By: Jeni Gearhart
Dear Teacher on the First Day of School,
Deep breath, this is going to be good. You were born for this.
To the brand-new teacher on your very first day, you can do this.
To the seasoned teacher on your 10th, 25th, or 30th first day, you can do this.
To the burnt-out teacher who barely made it to May last year, you can do this.
To the new mom trying to figure out how to be both Supermom and Rockstar Teacher, you can do this.
To all of us as we pack our lunchboxes and brush the dust off our teacher shoes, we’ve got this.
Every year is different. Every kid is different. The standards change, the tests change, the expectations change—but the heart of this job is the same. The reasons why we got up at 5 AM this morning are sitting in the desks in front of you. The kids matter more than anything else.
Remember the kid who said last year “Miss, this is the first book I’ve liked since 5th grade. Do you got any more like that?”
Remember when that same kid started begging for a few extra minutes of reading time because he needed to find out how the chapter ended.
Remember the kid who wrote the beautiful essay that made you cry—that was the kid who could not write in paragraphs in September.
Remember the kid who calls you “mom” and says it intentionally.
Remember the kid who broke your heart when you found out that he had been abused for years.
Remember the kid who stopped showing up to your class because she was transferred when she was finally moved to a safer home.
Remember why you are here.
To the new teacher, you are probably feeling a rollercoaster of emotions right now.
Last week, you thought you were completely ready to walk into that classroom and solve all of the problems of education. This morning you felt so nauseous you couldn’t eat breakfast and you cried on the way home. Don’t worry. That’s normal. And you will probably feel that every year.
New teacher, these next words are for you. You have signed up for one of the hardest jobs in the world, but you are going to be great. You are not, however, going to be perfect. You are going to mess up hundreds of times this year. That’s ok. Learn from your mistakes, try new things, and ask for advice.
To the seasoned teacher, remember why you entered this profession. Look through that box of thank you notes from past students. Try something new this year. Remember your excitement when you first started. Find that again. Encourage new teachers. They need you.
To the teacher who barely made it to May last year, take care of yourself this year. Find people who give you joy. Read a book or two for you this year, bake some cookies this weekend, or get back in the habit of going to the gym. It is okay that last year wasn’t perfect. This year is a new year. You’ll be great.
To the new mom struggling to figure out a new balance, you can do it. You don’t have to be perfect in either job to still make an impact. Your family knows you love them, and your students do too. Be present.
Teacher, you matter.
This job weighs on our souls. The essays come home with us every night, and the burdens of our students come home too.
Remember the stories of triumph. Remember that for every kid who you can’t reach, there are 15 who will remember your name forever.
Politicians don’t get it, and often the higher ups have forgotten what it is to be in the trenches. Don’t let that keep you from trying to do the impossible.
Teacher, you matter more than the test scores and the school grades. Your students know that even if the newspapers do not.
Teacher, your heart is huge and it breaks easily. When it feels impossible, remember that you are doing something important.
Teacher, take a deep breath. Take those new supplies into the classroom, pack your teacher bag, and walk in with a smile. You’ve got this.
It’s a new year, and it is going to be a good one.
This job matters. You matter.
By Shana Karnes
It’s back to school time! I’m so excited!
I love it. I can’t help it. Every year, I am just overflowing with optimism, excitement, ideas, and a huge cart full of school supplies. I’m usually armed with paint for my classroom, wall decals, new Expo markers, and of course, a truck full of books. Even this year, when I don’t get a classroom of my own to decorate and overflow, I showed up in my friends’ classrooms to help them paint, sort, organize, and plan.
The beginning of every school year is fun for me because it is so full of hope. Hope that this year, this time, will be the one where it all comes together for me, where I feel like a great teacher, where every single student comes to fall in love with reading and writing, where everything is perfect.
Of course, reality and my teacher dreams are two totally different things, but August affords me hope for the possibility that those dreams can come true.
