by Karla Hilliard
I confess. When I first heard about this year's altered start time, moving teacher arrival time from 7:15 to 7:10, I was less than pleased. "But wait!" I said, "Sleep is good for the brain, and...who can even function at that hour?!" "UG!" I said, "I'll need to drink even more coffee because of that mere five minutes and who even has time to pee during the day?!"
All whining aside. Here's what happened this morning on the first day of school with me being here a whole five minutes earlier...
My alarm rang at 5:08 AM, and I began my morning routines. I drove my commute of a quarter mile (yes, it's that close, and I still drive...don't judge me), and I walked down the familiar halls and saw familiar faces and exchanged warm and familiar greetings with many fellow teachers.
I went to my first-day duty of patrolling the cafeteria and wandered around a bit. I shouted "Hello! Welcome to High School!" to some pretty freaked out freshman, and I drank a whole bunch of coffee in the meantime. I propped open a door to the auditorium and helped out a brand new Junior boy who was without a schedule.
I wandered around a bit more, But then I heard another familiar sound, a few shouts of, "Hey, Mrs. Hilliard!" out in the crowd. I saw Annalyse, Grace, Zoe, Chase, Andrew, Eli, Matt, Hunter, Austin, Drew, Conner, Sadie, Sophia, Colton, Zack, Thomas, Hailey, Alyea, Owen and some others. I got hugs from about half of these students and high-fived a few more.
It was in this moment that I felt both shame and embarrassment over my whine-itude about our slightly earlier morning. Not only this, but I felt humbled and grateful and downright happy to be there in this moment with these young people in this school cafeteria. And I remembered why I'm here and why I show up every day.
The other thing I remembered is this, and we all know it, but getting this reminder this morning somehow seemed charmed...
YOU -- I'm talking to you fellow teachers, make a difference. And not in the cliched, "if you can only save one kid" kind of way. Yes, you do that, too. I know it. I've seen it. But you make a difference in the smaller scale ways that impact students, little-by-little, day-by-day, until eventually you have a kid on your hands who loves coming to school because of...yep, you guessed it: YOU
You shake hands or fist bump hello, you disinfect desks and throw away gross banana peels, you literally sprint to the work room to make an extra set of handouts for the better, last-minute lesson idea, you buy a value-size box of granola bars for your classroom because you know kids are hungry, you buy Play-doh and Legos to help out some less than enthused learners, you tutor after school, you show up at games and dances and you dress up for both, you call home, you introduce yourself to parents you see at the grocery store, you don't embarrass students in class, you don't expect perfection, you "speak your truth plainly and quietly", you love your students.
I see you do that, and even more, too.
But you do these things, and it makes a difference, and kids show up to school because of you. Well done. Keep fighting the good fight. Keep holding your pee for as long as you can. Keep shaking hands and giving hugs and doing the small, meaningful thing day-in and day-out because it's what you do and it's who you are.
Keep being the difference.
WVCTE is wondering...
How do you see teachers making a difference? What stories can you share about a teacher who made a difference in your life?
Karla Hilliard teaches STEM Academy English and AP Literature and Composition at Spring Mills High School in Martinsburg, WV. She has been a classroom teacher for 11 years. When she isn't teaching, you can find Karla hanging with family, cooking up a good meal, reading up on educational trends, crocheting soft things, or eating spoonfuls of peanut butter.
Karla serves as Executive Vice President and Head of of Secondary Affairs for WVCTE. See what's happening in her classroom at www.hilliardsclass.com or connect with her on Twitter @karlahilliard.
by Jeni Gearhart
Dear future student,
I get to meet you soon, and I am so excited.
Right now, you might be out with your friends enjoying those last sweet moments of summer. Or maybe you are sitting at home wishing you had started that summer assignment just a few weeks earlier. Maybe you are dreading the new school year because last year was one of your worst. Or maybe you are dreaming of how this year could be (WILL BE) different.
Do you know that I am thinking about those same things? Do you know that I am torn between the sadness of the dwindling days of summer and the joy of the fresh start of a new year?
