Remember when you finished your first Master’s program? Did you swear you would never return to school again? I did. And it’s not the first time I’ve lied to myself. I have a Master’s as an Education Specialist, which translates into: I have a deeper understanding of current practices for attending to students with differing needs, I know current legal concerns in the field of special education, and that I’ve performed and written about an action study in my classroom.
Yet, those of us in education know that one is never done. I returned to the late-night classes, overbooked weekends, coffee-binging, anything fried-food-eating, sleep-deprived-lifestyle to obtain a Master’s in English.
While sipping a soy white mocha at Romancing the Bean, the world’s cutest coffee shop which happens to be located in Burbank, I’m torn between two possible intros. One, a personal experience in a department meeting, the other a personal experience with a book. Since this post is about reading, I’m starting with the book.
* A note on reading this blog: This will be a long post and you don’t have to read EACH section ; ) If you’d like to jump ahead to New Semester, New Reading Goals
which will discuss classroom practices for this semester, feel free (without the guilt)!
One book has impacted my teaching pedagogy more than any other: Readicide by Kelly Gallagher @KellyGToGo. After asking students to chart their reading experiences outside of English class, he reports, “. . .freshmen students read an average of seventeen minutes. . .my seniors averaged thirteen minutes” (58). Wow! And administrators, lawmakers and people outside of the classroom wonder why reading levels continue to plummet. While Gallagher’s short book was published in 2009, I’m positive the amount of time high school students spend reading in school has decreased even more with the explosion of smart boards, video integration, and one-to-one tech occurring in 21st century schools. Granted, I love technology for teaching, but being able to sit for an extended period of time and simply read is a skill that needs to be modeled and taught in the classroom.
I’ve had my own Kelly Gallagher experience. A former ninth grade student came to my class after school when she was a senior for assistance on an essay she was writing on Tuesdays with Morrie. After asking a few guiding questions, I asked her if she’d read any part of the book. The student replied, “I haven’t read anything in any English class since yours.” In my class, students do all of the reading in class, in small groups. Since I teach SDC, many of my students struggle with reading and I want to ensure they have support when reading any core literature. This specific exchange taught me how good kiddos are at avoiding reading and still passing classes.
I could give a mountain full of scenarios, add yours on top, and this blog post would stretch the definition of infinity. Instead, I will simply say if you haven’t read Readicide, get it now; and if you have, consider revisiting it.
Starting the year with a new department chair is both frightening and exciting. The first meeting started with an interesting question: What are the three most important things you want to teach your students? We talked in small groups and shared responses. A colleague soon called out that she wants to teach students to love reading, to which the new department chair stopped and addressed this idea specifically. Is this a skill? Can you actually teach this? How do you assess a student’s love of reading?
I think each of us will have gut reactions to those questions in one way or another. Your responses will tell much of how you teach and what you value. Regardless of your feelings, these are important questions to ask and address.
The Christmas lights are stored away, the vacation photos tagged and uploaded, the last Netflix DVD watched, the last novel completed, and it’s two days until I walk again into the classroom. Already, the teacher nightmares are tormenting and taunting me, like the grade school boys at the bus stop when I was eight-years-old.
It’s the first day back to school and I forget to set my alarm.
Not only do I forget to set my alarm, I mistakenly believe it’s a PD day and slowly get ready, but my dress is not teacher appropriate.
I’m late, dressed in last decade’s jeans, and find out I forgot to complete an important IEP and the parents are waiting in the conference room when I arrive.
After the uncomfortable IEP meeting, I walk into 4th period class and realize I have no lesson plans.
Due to my lack of preparedness and awful attire, the class erupts into chaos and students are standing on tables, throwing things and slow-mo Judo fighting during the class.
During this moment of uncontrollable youth rioting, the Executive Director and my immediate supervisor decide to pop-in for an impromptu observation.
It’s usually at this time that I awaken, sweating profusely, trying to figure out what day it is and where I’m supposed to be. I stumble-walk to the kitchen to prepare cupcakes and chai and turn on NPR One to connect with the world.
The reporter informs me that Trump is going with Betsy Devos for Secretary of Education.
The nightmares are normal. I’m used to them by now. I sometimes just have to remind myself that the only things I can control are how I react to each new situation. As a teacher, life in a somewhat state-of-flux is ordinary. Each year I have similar dreams, but when I get in the classroom and see the kids, there’s no place on earth I’d rather be at that moment.
What nightmares do you have before returning to work?
It’s December 31st and raining in Los Angeles! I’m currently making bread, cookies, and vegan burritos to freeze. Stopping now and then to play with the kitties, wondering if I should practice guitar, but now seems like the best time to blog about organization! This year I transitioned to teaching SDC 11th and 12th grade English from previously teaching 9th and 10th and I get the exciting task of starting fresh. In fact, the curriculum advisor for 11th grade English even said I should take this year to try whatever I want in my classes. Love!!
