The Jock, The Academic, and The Boy in the Back of the Room

Creating Lasting Relationships that Work

On the first day of every school year the bell rings and students, in my case seniors, walk in, shake my hand, sit where they will, and wait to see what kind of teacher I will be.  I go through the same process with them.  Each student requires something different from me, so I need to understand students individually if I am going to help them grow into critical readers, writers, and thinkers.  I refuse to listen to past teachers’ reports on my new students’ personalities or proclivities.  I refuse to prejudge my students.  To be effective, I must know my students and I must know them well based on my experiences. KEEP READING

Quick Writes

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Recently, I received a Facebook message from Travis, a student that I’d had the privilege of working with in my 11th grade English class several years ago. He wanted to tell me “In the spirit of Thanksgiving” how much my quick writes helped him “grow as a person.”  

This message surprised me, as my quick writes are nothing revolutionary; students are given a prompt and simply write their thoughts on the topic for 5 minutes. Next, the class discusses their ideas about the topic – usually for about 10 minutes, sometimes more if the discussion takes off, and then we move on to the next activity. Occasionally, the prompt is related to the main activity/lesson of the day and sometimes it is just a topic I think the students might like to discuss. You can find countless great prompt ideas on the internet – a wonderful one I found recently was in the New York Times titled Questions that Lead to LoveBut all that’s really required to make a good quick write prompt is that it’s thought-provoking. Later in the year, you can even mix things up by letting the students write the prompts.KEEP READING

Another Year in the Bag

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Another year is in the bag. My students have negotiated the AP Literature exam and senior year with grace and dignity (for the most part). It is always a melancholy day when I say goodbye to these kids I’ve come to know so well. But, I know they are prepared for college and the world that awaits them in the fall. Now it is my turn to reflect on the journey we took together and begin my plans for the new crop of students heading my way in the fall. 

Like most teachers, my reflections fall first on what I will do differently next year. I carefully consider what worked well and want failed to live up to expectations, but I also consider what was missing. First, what went well?

Students read deeply and widely. As a class we read and analyzed the following works: Madame Bovary, The Importance of Being Earnest, Hamlet, Frankenstein, and Song of Solomon. Students also read four self-selected novels or plays. Their readings included: The Road, Sula, Beloved, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mudbound, and many others. There was a sense of literary excellence and challenge in the class, and I am proud of this classroom culture.

Students learned to read specific passages and poems closely and analytically. They learned to make arguments. I worked to focus students on the craft of writing and the skillful arrangement of language authors use to create meaning. We looked at specific sentences through warm-ups I call “Spotlight Reading.” I saw growth in insight and analytical writing.

What failed to live up to expectations? 

I try to do too much. I want kids to read everything. What happens? I rush through works that deserve a slower, more methodical pace. Quality literature requires attention. I need to curb my inclination to do too much. In the end, the kids are short-changed, and I feel frustrated.

KEEP READING

The Poetry Service Project

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Let’s party, English teachers! This is our month. Let’s break out the form and meter and read the night away! But before this gets any verse (couldn’t resist), here’s how my AP students and I celebrated National Poetry Month.

Earlier in the semester I received an email from a teacher asking if I’d like to do some classroom collaboration. She happens to be one outstanding educator and the mother of one of my very talented students, and I was thrilled to begin thinking about what she’d proposed. KEEP READING

Start the New Year with a Mid-Year Evaluation

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Take a deep breath. This may be the last time you have to do this until May because we all know that once school starts back after break, the pace only accelerates until graduation. The new year is the perfect time for personal reflection and goal setting and the new year offers teachers a late Christmas gift – a chance to make mid-year classroom adjustments. This only happens with intentionality and reflection.KEEP READING

Community in the Classroom

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Membership has its privileges. American Express recognizes the power of community and has used this pitch to sell their credit card to 102 million people over the last three decades. People want to be a member, not just a credit card holder.

The same is true with teaching. Teachers have the choice to either conduct a class or create a learning community. I choose the latter because I believe that the more my students experience community, the more willing they are to give of themselves to the group and to my instruction. … KEEP READING