“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

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Sharing the Stage: Social Justice Speeches

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Image courtesy of Flickr

Going into late February this semester, my plans for my AP English Language and Composition class included teaching a two-week-long mini-unit on the culture of sports in America. The timing was right: the two weeks of instruction fit snuggly between the Winter Olympic Games and March Madness. Then, suddenly, Parkland happened, and the timing was all wrong for a unit on sports. What did sports matter when 14 high school students and three staff members were dead and 17 others were wounded? What did sports matter when students were leading school walk-outs and protests across the country? What did sports matter when righteously indignant teens were engaging in Twitter activism to rebut their critics and engage with members of Congress?

I had to change my plans. Continue reading

The Theatricality of Teaching

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Teaching and acting have a great deal in common. (image via Wikimedia Commons)

Students walk into a dim classroom.

“Thank you for being here today,” the teacher intones to the first student who arrives.

“Your presence here this morning would have meant a great deal to him,” he remarks somberly to the next student.

“I know this is a tough morning for you; he considered you a great friend,” he assures a third.

As students take their seats, bewildered, they notice the podium is draped in black, fake vines and a rose hanging from the top, flickering tea light candles arranged across the top of the lectern. Behind the podium, a drawing of a long-haired boy next to a soberingly terse epitaph helps the students make sense of this bizarre start to their second-period English class:

Simon
c. 1944-1954

This is the dramatic scene that greeted my sophomore students this week the day after I assigned them to read chapter nine of Lord of the Flies, the chapter in which the stranded boys of the novel, driven savage in their isolation from “civilized” society, “do in” ten-year-old Simon in a frenzy of mob violence.

Continue reading

Planning for the First Day of School

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As a teacher, there’s a lot of pressure to have the perfect first day of school. After all, this is the day you make your first impressions on your new students, and it’s the day you set the tone for the rest of the year. If you’re like me, the first day of school also the only specific day of the year you have nightmares about.

It’s no wonder that one of the best-selling teacher books of all time is called The First Days of School (co-written by Harry and Rosemary Wong, the book is now in its fourth edition and has sold nearly 4 million copies).

I spend more time planning my first day of school every year than any other day because I know what’s at stake and because I know how anxious I will inevitably be on that day each time a new group of 25-40 students walks through my door for the first time that school year. As a student teacher four years ago, I was lucky enough to observe five different teachers’ first day lessons and found the experience invaluable in planning my eventual first first day of school. So, in today’s blog post, I want to offer you a glimpse into my first-day routine and the way I approach planning for the big day. Continue reading

7 Teacherly Things I’m Doing on a Summer Evening

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Teachers, and advocates of teachers, have written a hundred articles about the so-called “myth of the teacher’s summer vacation.” (See, for example, this phenomenal Edutopia article.) While the summer does indeed provide a respite from the actual act of teaching (and from paychecks, unless the teacher takes on a second job or teaches summer school), I can’t imagine there’s a teacher out there who doesn’t do some school-related work during the summer between school years. Why is that?

Well, for one thing, a successful school year requires a great deal of careful planning. Good teachers don’t teach the exact same thing year to year; we tinker, we revise, we innovate. And a couple of paid work days in August certainly don’t provide sufficient time for all this necessary planning (although those days are much appreciated!).

For another thing, most teachers simply can’t turn off their “teacher brains.” Continue reading