“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 his most famous (but little understood) poem. 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

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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

When Routine Hampers Productivity

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When was the last time I posted on this blog?

The fact that I have to ask that question is proof enough that it’s been far too long. When I started this blog, it was an ambitious goal for me to post just once every other week. I’d started and abandoned two blogs before, so I launched Optimistic Teaching with a more than a little doubt that I’d be able to sustain it. In fact, I made it only several posts in before I took an unscheduled hiatus from updating this site that would go on to last over a year. Blogging simply wasn’t a priority, and when you have a heap of items on your plate and you have to cut back, it’s the lowest priorities that go first.

Determined to return to blogging this year, I had to evaluate why I had failed to keep going the last time. What was the flaw in my plan that I’d have to avoid this time? I could say it was a lack of purpose or passion, but I had those. My purpose was threefold and clear to me from the beginning: I wanted to have a place to reflect on my teaching, I wanted to enter into a digital professional world and discussion by sharing my experiences in the classroom publically, and I wanted to establish a professional presence online. Moreover, I was passionate about these goals; they mattered to me. They still do.

No, it wasn’t a lack of purpose or passion that led to my failure. I’ve realized it was something much more utilitarian, much less profound. It was rigid devotion to routine. Continue reading

“Monitor and Adjust”: Changing Course Mid-Unit

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As part of a group research project for an education policy class I took a few years ago at UC Irvine, some classmates and I interviewed Tim Jamison, who was the president of the Irvine Teacher’s Association. My most salient memory of that interview is still the suggestion he gave us as new educators: “Monitor and adjust.” I didn’t appreciate the profound importance of his pithy advice at the time, but I’ve since come to understand how central those two verbs are to the art of teaching.

I monitor my students’ learning and adjust my practice to various degrees on a regular basis. For example, I’ll notice that an explanation of a concept is met with confused faces, so I offer my students a new analogy to help them understand my instruction. Or, I might see from a formative assessment that more than half of my sophomores are struggling to integrate textual evidence into their expository writing, so I clear a few days to spend an entire class period each on two methods, breaking the skill down into small steps, modeling the process, and giving students plenty of practice and individual feedback. Very recently, I had occasion to put this mantra to use on a larger scale: substantially revising a six-week unit a week into teaching it. Continue reading