As for my students, I know that despite all of their eye-rolling, stand-offish, sarcastic banter, they are just kids who want to be happy and purposeful and successful. They all have hope every August, too, no matter how goofy they might act. I know this from reading their notebooks, writing conferences, and mid-September lunch conversations, in which I hear how they hope this English class is different, this school year is better, this fall isn’t full of drama and stress and failure.
So, why would I dash all of that hope, on the part of every learner in my classroom, by setting any tone other than one of optimism on the first days of school? Why would we ever want to start a year the same old, same old way, with stacks of syllabi, xerox copies of interest inventories, the distribution of dusty textbooks, and a traditional teacher-centered dynamic in which I say what we’re going to be doing and the students all sit back and listen?
It took me a few years to realize the disconnect between my summer idealism and the traditional structure of my first few days of class. No high school student is ever anxious to receive their syllabus, textbook, or homework--so I don’t really need to deal with that on the first day.
When I began to wonder what kind of tone I was setting by sticking with the traditional first day activities, those activities went out the window. Instead, I tried to consider what might set the tone for a year of student-centered, inquiry-based reading, writing, talking, and thinking.
Instead of passing out textbooks, we explored my classroom library. I had stacks of books sitting on desks around the room and we practiced “speed dating” with them. We shared which books we’d already read, would like to read, or had heard were good or bad.
Instead of an ice-breaking get to know you activity that I’d likely forget after a week, we set up writer’s notebooks, explored funny writings and writing prompts from former years’ students, or wrote funny tweets about our summers on the whiteboard.
Instead of passing out the syllabus, we talked about our learning goals in partners and small groups. I shared my own learning goals for myself as a model, then asked students to consider very specific goals in terms of their growth in reading, writing, speaking, and listening. We had wonderful conversations about which kinds of reading and writing interested us, which helped guide my planning.
Instead of emphasizing the rules and expectations I had for students, I listened to what they were saying and jotted ideas in my writer’s notebook pertaining to what would keep them engaged. Hot topics in the news or media could be mentor texts. Interesting new social media apps could be writing products. The best new movie was likely based on a book I could talk up.
This year, at the college level, I’ll consider what tone I’m setting with our first day’s activities. We’re going to do some yoga before we read a little from Pose, Wobble, Flow. We’ll personalize our writer’s notebooks and start the year by noting how our passions center us, and how those passions can inspire our teaching. We’ll craft parts of our syllabus together on Google Docs, negotiating deadlines, feedback protocols, and reading options.
In these activities, we’ll practice reading, writing, talking, listening, and thinking creatively, critically, and individualistically--which is exactly the tone I want to set for this year, a year that is full of promise and hope and wonder that it really will be the best year ever.
What will you be doing with students on your first day of school? WVCTE wants to know! Please tell us by commenting on this post, sharing on our Facebook page, or letting us know on Twitter!
Shana Karnes teaches sophomore, junior, and senior preservice teachers at West Virginia University. She finds joy in all things learning, love, and literature as she teaches, mothers, and sings her way through life. Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader or find more of her writing about secondary readers-writers workshop at Three Teachers Talk.
By Connie Colvin
I love books! For us as English teachers, books are probably a huge part of why we do what we do. This summer I tore through more than 20 books and enjoyed every page: everything from great thrillers like The Girl on the Train, YA books like 13 Reasons Why, fun mysteries like the Flavia de Luce series, and even a few professional books like Notice and Note. This summer my 11th-grade son tore through exactly one book and only because he was forced to for AP Summer Reading. I’m sure he isn’t alone. With school starting back for most of us any day, this is our chance to get good books back in the hands of our students, many of them reluctant readers. That’s where our classroom libraries come in.
Whether it’s just a small collection of high interest novels you’ve gathered for SSR or an entire wall filled with exciting fiction and non-fiction organized by genre, classroom libraries are so important for offering kids easy, instant, daily access to quality books. Yes, most of our schools have a library, but the school library can be intimidating, inconvenient, or inaccessible for kids for a multitude of reasons. We love to read. We want them to love to read. Share your love by sharing books!