Do you know that I also groaned when I saw Wal-Mart setting up the school supply aisle in July? Do you know that filling my cart with school supplies still gives me butterflies?
Dear future student, do you know how much I already care for you?
Do you know that I bought extra school supplies to keep in the back of the classroom in case you need them?
Do you know that I keep extra granola bars in my desk for those mornings that you didn’t have breakfast and can’t afford to charge for one at school?
Do you know that I spent hours in used book stores this summer collecting new novels that I hope you will find yourself in?
Do you know that I will cry about you this year?
I will cry when you tell me about how lonely you are at home.
I will cry when you tell me “Yes, he says awful things sometimes, but it doesn’t matter. He loves me”.
I will cry when your grades start dropping because you have started caring more about getting high than showing up to my class.
Do you know that I will listen? Do you know that I care just as much about WHO YOU ARE as I care about how you do in my class?
Dear future student, we will meet very soon. I need you to know what to expect this year:
I’m going to push you, and you are not always going to like it. I’m going to ask you to do hard things in my class. I’m going to challenge you to think differently. I’m going to ask you to think deeply about your world. I’m going to require that you actually know why you believe what you do.
I’m going to require you to do things better. I’m not sorry that you’re not going to like that challenge at first. You are going to wish that I let you turn in a first draft essay and call it a day. You are really going to hate that the phrase “go deeper” is written on every assignment at the beginning of the year. You may hate the word “revision” by the end of the year.
I’m going to require this of you because my job is to help you to grow. I can’t wait for the day those C essays start to morph into the B+ and A’s that I knew you would write.
I’m going to be so proud of you this year.
I’m going to ask a lot of you. I ask a lot of you because I believe that every single person has the capacity for growth and change. I know that you are capable of such beautiful things.
Dear future student,
I need you to know one last thing. It is probably the most important thing that I will ever tell you.
I earnestly hope that I am not the first person to tell you that. If I am, let me say it again: YOU MATTER. YOU MATTER. YOU MATTER.
YOU, dear student, are the reason why I come to my classroom every day. YOU are why I teach.
You might not think you are important. But you are. You matter so much to me.
See you soon!
What do you think?
What do want to tell your students before the first day? What are you excited about for the coming school year? Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!
Jeni Gearhart teaches 10 Honors English and AP English Language at Hedgesville High School in Berkeley County. Originally from Western PA, Jeni loves West Virginia and has taught all four years of her teaching career in the Wild and Wonderful state. She a not a hipster, but adamantly proclaims that she liked coloring books before they were cool. When not wandering the internet for new teaching ideas or grading papers, Jeni likes to drink coffee and devour good books.
By Jennifer Unger
Confucius stated, "Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without." Who am I to argue with this great philosopher? As a teacher of English, I have always used music when I teach poetry. I always start the unit by asking, "Who likes poetry?" There are always a few hands in the air (mostly girls who compose their own love poetry to their current crush). I then ask, "Who likes music?" Amazingly, almost all hands are voraciously waving and wanting to share their favorite artists and titles. Then I hit them with the realization that music is indeed poetry, so those who love music, love poetry. I go over the poetry devices and show them a slide show of examples in songs. As a first assignment, I ask them to bring in the lyrics to one of their favorite songs (school appropriate, of course). In pairs they are given a list of poetry terms and definitions. They are then to annotate the song identifying at least five devices in their pieces. We continue to use music as we work through the poetry unit. They will look at a narrative poem and a narrative song (such as Hazard by Richard Marx- I try to use songs from my heyday) in order to find voice and other commonalities. They also find a poem and a song that share the same theme (e.g. Finding strength from within) and create a digital project explaining how both works support the theme using text evidence and images.
Poetry lessons are perfect connections with music, but after spending most of my hall duty saying, "Take your headphones off, please," I recognized that students spend so much time listening to music, and I hate to quash the things they are passionate about, so I have been using it more and more in my other units. Some of the examples in which I have used music are:
These are just some of the ways I have taken their love of one form of art and connected it to another form. I have had such luck and love with these assignments. Students take great care in their work and the other students enjoy listening. It doesn't seem all that amazing that these lessons work. People from the beginning of time have turned to music as a way to celebrate, teach, relax, and praise.
"Where words fail, music speaks."- Hans Christian Anderson.
WVCTE is wondering...
Is music part of your class? What creative ways do you connect students' love of music with literature? Would these activities work with your classes? Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!
Jennifer C. Unger teaches English 10 inclusion, English 10 Honors, Speech and Broadcast Journalism at Spring Mills High School in Berkeley County, WV. This is her 17th year of teaching. She values being able to teach her students new ideas and introduce works of literature for them to dissect. Her favorite part of the job, though, is learning new things from her students. Her favorite parts of life are her daughters, Kylie and Katie. She is treasurer of the newly formed WVCTE.
“The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of the Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of august is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color.”
It’s the beginning August which means that teachers everywhere have gotten up and looked at their calendars with some weird combination of dread, joy, foreboding, excitement, reluctance, and determination. As Babbitt so eloquently put it, the first week of August is both an end and a beginning. And I love and hate that feeling. The bittersweet last days of summer. The delicious anticipation of a new school year and new beginnings.
But letting go of summer is hard, and I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that part of me feels this way this time of year:
I’ll admit, I LOVE summer. I spend most summer days catching up on reading that I couldn’t find time for during the school year, growing tomatoes, and playing barefoot in my backyard with my kids. I love that feeling of “oh-my-gosh-I actually-got-enough-sleep.” I love drinking coffee while it’s still hot. I love being able to sit down and have head space to do my own writing. Everything slows down to be savored. And when I'm sitting in the shade of my back porch with a great book in my hand, or hiking up a hill where the trees look like this:
I can't help but to sometimes think things like, "Man, what would a whole life of summer be like?"
Which is why the first week of August for me is just as Babbit describes. I often feel frozen between two times and two versions of myself. I'm at the end of one thing and the beginning of another.
Because I also really LOVE going back to school. When I walk through that school supply aisle at the end of July/beginning of August, I get the same butterflies of excitement and expectation that I got as a kid. I think about all that promise--all those kids who see this new school year as a fresh start, as a chance to be the best versions of themselves—and I can’t wait to meet them. And summer for me isn't all hammocks and lemonade. I spend more than a few summer days planning, training, and preparing to greet those kids with the best I have to offer. I attend conferences and professional developments. I meet with colleagues, share best practices, and think about what worked and what didn’t, rewriting units and plans to meet my students’ 21st Century needs.
So I spend my first week of August feeling a bit conflicted--.like one of those old Looney Toons characters with an angel and devil on each shoulder, one whispering "suuuummmmmmerrrrrrrrrrrrr" while the other whispering "schhhhooooooooooooooollll." I teeter at the top of Babbit's Ferris wheel trying to decide to when to move forward.
So how do I get ready to meet the year? How do I make sure that when the yellow school buses pull up, I'm less like Billy Madison and more like this:
In this Monday’s “Back to School Blog” post, I’m going to share a few ways I prepare and motivate myself to charge back into my classroom like Jordan in the 1995 Chicago Bulls warm-up.
1. Get Inspired!
Watch this TED Talk by Educational Superstar, Rita Pierson:
Pierson was an educational dynamo who passed away in 2013. In this, one of her last major public appearances, Pierson talks about the key to success for all students. Now, I don’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it, but get ready to laugh, cry, and be inspired. It’s just under 8 minutes long, and Pearson reminds us of the incredible impact a real teacher/student connection can be. If you have seen it, watch it again. It’s worth it. I watch it at least once a year, and it’s a wonderful reminder of how important teachers are.
2. Pump up the Morning
Those early mornings can be tough after a summer of restful, normal, human sleep. And I’ll be honest here…before 7:00 AM I am not the best version of myself. My senior year of college, a veteran teacher named Cathy Chitester came in to talk to my education class, and she gave this advice: “Mornings are hard. Some mornings, you won’t want to go at all. Make a mix-tape of songs you love. Songs that make you want to dance and sing. Songs that make you happy, and use that time in the car to get in a mood that will make you want to see your students.”
Now, these days we call them “play-lists” not “mix-tapes,” but the advice is still sound. A great jam on the radio in the morning can turn the whole morning around for me.
Below in no particular order is my ultimate drive to school playlist:
Starships, Nikki Minaj
Seven Nation Army, White Stripes
Applause, Lady Gaga
Three Little Birds, Bob Marley
Nothing But a “G” Thang, Snoop Dogg featuring Dr. Dre
I will Survive, Gloria Gaynor
Ho Hey, Lumineers
Respect, Aretha Franklin
Don’t Stop Believing, Journey
3. Make it Look Good
We all know that the amount of time given to work in our rooms before the students come is woefully limited. Often our teacher work days before students’ first day are consumed with meetings, training, and in-services. And to top it off, most of us have had to pack our rooms up before summer, and now we need to reassemble our classrooms into the magical learning centers we know and love. Trying to make our classrooms look like our Pinterest boards in the 20 minutes between meetings leaves most of frazzled, stressed, and overwhelmed.
But here’s the thing: your room is important. It’s where you’re going to be spending most of your time for the next 10 months, it’s going to be the first thing your students see, and it will be the first impression your students have of you. If you are trying to teach in an unorganized, messy, sterile space, whether you realize it or not, it will affect your mood and your teaching which will directly impact your students.
You’ll be less stressed and more prepared to deal with new beginning of the year policies, procedures, and information if you’re not worried about when you’re going to get time to tape your favorite motivational posters to the wall.
So here’s what I do: I go into school and set up my room before I’m supposed to be “back,” usually a day or two before teachers' first day. Now, some of my colleagues will view this as working for nothing or “giving up” my free time, and maybe they’re right. But for me, the juice is worth the squeeze. When my first official day to return to school arrives, I feel “ready” knowing I’m going to walk into a finished room.
4. Set a Goal for Yourself and Keep Learning
Every school year, I try to do something new in my teaching and for myself. This will make you a better teacher. By trying new things in your curriculum you're keeping your content fresh and your classroom current. By learning new things you are reminded of the feeling our students have in our rooms everyday.
Last year I taught a unit on sentence patterns. I had never done this before, but I felt that it would give my AP Lang students stronger analysis skills. I had to work hard to familiarize myself with the content and the lessons since it was all relatively new to me and as a result, it was one of the best units of the year. The students got so much out of it, and I got to step out of my comfort zone which made me more aware of every aspect of the lessons.
I also signed up to play the violin in a "Teacher Orchestra." I also have ZERO experience with playing a string instrument. I had to learn everything: how to hold it, how to read music, how to not sound like a dying cat. It was hard and wonderful. And it gave me a powerful lesson on perspective. I looked at my struggling English students differently knowing how powerless I felt with my new violin in my hand.
These experiences made me a better teacher and person.
5. Remember Why They Need You
Over the years, I’ve kept all the notes, thank cards, drawings, and funny little gifts my students have given me. When back-to-school blues hit, I sometimes pull out some of the more special ones and give them another read. And when I read those notes and cards, I remember why this job is so important. This year, there’s going to be a kid that is waiting for YOU. There’s a kid out there that wants to be inspired, that wants you to connect with her. There’s a kid out there waiting for you to share that one special book with him. There’s a kid out there, maybe this year that will write that one special paper for only you. There’s a kid out there that will read the comment you write on his journal and cry because nobody has ever praised his work. There’s a girl out there who has never seen herself in literature until you assign that novel. Remember why they need you. YOU are a change maker.
As we return to our classrooms this week and next, I wish you all a happy, productive, and inspired school year!
(And in case you need one more bit of inspiration for getting back into your classroom, here is the 1995 Chicago Bulls warm-up. You are the Micheal Jordan of your classroom. Go change some lives!)
Happy school year everybody!
WVCTE is wondering… What strategies do you use to prepare to head back to school and leave summer behind? How do you beat back-to-school blues? What do you use as inspiration to return to your classroom for a new year? Leave us a comment, find us on Facebook, or tweet us @WVCTE.
