A First-Day-of-School Priority

school-1575835_960_720Summer is winding down (or is already over for many of us), and, since your time is limited, I will be brief.

I want to talk to you today about the first day of school. More specifically, what you have planned for your students’ first day this year.

Teachers have a variety of go-to activities and routines on the first day of school. Some play name games or ice breakers with their students. Some stick to a traditional route and go over the syllabus, while others dive right into a content-rich lesson. Still others begin with an exam, particularly if they assigned summer homework for their incoming class.

I’m entering my sixth year of teaching this year, and I’ve done most of the above. Through trial and error, I’ve realized that many first-day approaches can work. Regardless of what your first day plans entail, though, I want to suggest to you that no first-day-of-school plan is complete without one essential ingredient. Continue reading

“April is the Cruellest Month”

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“April is the cruellest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain.”
― T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

To be perfectly frank, I’m not a big fan of T. S. Eliot or of The Waste Land, but I can’t help but agree with what is perhaps the most famous assertion in one of his most famous (but little understood) poems. This is not a post about poetry, though (as much as I would enjoy writing one). This is a post about many teachers’ least favorite month of the year. This is a post about the cruelty of April.

To be sure, there are positive things that come with April: seeing in student assessments the fruits of months of labor, drawing to the end of a year of preparing for high-stakes exams, and enjoying the increasingly mild and sunny weather (if you’re into that sort of thing). Every year, however, I find myself beaten down a bit by the month of April.

In today’s brief post, I want to share three things that get me down in April and how I do my best to counteract the stress, frustration, and melancholia that come with “the cruellest month”–as much to remind myself as to inspire you, perhaps. Continue reading

3 Reasons I Mentor Student Teachers

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My student teacher (right) and me having a discussion about student writing.

There are reasons both noble and practical to take a student teacher. Student teachers need mentors to complete the requirements of their credential programs. Public education will benefit from new teachers having capable mentors to learn from. You’ll be shaping the next generation of teachers.

There are selfish and harmful reasons to take a student teacher, also. Some mentors only want the free labor: someone to grade their assignments, teach their classes, and take some troublesome students off their hands. These teachers, however, often do a disservice to their students and to their supposed mentees by providing little in the way of support and guidance to the student teacher.

In addition to the purely noble, the purely practical, and the purely selfish, there are reasons for mentoring a student teacher that are wholly symbiotic. They can be selfish, but they will also make for a better experience for your students and your student teacher. These are the reasons I took on a student teacher this year–my second in as many years–and these are the reasons I plan to continue taking on student teachers in the years to come. Continue reading

The Power of a Teacher Pep Talk

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Dead Poets SocietyFreedom WritersStand and Deliver. Chances are good that if you’re a teacher, you’ve seen at least one of these movies and had one of two reactions. You were likely either stirred and inspired by the teacher protagonist in the film who seemed to achieve the impossible in their fictionalized classroom, or you were frustrated by the impossible standards for teachers created by a film you felt had little connection to the realities of teaching.

In a recent New York Times article by education reporter Motoko Rich (which I highly recommend), Rich explores the strange dichotomy that exists in teacher-centric movies: every Hollywood depiction of teachers seems to represent them as either a hero/savior figure or as an incompetent clown (Mr. Schue on the Fox series Glee was alternatingly inspiring and incompetent). Rich suggests that “neither cliché has much connection to reality,” adding that, unlike the doctors in medical dramas or the lawyers in legal dramas who are actually depicted doing their jobs, “movies and television rarely show teachers, well, teaching.”

Teaching in Dead Poets Society, for example, is reduced almost entirely to a matter of charisma (although I would argue there are some small moments of pedagogical excellence in that film, too). Extended footage of a teacher doing what we generally think of as teaching–working with a small group, giving a brief lecture, conferencing with a student–is not a feature of teacher movies. While Rich’s article is a fascinating read and raises provocative questions about representations of teaching in film and television and their effects on public perception of education, it also got me thinking about the role of charisma in our profession. Continue reading

Why All Teachers Should Be Optimists

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In a December 19, 1929 letter written from his prison cell, co-founder of the Communist Party of Italy and political prisoner Antonio Gramsci claims, “I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.” Seeing as how Gramsci would spend 11 years in Mussolini’s prisons before dying at age 46, he had plenty of reason to be pessimistic.

Since then, Gramsci’s association of pessimism with the rational intellect and optimism with stubborn will seems to have become almost a truism. In fact, it seems to be a popular sentiment today that optimism is somehow illogical, that we must delude ourselves into thinking positively: “mind over matter,” as the mantra goes.

It seems to me, however, that teachers have plenty of logical reasons for being unapologetic optimists. Continue reading