Since I have this opportunity, I want to create units that will be useful and accessible in the future. This very statement indicates that my units in previous years have been a disaster. While that is not entirely true, as I’ve had some fantastic units, the materials are scattered all over the place. Even though it’s the middle of the year, the new semester is an opportunity to try something new. Thanks to a Twitter post, I may finally have an answer to my organizational nightmare.
Every time I have a long enough break to reflect on my teaching, I suddenly want to revamp EVERYTHING. I want to try EVERYTHING. First, I go to Pinterest and pin hundreds of ideas. Next, I start at least 10 massive projects to transform my classroom. It’s pathetic! Sometimes I start so many projects at once, when I go back to one, I completely forget my original intentions. Well, not this year. You will be proud of me to know that I am only planning two transformations. Today, I want to share my thoughts on classroom note taking.
It’s the first weekend of winter break (wooohoo!) and I’m sipping chai, nibbling on fresh baked chocolatey-chipped cookies, listening to a Vintage and Rare playlist on Spotify, and playing with kitties. Life is good. The human part of me is loving this moment, but she is interrupted by the teacher part of me who is gently whispering, “You should not waste this time. You need to be working.”
Fine! But I don’t want to do anything too serious. Then I remember the student survey I created at the end of the final. I should really look at that and see how my kiddos feel about the writing process. As an SDC English teacher, my teacher life often exists in a huge vacuum. I create my own finals, formative and benchmark assessments. I create my own pie charts and bar graphs to show administration student progress. And now, I must figure out what to do with student feedback. In preparation for writing this blog post, I realized there are three simple steps for using student feedback.
While I’ve always loved that line, I’ve never had a chance to use it in my own writing (until now). During the summer of 2015, I was extremely fortunate to participate in the Folger Summer Academy -an intense study of Hamlet. At that time, I taught 9th/10th–but all of the teaching strategies transfer nicely to Romeo and Juliet and Othello. Due to fate or providence, this year my teaching schedule changed to 11th/12th–which was obviously a mandate to share Hamlet with my new classes.
We did many of the activities I learned at the Folger Institute: two or three students act out a scene, while other students direct the actors, students formed groups and prepared a scene for the class. We did a “To be or not to be” face off where the lines were divided into two characters and 1/2 the class read one character, and 1/2 the class read the other character.
While the Folger philosophy is one that is a practice of students facing the language head-on and experiencing the plays directly, as an SDC teacher, I feel I need to apply further techniques to ensure close readings and understanding of the text. I will share four activities I did with different classes. Continue reading Reflection on Close Reading Projects for Hamlet→
Believe it or not, I once had an administrator say that SDC teachers should focus 80% of their energy on being a case manager and 20% of their time on being a content teacher. If you’ve ever stood in front of a high school English class and said, “Today you’ll be rewriting scenes from Hamlet in a different dialect,” then you are fully aware of the enthusiasm, preparation, and humor that you need to bring each day. In all honesty, the statement did make me realize a new goal: As a case carrier, I should spend 20% of my energy on my caseload kiddos.
Finding the balance between creating amazing content and experiences for my students, providing meaningful, timely feedback AND managing IEPs with due diligence is an SDC teacher’s constant tug-of-war with the next-to-impossible. However, over the last four years, I’ve used Google Forms to help me gain some traction in the field of IEP feedback from other teachers. It’s always been a struggle to get the specific feedback I need for my students from general education teachers. I’m always amazed at the amount of work Gen Ed teachers have on their plates; how do they do it? By creating a Google form for IEP feedback, the Gen Ed teacher can answer your specific questions via a drop-down menu and both of your lives will be easier!Continue reading Google Forms: A Dream Tool For Case Carriers→
Have you ever had a 12th grade student rush into your classroom and hide in a dusty corner, far away from the door, until the bell rang? When this happened six years ago, my first thoughts were that Carl (alias) was being bullied; but this was wrong. Most of his classes were in a co-taught setting, and English was his only class where all students were receiving special education services. Carl was embarrassed. I said all of the teacher-y things to boost his self esteem, but at the end of his senior year, the situation had not changed.
While drinking chai and nibbling on cupcakes, I realized, just like Carl, I’ve been hiding in the corner throughout my teaching career; and I’m finally ready to come out into the sun. In speaking with other Special Education teachers, the identity issue is not isolated or new. This knowledge alone, makes me feel somewhat better. At the same time, there is a three-step, simple cure for the Special Education Identity Crisis.