Jessica Salfia teaches AP English, English 11, Mythology, and Creative Writing at Spring Mills High School in Berkeley County, WV. Jessica has been teaching in Berkeley County, WV for 12 years, and also serves as an adjunct professor at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, WV. Before she became a teacher, she was mediocre white-water rafting guide on the Cheat River, and feels that these exploits best prepared her for the adventure of being a classroom teacher. Her most recent venture has been to work with her best pal, Karla Hilliard, to rebuild the West Virginia affiliate of NCTE, WVCTE. Jessica is an accomplished writer of both fiction and poetry, and has been a finalist in the WV Fiction Competition in 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013. Her work has appeared in the Anthology of Appalachian Writers Volumes III, IV, V, VI, VII, and VIII. When she’s not writing or teaching, you can find Jessica in her garden or chasing her three lovely children or sitting at a ball field watching her husband coach the Spring Mills Cardinals baseball team. You can check out what Jessica is doing in her classroom by visiting www.salfiaenglishclass.weebly.com, or by following her on Twitter, @jessica_salfia.
By Tina M. Rantanen
At the end of each unit I like to explore what the students learned by letting them to use their artistic sides. This gives them another way to express what they have learned in addition to the discussing and writing we have done throughout the unit. I realize that some students are like myself and can’t draw very well, so I try to give them alternative ways to be creative and expressive. Over the years I have used two of the following examples.
Figurative Language Illustration
I love teaching Night every year with my freshmen. The book is poignant and short. Most of the students find it interesting and very different from Anne Frank that many were exposed to during eighth grade. When we have finished reading, we go back through the book and find examples of figures of speech. We specifically look for hyperbole, irony, metaphors, metonymy, paradox, personification, and similes. Then I ask them to pick one to illustrate on a large sheet of paper or poster board. I tell them the more creative they are the better! Over the years I have received some amazing projects. If possible, I take pictures of the projects and then post them to the school’s website. Students are then able to share their projects with family and friends. I have used this with other books like The Things They Carried. The projects turned out just as creative and interesting.
Not Your Typical Character Sketch
Of Mice and Men is another favorite of mine and the students usually enjoy it as well. After we have finished reading, I put them into random groups. I like groups of four the best, but 3 or 5 work also. I have each group pick a card that has the name of one of the characters on it. I use 8 characters, but I take out some of them for smaller classes. Each student receives a piece of copy paper where they have to draw what they think their character looks like. Next, as a group they pick who draws the best features to put on the final copy. They also choose a quote that they think embodies their character the best. Then, they are given a large sheet of paper. Each person in the group must draw some aspect of the character. They have to color it, and include the quote. Finally, as a group they share their project with the class explaining what each person contributed, and why they chose the quote. These are displayed in the classroom for all to enjoy.
Whose Phone Is This?
I have tried several final projects with Romeo and Juliet. My current favorite is one that I tried for the first time last year. A colleague shared it with me. It is called “Whose Phone Is This?” Each student is given a sheet with the opening screen of a cell phone on it. They are asked to sketch the wallpaper of the character that they chose and color it. They have to explain why the image would appeal to their character. Next, they have to write two emails that the character would have received from other characters in the story. Finally, they have to write three song titles with artists’ names that would likely be on the character’s song list. They also have to explain why they choose those particular songs. (I admit that I only knew about half of the songs.) However, if the explanations were sufficient, I didn’t have to be familiar with the song. The reasons that the students used were the best part of the assignment. In most cases it really showed their upper level thinking skills. I will use this activity again, and it can be used with many different stories.
So WVCTE is wondering…
What types of final projects do you use in your classroom? And how can you use and adapt this lesson for your own classroom? Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!
Tina M. Rantanen teaches English 9H, 12H and English 12 at Spring Mills High School in Berkeley County, WV. This is her twentieth year of teaching and she loves the difference between her freshmen and seniors each year. She is a member of the newly formed WVCTE and is the English Department Chair at Spring Mills High School.
by Dr. Renee Peterson
Teaching is a very difficult profession.