When I started my job at the end of the 2014-15 school year, I inherited a tall tan bookshelf full of a very odd collection of male action hero novels and non-fiction coffee table books like The Making of Thriller. I took what I had and over the summer started building a collection that has become my favorite feature in my classroom. I love to add to it, I love to share what’s in it. These are some tips I’ve learned along the way.
I had this huge, ugly shelf to fill, only a few salvageable books, a few months, and a budget. How to find cheap and free books my kids would be interested in reading? The first thing I did was put a plea out on Facebook asking for donations from friends with teenage kids. I had two high school girls clean out their rooms and quickly scored two big boxes of books! One of those girls, now in college, recently contacted me and told me she’s bringing me another box! Once my students found out I will put a sticker inside the book telling them who donated it to my library, I had several current students donate as well. One student gave me a complete, barely touched set of the Chronicles of Narnia last year he didn’t want anymore!
Next I kept an eye out for church and library book sales, which happen several times a year in my town. Get there early for the best selection and enjoy! I do love book sales. Goodwill and the Salvation Army thrift stores sell books cheaply, as well. I hit my local Goodwill every couple of months and always find popular paper and hardbacks that are always wearing out like Harry Potter, the Twilight Series, The Hunger Games, Nicholas Sparks books and more. At $1.50 for hardbacks and $1 for paperbacks, it’s a goldmine. For SSR time during our homeroom advisory period, I like to have comic books on hand, as well. Our local comic shop will donate boxes of old comics to teachers for their classrooms, yours may well do the same or at least give them to you very cheaply.
Finally, when I know what I want to buy (and I’ve usually always got a list going!), I go to ThriftBooks.com. Thrift Books sells used paper and hardback books starting at $3.79. You get free shipping with a $10 purchase, and every $50 you spend earns you $5 off your next order. They carry such a volume of most books, my colleagues and I have bought classroom sets of used novels at a great price.
I quickly learned that 9th and 10th graders are hard on paperback books. They get dropped, shoved, crammed, and mauled in every which way. I’ve even had kids find them in the school bathroom. This is where putting your last name on the bottom edge of the book (and inside the front cover!) comes in great handy. I also found an online tutorial on how to cover paperbacks with clear contact paper, and I put my student assistant to work. If you want to save wear and tear on your books and not have to keep buying new copies, it’s definitely worth the effort. Read here how you can cover a book with clear plastic film, or if you prefer video, check this one out.
Now you’ve got some great books and you’ve got them protected. How do you keep track of them? I have been happy doing it the old-fashioned way using a checkout binder that sits in a magnetic file organizer stuck to the side of my shelf. When my students want to check out a book, they write down the title, their name, the date, and their class period. I give students three weeks or so before I start checking up on them. While students are working independently in class, I will go around and ask about their progress in their books and chat with them about it. It’s a great chance for one on one conversations and sharing the book love. As long as they’re making progress, I let them keep the book out. Checking in with them also helps remind them to bring books back when they’re done, when they just enter the date they brought it back. Because I’m not militant about my book checkout, I find I do lose some books at the end of the year, especially the most popular titles. But I’m okay with that. Many of my students have very little access to books at home. I will happily donate a cheap book or five and I like to think someone is out there enjoying them.
If you want to be more tech savvy, however, my colleague started using an online classroom library circulation app last year called Book Retriever and she has been very happy with it. She scanned all of her book barcodes in with her phone, then uses her phone during class to check out and receive returned books. The free app also allows her to track student reading habits and offers book leveling information. Because of the volume of books I have on my shelves and extras stashed in my closet, I haven’t taken the techno plunge yet. Something new I just discovered that I might add this year, however: color-coded genre stickers.
Once you’re ready to circulate your books, you need to get your students interested in checking them out. We talk about books a lot in my classroom. When kids hear what other kids are enjoying reading and the book is right in front of them, chances are good they are going to pick it up. I use book passes, book talks (both formal and informal), student-made book posters and interactive bulletin boards to drum up interest in my library. When I get new books, I show them off before I put them on the shelves. If we’re reading survival themed stories, I grab a stack of related novels and give impromptu book reviews. I’ll never forget the year-long argument one of my classes had over whether The Alchemist was a decent read or not. Every time a student finished it, those who had read it would ambush the newbie and demand answers. I’ve never had more book buzz than when I posted my 10th grade Honors students’ posters for the banned books they had chosen for their 3rd term independent reading novels. My 9th graders were fascinated with the concept of a banned book. It makes me excited just thinking about students getting excited about books!
