless and arrogant (this later made for an amazing debate!).  The seminar shifted to discussing all of those that Chris’ choice to go into the wilderness, and death, impacted his parents, beloved sister, and those he met along his journey.  It was a student’s question, How do you think his parents felt going back to the bus?  Which  led us to consider those Chris left behind and what they would want to say to him.  

As Louise Rosenblatt discovered decades ago, the merit of a text for adolescents often lies in the connection a student has with the book (read more about a modern take on Rosenblatt’s transactional theory here and here).  Students want to connect with texts in meaningful ways, through their own experiences, beliefs, and preferences.  We want readers to have emotional reactions no matter what they’re reading, be it poetry, fiction, or nonfiction.  My students identified with Chris, his loving sister, or his longing parents.  Some students understood his adolescent need for adventure and freedom while others argued he had a duty to his family.

Tasking students with writing a eulogy for such a polarizing person seemed an ideal way for students to employ their rhetorical techniques as writers while defending their view of Chris.

Prior to letting them loose to write, we examined and discussed eulogies from famous people to use as mentor texts.  Our readings ranged from Bill Clinton’s eulogy of Richard Nixon to Amy Winehouse and Steve Jobs.  Through these mentor texts, students discussed how tone is established and reveals the relationship to the deceased individual, even the eulogist’s feelings towards the person, as well as the features of a eulogy.  From reading a range of eulogies, students came to their understanding that quality, emotional eulogies often employ a variety of appeals, noting that rhetorical techniques are for everyday use–yes!  There IS a use for these skills outside of the Language and Composition classroom, beyond the exam!

After students felt comfortable with the format, I assigned the eulogy and students selected the character they would become during their eulogy.  Then the writing and revision process took hold!

A powerful last step was for students to annotate their draft to identify and discuss the purpose of the devices they employed, like a reflective rhetorical analysis of their choices as a writer.  This was key to moving students towards understanding why writers make the moves they do.  Then, we delivered them to develop speaking skills in a low stakes setting and have the opportunity to hear rhetorical strategies used.

 

Two student samples through various perspectives with their annotations:

Screenshot 2018-03-12 at 2.18.56 PM

Screenshot 2018-03-12 at 2.18.40 PM

While this assignment was made for Into the Wild and specifically for Chris McCandless, the assignment could easily be modified for any text studied as a class or independently. Consider how the ending of The Great Gatsby would change if Nick delivered a eulogy. What would Daisy have said, with or without Tom in the audience?  What would Hannah’s classmates who received a cassette in 13 Reasons Why have said to memorialize her?   

This eulogy allowed me to assess students’ character understanding, a way for students to apply their rhetorical knowledge, as well as a low stakes way to practice speaking, all while synthesizing perspectives in the text.  Did I mention squeezing in a little rhetorical practice for the upcoming exam?  I also think students were able to sort out their views on Chris through the persona they took on, adding an invaluable transactive quality to their analysis. 

Maggie Lopez teaches juniors and seniors in Chicago, but is looking forward to a new adventure in Utah for the next school year.  Currently, she is working through her personal reading list of An American Marriage by Tayari Jones and Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews.

Assessment Graffitti – Guest Post by Margaret Lopez

After a largely discussion and low stakes writing-based unit on Social Justice with three texts (Half the Sky, Hillbilly Elegy, and Ghettoside), I was contemplating a final activity to assess their understanding.  I wanted evidence of their thinking.  I wanted my students to show me, in any format, they “got” the unit–that they understood what injustices exist in the world, how they’re connected to privilege and access, and what solutions are necessary to equalize the playing field.  

But I didn’t want to have another seminar.

I didn’t want to give them time to write.

I didn’t want to read another article.

And, full disclosure, I certainly didn’t want cumbersome grading as we are in the final stretch and up to our necks in their year-long inquiry project.

I wanted something new, something we hadn’t done all year.  So, I decided to let my students do something forbidden–I equipped them with Expo markers and let them draw on the furniture.

Disclaimer:  I checked before to see that Expo markers washed off my classroom tables with a little elbow grease and Clorox wipes.  Please do so before!

I simply gave my students these instructions:

Lopez

Then, I stepped aside.  Students had about 30 minutes to complete their visual and were immediately engaged (likely because they were drawing on school property).  

Lopez2

Dev and Lisa collaborating on a cause and effect analysis of Appalachia according to Hillbilly Elegy. 

As they were collaborating, students were discussing the issues we had examined throughout the weeks, Students talked about the values of the oppressors compared with those who are oppressed, and how those intersect with community values.  Students connected historical roots with the current issues discussed in their books, structures of power and privilege that exist, and what solutions should be invested in.  Their purposeful talk around the assessment proved they had read deeply, thought critically, and synthesized multiple issues.

The products were great–original and insightful.  Students gained more listening to their peers explain their group’s visual at the end of class because the conversation was extended and connected, again synthesizing ideas between the texts and our world.

Lopez3

A live tree and dead tree representing opportunity and access for males versus females in Half the Sky.

Lopez4

Graham explains his group’s problem-solution web for the violent community discussed in Ghettoside. 

Lopez5

Emma explains the culture of have and have-nots that exist in other countries between males and females, emphasizing the barriers to equality.

While I ushered students out of the classroom, I heard the ultimate combination of compliments:

  • I feel like that actually assessed my thinking.
  • This unit was great, you should do it next year.
  • That was fun!

Mission accomplished.


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.

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.

Student Gratitude – A Guest Post by Margaret Lopez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

thank

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

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

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

thank2

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

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


Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 8.44.22 PM

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

%d bloggers like this: