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Showing posts from July, 2014

Neighborhoods and Neighborhood Schools

I spent early Tuesday afternoon walking a neighborhood with other teachers from my district. We participated in an annual event where books, water, and art supplies were distributed via a red wagon and cowbell. Because this event happens weekly, children and parents know that the cowbell is the signal that the red wagon has arrived.

During one of the stops, a teacher asked a grandmother which school her grandsons attended. She replied that they attended a school that wasn't near them, and commented that life was easier when the neighborhood school was open nearby. I didn't comment, but as a school board member and teacher, I know how important it is to maintain a budget that's in the black. And that goal is compounded by Michigan's emphasis on "school choice," as if choice alone will improve student achievement. And at the same time of dealing with frequent student movement from district to district, districts must also analyze their expenditures on buildings…

What We Lose When We Ban Books

I hope by now you've read about the dilemma in Cape Henlopen regarding Emily M. Danforth's debut novel, The Miseducation of Cameron Post. If not, learn about it here.

First, I want to draw attention to the district's required summer reading. I think we all can agree that students need to read more, but you don't create motivated and lifelong readers when you demand anything. Students need to feel empowered. They also need to feel like it is their idea.

In a move to appease parents on both sides, the district has reverted to its previous summer reading assignment: college-bound students should read two books, and non-college bound students should read one. Further, I still can't understand why the expectations for non-college bound students are lower. I firmly believe that it is every educator's role to prepare students for possibilities and options. Every kid should be able to identify as a reader, and having higher expectations for kids that, in all honesty, w…

No Teacher Is an Island

I meet regularly with two of my friends, and I consider them to be dynamite teachers. We used to work together, and they truly helped me survive my first and second years of teaching. Before we discovered the #NerdyBookClub, we called ourselves the "nerd herd." Sometimes, I think my students know more about my friends than they do me.
On a local level, this community is so important. Like I've said, I would've quit long before if I hadn't had this support network to share my failures and successes. Just yesterday, we spent hours at a Panera to talk about what we are changing, removing, and implementing in our classrooms this fall. We all run similar classrooms in that we believe in the workshop model, independent reading and writing, and student choice. At the same time, we all work in different contexts that have unique visions, schedules, and other requirements, so we discuss ways that we can make others' ideas work in our settings. 
In fact, these two fri…

On Leadership, Discourse, and the Classroom

In addition to the National Writing Project's main tenets (teacher as writer, researcher, and consultant), this year the Eastern Michigan Writing Project focused on one additional thread: teacher as leader. For the longest time, I pictured teacher leaders in two ways: department chairs or principals. While those are certainly invaluable roles within buildings and departments, the EMWP helped me see a bigger picture of the leadership roles that teachers can take within their buildings. While the title, the recognition, and money would be nice, I'm starting to recognize that I can be a leader without all of those. As just a teacher, I am fully capable of effecting change.

I'm in the process of reading M.T. Anderson's Feed, and this line stuck out to me: "I was thinking of how sometimes, trying to say the right thing to people, it's like some kind of brain surgery, and you have to tweak exactly the right part of the lobe" (54). And I think that's one of …

Authentic Inquiry Leads to Better Research

Somewhere along the way, I learned to become an independent researcher. When I have questions, I seek out sources that will be helpful in answering that question, and I learned to discern and ignore unhelpful resources. And when I'm really into that question, I find myself losing track of time and immersed in information. This is part of my "problem" with inquiry into my professional practice. Before I know it, I've requested a dozen books from the Michigan Electronic Library or purchased them via Amazon. I know Amazon's evil, but two-day shipping is so attractive when you have a burning question that you just need answers to. (Before you scold me, know that I just placed an order with a local independent bookstore about a half-hour ago.)

This year, I learned a transformational lesson when asking students to research: They need to develop their own questions.

I only learned this through trial and error. During our second marking period, we use Elie Wiesel's N…

Reflecting on the Summer Institute: Round Two

When Bill Tucker (@EMWPBill), the director of the Eastern Michigan Writing Project, sent out an all call to teacher consultants about revisiting the EMWP this summer, my heart jumped for the opportunity. Having gone through the Summer Institute just last year, I knew it would be a three-week opportunity to learn from others, catch up with friends, and actually dedicate time to write. It's this kind of professional development that's structured enough to provide routine and flexible enough to allow the pursuit of my own passions and interests that I can't get enough of.

As an individual, the institute fed my passions. For three weeks, I could talk reading and writing with some of the best teachers in Michigan. We swapped book recommendations, learned about each others' lives, and established a support network that, like the last school year, I know I will call upon when times get tough. I learned last year that teachers affiliated with the National Writing Project just …

Teachers: Don't Kill MOCKINGBIRD

I just finished reading Paul Acampora's I Kill the Mockingbird. When I first picked this book up, I thought it would be a book for youth, but I'm starting to think this is a book for teachers.

The premise is simple: A beloved teacher dies, and soon-to-be freshmen Lucy, Elena, and Michael vow to keep his appreciation of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird alive in the face of a mandatory summer reading list, of which Lee's novel is one of many possible titles. They want to inspire others to love the book, so they develop a plan that basically follows the rule of supply and demand: if they make it seem as if fewer copies of Mockingbird are available, people will obviously seem interested in the book. (I learned this economics lesson growing up when I may or may not have wanted a Furby.)

In English class, I wish helping students see the beauty that is Lee's work was that easy. While I still search for ways to bring all students to the page (that was my nErDcampMI sessi…

Reading Glasses

"Let me guess... You teach English?" I've been asked the same question by nearly everyone when I reveal that I'm a teacher. I can thank my distant relatives for the name change to "English" from a Polish surname that we can only remember how to pronounce and never to spell.

I've noticed that revealing you're an English teacher elicits one of two reactions: 1) People either stop talking and are afraid that you will correct, critique, nitpick (<insert the pedantic verb of your choice>); or 2) People feel as if you are on their side and agree that something is taking place to the detriment of the wonderful, precious English language. And it was during my routine eye exam that my optometrist goaded me into the second camp.

He expected sympathy when he said, "I once had a secretary who would use 'seen' without the helping verb." And I responded with a quick, "Oh?', hoping to move the conversation away from the stereotypic…

CORE Beliefs

With the creation of a new blog, it feels right that the first post should be about my core beliefs as a teacher:

I believe in learning from others teachers and not from a canned program.
I believe in re-inventing the wheel and in innovation, even when others say not to.
I believe in ending sentences with prepositions, especially because others say not to.
I believe in making things better, even when they aren't broken. Life is a work in progress.

I believe in the power of choice and autonomy.
I believe in individual decision making and responsiveness.
I believe that teachers can be trusted to do their jobs.
I believe that nerds are the only people you should surround yourself with. They know and show what they are passionate about.

I believe that books can, and do, save lives.
I believe that classroom teachers are more important than computers. Robots are incapable of developing relationships like humans. No computer chip can detect and help lessen the burden of a chip on someone…