As I get back to work next week, I know my reading rate is going to plummet, but I’m hoping the opposite will be true for my students. I’m hoping I can excite a new group this year and hear them ask each other “what are you reading?” However you choose to get (and keep) good books back in front of your kids this fall, remember how you feel about reading and remember to share the book love.
WVCTE is wondering what your classroom library looks like!
What tips do you have for teachers just beginning to build their libraries? Which books fly off your classroom library shelves? How does independent reading play a role in your classroom?
Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!
After being a stay-at-home mom for 14 years, Connie Colvin finally fulfilled her dream of becoming a high school English teacher in 2015 at the age of 40. She is beginning her third full year of teaching 9th and 10th grade English at Parkersburg High School. When she’s not teaching, Connie can be found long distance walking (while listening to an audiobook!) or knitting, crocheting, or sewing. She is thrilled to say having her eldest son in class (or, as he called it, Mom World) last year was a wonderful experience for both of them, and she hopes to have her youngest in class in 2018. She is working to gather a Wood County group of WVCTE’ers this fall.
By Dr. Renee Peterson
The blank page, the blinking cursor, the brand-new plan book, the new school year - these are things that haunt us: the writers, the teachers, and worse, the teachers of writing. I spent twenty years teaching young people the craft of writing well, and for quite some time I approached each new school year wondering how to capture their attention and help them to find a reason to write and a desire to write well.
I believed that becoming a good writer needed to start with two pre-writing requirements: reading good writing and thinking interesting thoughts. One who writes must know what good writing looks like and must have something to say about something. As you teach, you collect those gems that you consider your “go to” passages, lessons, activities that always seem to resonate with the students. Years ago, I found an interesting piece by Paul Auster entitled “Why Write?” This selection is brief and interesting, and it can lead to many first discussions or assignments as you begin to discover your students. No matter what objective I wanted my students to accomplish, this little essay did its job. “Why Write?” became a gem of mine.
The following is section 5 from Auster’s essay printed in The New Yorker’s final edition of 1995.
Before beginning a discussion of text, have your students number the paragraphs if that task hasn’t already been completed. Then during the discussion, the speaker has a way to refer to the mentioned passage.
In your preparation for the lesson, choose the skills or ideas that you want your students to learn and have a plan to get them there. Although a discussion of a text can rabbit-trail in many directions, as the instructor/facilitator, you need to be ready to lead them with a purpose. The following are examples of ideas I wanted my students to take away from this passage, you may think of so many more!
To understand a writer, the reader should make a connection with him/her, however, students tend to focus on those things that are foreign to them. To help my students to grasp this concept, I told them to circle any word/phrase/idea that was unfamiliar. They typically began with names, the players listed in the first paragraph, anything having to do with baseball, then unfamiliar vocabulary such as brusque in paragraph 5. They may use this as their argument for why they cannot find common ground with this writer or make any connection to the text. Move the discussion to the things that they like, music, sports, film – anything with celebrities to idolize. They will soon realize that there is a familiar concept here: the excitement of meeting a celebrity that you idolize. Huzzah! Connection made. This connection may grow into empathy for 8-year-old Auster lamenting the autograph he could have had… if only. Conversely, when it is time for your students to write, encourage them to think of placing the details of a new event or idea within a familiar frame. Good writers never need to say, “you had to be there”; a good writer takes you there.
Writing prompt: Using the familiar frame of a journey, describe a journey you have recently experienced – remember it must have a beginning, a middle, and an end!
One text can have various levels of meaning. I approach this concept in different ways depending upon the current ability of the students. For my AP students, we may discuss this concept as the supposed thesis and the actual thesis. For my freshmen, we may discuss “what the piece is about” and “what the piece is REALLY about.” Other times we may simply discuss the thing and the other thing. In Auster’s text, what is the thing, the supposed thesis, what the piece is about? If the students have been conditioned to find the thesis in the position of the final sentence in the opening paragraph, then they will quickly find the thing: the hero-worship of ball-player-celebrity Willie Mays. But is that what the text is really about? As you encourage the discussion as a class or in partners or in groups, you will find some of them heading to the idea that Auster is sharing his story of how he became a writer (par. 10) or why he is always prepared.
Writing prompt: Tell a story about something that happened to you with a lesson that could apply to anyone.
Repetition with a purpose is a powerful rhetorical tool. Auster’s text opens with the statement, “I was eight years old.” Very declarative, matter-of-fact, attention given to the audience in the fact that we all can relate to being eight years old. He immediately takes us back to a time in which the immediate is paramount, and one simple event can send us into convulsions of anguish. We get it. We understand the childish idolatry of a celebrity. Age teaches us that celebrities are merely human beings, just like us. In paragraph 8 Auster repeats the clause, “I was eight years old,” but it’s different this time. The first time, we understand that he is differentiating himself from adults, he was only eight. Later when struggling to fight the tears of frustration and loss, he is desperate to differentiate himself from babies: he was a “big kid” and should not cry over such silly, childish things! They may have been the identical words, but the meaning is very different.
Writing challenge with an open prompt: write a simple clause. Use that clause as the first sentence in your essay, then again later in an essay with a very different meaning.
Failure can be a more powerful, life-altering experience than success. Depending upon your group of students, this may be the only lesson needed from this text. Too often our students see failure as something that is horrible instead of viewing it as a springboard to something new. Even the most literal students seem to be able to make the inference that Auster’s failure to get the Mays autograph led to his carrying a pencil always, which in turn, helped him on his way to becoming a writer. Journal entry or quick write: share a failure you experienced and explain what you learned from it.
Titles have significance…usually. From time to time an editor will throw a title on a text simply from the necessity of having one, but when a writer chooses a title for a text that he has written, he has a reason for it. Why is the title “Why Write?” rather than “Why I Write?” What is the difference in meaning? If you have been discussing several aspects of this text, the students should be running away with ideas here, if not, you may lead them with yours. With advanced students, I have paired this text with two essays entitled, “Why I Write?” by George Orwell and Joan Didion. Adding paired texts gives more opportunity for making connections, drawing conclusions, and having thoughts that prompt writing. Writing prompt 1: Explain the significance of the title of the essay. Writing prompt 2: Compare/contrast Auster’s essay to either Didion’s or Orwell’s essay. Be sure to address the similarities/differences in the titles and the significance of such.
Be prepared! Recently I was reading Twyla Tharp’s 2003 book, The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life, and in chapter 2, “Rituals of Preparation” she mentions this very essay by Paul Auster. She uses it to encourage her readers to be ready to be creative: “What is your pencil” she writes, “What is the one tool that feeds your creativity and is so essential that without it you feel naked and unprepared?... Pick your ‘pencil’ and don’t leave home without it” (Tharp, 2003, 30). What a wonderful way to begin the school year – encouraging your students to be prepared to learn, to read, to write, to think every day. Quick write or journal entry: Choose your “pencil.” What is the tool you need every day to be ready to be an excellent, productive learner?
READ, THINK, WRITE… then we talk. If I had a nickel for every time I have given this instruction to my students in the past twenty-some years, I could retire already. Get them reading, thinking, writing, and discussing… our little gems can get that started!
WVCTE is wondering....
How do you get students reading, thinking, writing, and discussing?
Auster, Paul. (1995) Why Write? The New Yorker. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1995/12/25/why-write.
Tharp, Twila. (2003) The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
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.
By TONI POLING
As the number of squares on the calendar between summer vacation and the first day of school dwindle, my back-to-school dreams have started. I’m sure you know the ones I’m talking about: dreams where my projector bulb blows in the middle of first period; dreams where I find myself in my Harry Potter t-shirt and ripped jeans instead of my more professional attire; dreams where my students walk in with their math book instead of the novel we’re discussing; dreams where I RUN OUT OF COFFEE! Every summer the dreams come and I know that it’s time to get serious about planning for the coming year.
