A Classroom with a View

"Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all" –Aristotle

Yes, I Volunteered to Score Essays My First Week of Summer Vacation

Every June, 1000+ high school and college English teachers descend upon the AP Reading site and voluntarily subject themselves to 7 days of 8 hours of grading 400,000+ high school students’ THREE AP English Literature essays. The fastest among us grade more than 2,000 essays each week, but most Readers grade at least 1,000 essays each week. Most of us keep coming back year after year. Why? Great question. 

In the middle of the Reading, I’m always exhausted; my eyes are red and burning; I’ve slept poorly in a hotel; I am jittery from coffee, sodas, too much chocolate and gum. I swear there’s no way I’m going to do this again. Then, after I get home and have had time to recuperate, I think, “I had fun! What a great experience!” Then inevitably, in January, that AP invitation arrives in my inbox, and there I go again, clicking “Yes, I accept” without a second thought.

I feel it’s a lot like childbirth: in the middle of it, you hate every minute and think there’s NO WAY in the WORLD I am doing this again, but after you are home and the pain of the moment is gone, when you’ve had time to reflect on the growth and joy you’ve experienced, you begin to think you can do it again.

I’ve been scoring for the AP English Literature exam for 14 years, and joining the AP Reading each year has brought me many personal and professional benefits. I have met some of my best friends at the Reading–my AP family with whom I’ve grown up, raised kids, celebrated marriages and anniversaries; people who share my laughter, challenges, losses, and triumphs; people who always find the best in each other to celebrate. The moral support and friendship we have grown over the last 14 years is unlike any friendship I have in my “real” life and is one I cherish and look forward to every year.

Professionally, the Reading provides a kind of intensive professional development that is both enlightening and immediately applicable to our craft, as well as connects educators from across the nation in a unique environment to share and collaborate. I’ve found opportunities to connect my students in Texas with students in California, Florida, and Vietnam to study and discuss Dante’s InfernoThe Kite Runner, and Things Fall Apart. As I’ve written previously, my students collaborated with a group of students in Vietnam, and their shared discussions resulted in a book they published. None of these would have been possible without the connections and network I’ve established from the AP Reading. Too, in my own teaching, the Reading provides me with insight into student writing, the broader challenges our students face nationally, and the opportunity to discuss ways to address these issues and trends with fellow educators whose advice and ideas I can bring back to my school.

So yes, while the Reading can be difficult when the AC in the convention center is too much to bear and you need to bring your hotel robe or comforter to stay warm (I’ve seen and done both–iykyk), the cafeteria food becomes too tiresome to choke down another meal, the “good” snacks are taken by the AP Chemistry Readers, and the convention center stupidly runs out of coffee and Coke Zero, I will continue to attend the AP Reading. It’s a great way to kick off the summer and begin the work of reflecting on the past year and planning for the new one.

The Human Faces of High Stakes Testing

I spent the weekend with my baby sister, and during the course of our girl’s weekend, we discussed her 14 year old daughter who was struggling in school. Because I am an educator, my sister is able to discuss with me the kinds of modifications and accommodations her daughter is receiving in school, knowing I would not only understand all the coded language of education but also that I would be able to provide her with advice. Unfortunately, the area she lamented the most was the dreaded STAAR tests, Texas’ measure of learning and “college readiness.” The absurdity of that particular statement is neither here nor there and is a subject for many past and future posts, but suffice to say, her 8th grade daughter must take an ELA Reading test, along with a Math, Science, and Social Studies test later this school year. This is, of course, on top of all the eleven other standardized tests she has taken since 3rd grade, and doesn’t include the 5 standardized tests she must pass in high school in order to graduate.

While my sister doesn’t necessarily disapprove of the tests altogether, she does have issue with the immense pressure and anxiety these tests place on students as a result of the test-intensive environment of Texas public education. My sister was overjoyed by the possibility that she could opt her daughter out of state-mandated testing, which would help alleviate the anxiety and illness that these exams cause my niece. I had to break her heart: no such thing exists in Texas.

To understand the human face of high-stakes testing, you must first see the human, something the state has forgotten. You see, Masie is a beautiful, funny, witty young girl. She has the deadliest blue eyes, an infectious smile and laugh, and skin models would kill Continue reading “The Human Faces of High Stakes Testing”

Movie Day?

I’ve lived a life of utter gluttony and hedonism this past week. I’ve eaten just about everything in sight–you know, as long as it had high fat and sugar content. I’ve napped every day, a couple of times twice a day. I didn’t go Black Friday shopping with my sister and nieces, opting instead to stay home in my pajamas while my husband headed to the deer lease for his boy’s weekend. I’ve read four books, none of which I intend to teach at all. I’ve stayed up late watching recently released movies (including a few Pixar movies because we all know those movies aren’t actually for children anyway).

Ahhh. Thanksgiving break.

Continue reading “Movie Day?”

U.S.-Vietnam Student Book now available on Amazon!

La Porte High School seniors in La Porte, TX and The Olympia Schools 10 X-cel students in Hanoi, Vietnam, worked on a year-long cultural study that culminated in their own published eBook. The book is the product of their discussion, collaboration, and learning over the course of the school year. Reflections is now available online at iTunes (search Reflections Global Connections), Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Play, Book Country, and now Amazon.

All proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to International Rescue Committee (IRC), a charity that operates in more than 40 countries and 26 U.S. cities to provide humanitarian aid to people affected by conflict and natural disaster.

Click this link to learn more about their work and achievement.

Students published their book “Reflections”

Facilitator Daniel Rymer with GCXN students Facilitator Daniel Rymer with GCXN students

At the beginning of the school year, I wrote about Global Connections, a group of sophomore students at The Olympia Schools in Hanoi, Vietnam, and senior students at La Porte High School in La Porte, Texas, who initially began their interactions by studying Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (GCXN, Part 1 and GCXN, Part 2). However, as their familiarity with each other grew, they asked to take on a much more monumental project: to write a book that explores their cultural similarities and differences and that provides a platform for their voices to be heard. They were undeterred by our warnings that a project of that magnitude would take patience, focus, hard work, and stamina. Well, as anyone with any experience with teenagers knows, when they put their minds to something, they do it. And they certainly did! Continue reading “Students published their book “Reflections””

What teachers want from their principals

Eveline M Bailey, consultant, embteach.comIf you’ve ever had the unlucky experience of teaching in a school with a difficult principal at the helm, then you know the nightmare such a leader can create in a school. I’m blessed that I’ve worked for 14 years at a school whose leadership has always been supportive, engaged, and champions of the teachers and students who attend. However, I’ve also been witness to some school environments that are toxic to all, including the leaders who initially created the havoc.  Continue reading “What teachers want from their principals”

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