I have heard some teachers warn their students away from teaching. “Don’t do it!” they say. When you are considering a major for college and a profession for your life, it can be discouraging for those in the profession to attempt to deflate the passion that you have for education. Why would current teachers discourage their own students from pursuing their profession? It’s a very difficult way to make a living. When I am approached by a student who has the desire to become a teacher, I give the expected “Are you really sure you want to do this?” speech, but then I couple it with a statement about passion: “You must have enough passion for kids, for learning, and for teaching that you can endure the CRAP.” By CRAP I mean, Criticism, Regulations, Accountability, and Problems (yes, sometimes the P stands for parents). Fellow veteran teachers, I just heard you chuckle…because you know exactly what I mean.
There are many reasons that the school year still runs from August to May (or June with snow days), but I think the most important reason is to allow the teachers to find their passion again. I’ve seen many memes and videos on social media this summer describing the emotional roller coaster that is the school year; it can wear you out. Excellent teachers are expected to be passionate about their students and their role in the lives of those students every single day, but the CRAP can take its toll. Having a summer respite allows us the breathing space to find our creativity, our passion, and our desire to go back for another year.
The summer, while allowing us that space for creativity, can be overwhelming. There are so many things that you want to accomplish: things you put off during the year because there was just no time, but what you need to do is rest. Rest allows our bodies, minds, and spirits to recharge. We need REST – Reignite an Educator’s Sustaining Passion – to return even better than before.
Once you experience REST and your passion returns, so does the creativity. Attending workshops, participating in Webinars and on-line chats, reading books, and relaxing with other teachers just brainstorming ideas can allow those creative juices to get flowing again. The thoughts of fun lessons and educational experiences for your students come flooding back, and the passion that encouraged you to become a teacher in the first place returns like a tidal wave. You actually start to get excited about the new school year! Unfortunately for many, that grand excitement wanes during the preservice meeting, diminishes during the procedural necessities of September, and is squelched by external forces by October.
How can we keep it going? How can we take the passion that we reclaimed in the summer into the doldrums of winter? We need FOCUS: Fix (y)Our Commitment Upon Something specific. As your ideas multiply in the summer, choose ONE thing to add or change or create this school year. Trying to adjust too many of your procedures or pedagogy will set you up for failure. You are preparing yourself to be disappointed in your lack of commitment to all of those many things you were going to do better this year, and then you give up. Don’t do that to yourself! Choose one, maybe two, new strategies to try or lessons to add to your already excellent collection and FOCUS. Maintain that new strategy by practicing it often. Prepare that lesson unit well, make notes during delivery, then take the time to reflect when it is completed. How can it be better next time? You know you will be bombarded with fires to put out and external requirements to complete, so do not purposely add to the stress you cannot control. Control the things you can and handle the rest.
Fellow passionate educators, life-givers, future-preparers, I wish you a blessed school year full of promise with less CRAP and occasional periods of REST so that you may FOCUS on what’s important: the kids. May someone present you with a bouquet of beautifully sharpened #2 pencils for your first day back in the classroom.
WVCTE is wondering...
How do you maintain your passion throughout the school year? What do you do to recharge that passion in the summer?
Dr. Renee Peterson is the theatre instructor, the International Thespian Society Troupe 8066 director, the Cardinal Players director, and the Drama Club advisor for Spring Mills HS in Martinsburg, WV. Renee spent 21 years as a teacher of English in public and private schools, for grades 7-12, with students of all levels in three states before changing her role to theatre director. She reared two wonderful children to adulthood while earning two master's degrees and a doctorate. Second only to teaching her own students, Renee finds joy in encouraging young teachers because "They are the future of our profession, and our students need them to be awesome teachers!" she says. Renee and her husband Tom enjoy their empty nest that is perched on 50 acres on the top of a ridge in Southern Berkeley County, West Virginia. To read her musings and missives, follow her blog at www.thelearningdoctor.me and her Twitter posts @renpetwv. To keep posted on the shows and activities of The Cardinal Players, follow them on Facebook or Twitter @smhsplayers.