For the coming school year, I will be taking over as department chair for the English department at my school. With retirements and turn over, I know that I will have at least three new or novice teachers in the department and I know the importance of making sure that new teachers have support and guidance to help them get through the first years in their own classrooms. As I was putting together a little back-to-school gift for the department, I decided to include something extra for each of the new teachers coming in: a box of pencils and a pencil sharpener.
It’s no surprise to any teaching veteran that classroom management can be a struggle, but if I could offer one piece of advice it would be this:
“Give the kid a pencil.”
Every year I see teachers and pre-service teachers devising complicated classroom management plans that involve everything from trading a shoe for a borrowed pencil to completing a discipline referral for unpreparedness. I am certainly not here to say that my method is the right method, but for me it’s certainly the kinder method.
The way I look at this is simple: I don’t know what that child has been through that morning. I can’t know if he’s simply irresponsible or if he doesn’t have pencils available at home. What I can know is that my simple act of providing a pencil when it’s needed tells my kids that I will always provide what they need when I can.
I will support them. I will help them. I will not criticize or belittle them. I will make sure they have what they need to learn. And I say it all with a pencil.
We know that students learn best and perform better in a student-centered psychologically safe environment where respect and trust have been both earned and reciprocated. How we as teachers respond to our students has everything to do with how they feel about themselves in our classrooms. In all situations, our students should be treated with the dignity and respect that we ourselves wish to be treated. Even when infractions take place and disciplinary action is needed, it should be handled with dignity, respect, and trust. We are the adults in the room and we must set the example. When I attend a meeting and forget a pen, someone always loans me one without shame or recriminations.
When a hand goes up in my classroom and a student asks if he can have a pencil, my response is, “Always.”
WVCTE is wondering...
How do you encourage compassion in your classroom?
By Shana Karnes
I love to spend big chunks of my summer planning ways to revise and improve my practice. The season is always so full of hope, with opportunities to reframe my thinking and help my students be more successful.
But when the school year actually begins, it can be overwhelming to attempt anything from a major overhaul of your teaching to a few key shifts in practice. Every year, I read books, take classes, and obsessively jot ideas that never see the light of day when I’m faced with the reality of a fall full of fresh faces, administrative initiatives, and new courses to teach.
This summer, though, I’m working with a group of amazing teachers in Pipestem, WV during a National Writing Project summer institute. As we read and write and think and plan about argument writing, we’ve come across two key changes we can make that will withstand the crush of the reality of our profession.
Embrace the Wobble
One of our central texts for the institute is Pose, Wobble, Flow by Antero Garcia and Cindy O’Donnell-Allen. This text makes lots of wonderful arguments for teachers to inhabit “poses” as more thoughtful, authentic practitioners through the metaphor of yoga. The idea is that when we try new things as teachers, we are trying to get into a pose. We inevitably wobble as we try to master this new stance, but eventually attain the flow characterized by doing this pose without thinking.
GODA (as one of our teachers refers to Garcia and O’Donnell-Allen)’s key argument is that the wobble part of this process is not only a necessary part of becoming a better teacher, but a desirable one--we must live in the gray area, a zone of proximal development, disequilibrium, or whatever else we might call it. “The P/W/F model is not about an endpoint,” GODA vehemently asserts; “it is a framework to help acknowledge how one’s practice changes over time and requires constant adaptation” (4). It’s only by being uncomfortable, by trying new things day or week or year in and out, that we can improve as teachers.
What this looks like in terms of our current theme of teaching argument writing is revising the way we think about the writing process to start from an inquiry-based place of research, then claim development, then argument articulation. This new mindset is requiring all of us to “wobble” as we try to conceive of it, and we’re wobbling in even our understandings of its many moving parts--what revision is, or what an argument can look like, or how we can use argument as a genre for developing our opinionated writing voices. As we’re flooded with unconventional ideas, mentor texts, thought processes, and assessment measures, we’re all wobbling with the confidence we’ll eventually reach flow.
But once we do--some time during the school year when things are going smoothly and planning and teaching are underway--we’ll need to yank ourselves out of our newly-found comfort zones and get back into a new pose, embracing the wobble of new learning once more.
This constant revision of our teaching is a simple way we can always strive to be better teachers--just embrace the wobble of continuous improvement.
Become a Writer
The second simple way we’ve discovered to guarantee an improvement in our teaching is to help shift our identities from mere teachers to that of teacher-writers. GODA strongly advocate for the many student-centered benefits of writing beside our learners, but there are so many benefits beyond the classroom that become possible when we simply write.
Outside the classroom, GODA suggest that teachers might become more engaged in improvement by:
Taking one or more of these eminently doable steps can help teachers “enact agency and make an impact on the profession” (27). I highly encourage anyone reading this to write for WVCTE, join us for a region-specific #wvedchat on Twitter, comment on this or other blogs, or join us for local workshops like our state conference in April. These simple activities will not only expose you to ideas to keep you in the “wobble,” but they’ll let you meet and engage with like-minded colleagues as interested in improvement as you.
Within your classroom, becoming a writer is equally valuable. If you read nothing else of Pose Wobble Flow, I encourage you to read the chapter on “Embracing Your Inner Writer: What It Means to Teach as a Writer.” These pages are chock full of suggestions for not only reasons to write, but ways to do it. From a survey designed to help you find your identity as a writer, to practical methods for joining writing communities on Twitter, Facebook, and even NaNoWriMo, to the ways the act of writing beside our students changes our teaching, this chapter is awesome.
Because “the changes that come about within our classrooms and with our students start with ourselves,” (80), writing is a necessary first step to becoming a better teacher. I hope, like me, you’ll begin keeping a writer’s notebook, blogging regularly, and writing beside your students every time you see them in class. Beginning to inhabit the pose of a writer--although I experience wobble within this identity almost daily--is doubtless the most helpful thing I’ve done to improve my practice as a teacher.
Whether you start with wobbling or writing this school year, I wish you a wonderful end of the summer and all the joy and optimism the fall always brings as we work to become better teachers every day!
What simple ways have you improved your teaching? Please share with us in the comments, on our Facebook page, or via Twitter!
Shana Karnes teaches sophomore, junior, and senior preservice teachers at West Virginia University. She finds joy in all things learning, love, and literature as she teaches, mothers, and sings her way through life. Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader or find more of her writing about secondary readers-writers workshop at Three Teachers Talk.
By Karla Hilliard
Summer is great, isn’t it? You know that feeling? The read by the pool, lose track of days, backyard hangout kind of feeling? Isn’t it great when you can have unadulterated time with your favorite writers (or wines) without grading guilt? Don't you love when you can go to a Body Combat class at the gym and punch into wild oblivion just for the fun of it? Or what about how fantastic summer salads are? I mean seriously, have you tried the watermelon-and-feta orzo salad? You haven’t? Well what are you waiting for?!
You know this whole chill-vibe thing will end, right? You know it’s going to run out of gas pretty soon?
Because, you know that small pit of dread and little twinge of excitement upon seeing the first school supplies lining the shelves of Target? Are you, like me, like, “I should totally buy that adorable sign that says SLAY THE DAY for my classroom, but it’s only July and I’m not thinking about school until August!”? Or are you more, “WOW 50 cent composition books, SCORE!”?
Or are you a parent who’s all, “Why have I cleaned up this kitchen 15 times today? Why do we have only one lonely slice of bread when we just bought this loaf this morning? This morning! Why is my child pausing the song on this laptop with her actual butt? Why would she think that’s a good idea? Why, oh, why isn’t it time for school yet, oh em gee?”?
Ever felt this way?
And why am I asking you this? Why am I asking me this?
Because I’m thinking a lot about…What do I want to do with School Year 2017-2018?
How will I build a community of learners who feel safe, valued, and heard? How will I show my students that without them, there is only a shelf full of books and a few ideas, that there is no “me” in my classroom -- there’s only been and will forever be “we”? How will I impress upon them that I am not the keeper of the literary gate nor am I the only one responsible for their learning? How will we traverse the land of great literature this year and explore it together — explore the masterfully written novel, essay, poem, short story because it is the work of the course and of the heart?
How will I connect my students to their communities and inspire more ownership in them? How will I help students challenge their opinions, deepen their curiosities, and expand their worldview? Why should it matter that they do all of this — that they develop empathy, that they problem solve and innovate, that they discover knowledge, that they consider their responsibility to one another? Will I help my students become better people?
And how will I bring balance and focus to my classroom and life next year? How will I continue to explore the essential and the “definite yeses” of teaching and parenting and just being a person in general? How will I make it to the gym? How will I get my kids to dance on Wednesday at 4:00? How can I find my grading Zen?
And what’s my bigger responsibility? How do I advocate for kids? How do I stand up to the face of injustice, bigotry, prejudice, and hate? How do I teach my students and my own children there’s more than one way of being a human? How do we love those who are toughest to love? How do I fight for all students?
So, why am I asking?
To borrow a line from one of my favorite novels to teach, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” By the end of School Year 2017-2018, I hope along the way to discover a few new answers.
WVCTE is wondering...
What questions are you asking this summer as you consider a fresh school year? Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!
I'd love to hear from you! -- Karla
ByTeresa Shockey Campbell
Every summer I have the opportunity to refresh and renew as a school teacher. I am an avid vegetable gardener, and I would like to share with you how my garden is my field of dreams, and how it contributes to my constant motivation as a teacher...
Every spring, I plant green beans. My husband tirelessly cleans up, weeds, and then tills my garden for me. Then he goes through and makes tiny rows for me to plant my beans. I plant them all on the same day at the same time. They are quickly covered with soil and watered. Each bean gets the same amount of water, and each bean receives the same amount of sunlight. My husband continues to weed the rows for me as they grow into tiny seedlings, so that I can get my joy of reaping what I have sown. Interestingly, although each bean was planted at the same time, watered at the same rate, and received equal sunshine, when I go to pick, some beans just aren’t ready to be harvested.
I equate this to my students every year. While all of my students have received 9 years of education before they enter my class, not all of them are ready for the “harvest.”
Why is that?
Just like my beans, why are students, who have so many more variables in their lives than simple green beans, expected to be equal learners? And, how as an educator, can I transfer my knowledge of harvesting green beans to helping my students learn and grow?
Now, I go through each row of beans in the early morning when it’s cool and quiet. I tediously search the leaves of each plant and pick the largest, longest beans that I will later that day “put up” (my grandma’s phrase for canning and storing for the winter) for later dinners throughout the upcoming year. When I see small beans and tiny blooms waiting to sprout, I think to myself how they have not grown at the same rate as the big beans.
Do I just pick the good beans and move on? Absolutely not!
I go back in a few more days, with bucket in hand, and I check for the growth on those tiny beans. I will not let them go to waste. They will also be part of my harvest! I always can between 55-65 quarts of beans each summer. Just because a few beans are slower at developing, I will not let that shrink my canning numbers. It’s a process. It’s a long process. I don’t just plant and just pick – remember, these little fellas need rain and sunlight. If it gets too dry, I have to water them. When the weeds start to invade, they must be held at bay so as not to overtake my plants.
And just like my beans, teaching my students is that same long process.
I have to get the higher level achievers (big beans) ready to move forward, and I have to keep checking on my strugglers (tiny sprouts) to see what kind of extra help they need: extra time, a different passage to read, or a breakfast to eat to fill their tummies. When I keep adding these extra strategies to my classes and my students, I see growth, and they see growth. We are all encouraged to keep learning, to keep growing, to get ready for that harvest of the next grade!
This is my garden, my classroom, and my “field of dreams.” I hope you, too, will cultivate your classrooms into your own “field of dreams.”
WVCTE is wondering...
How do you reach the "big beans" and "little beans" of your classrooms? How do you teach all learners despite their varying abilities?
Leave us a comment, connect with us on Facebook, or Tweet us your thoughts @wvcte!
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.