Discussions in education have become a veritable Tower of Babel with enough acronyms to make any bowl of Alphabits soup a solid summary of every school’s August professional development. Amidst the calls to revise standards (CCSS), reduce the impact of testing scores on students and schools (ESSA, NCLB), or to eliminate standardized testing altogether in favor of more authentic and reliable means of gauging student learning, terms such as “college and career readiness” (CCR), “21st century skills” (21C), “EQ v IQ,” “critical thinking” (CT, HOTS, DOK), and “grit” (well, that one didn’t change) seem to lose their meaning for anything other than keyword Google searches and SEO development. Continue reading “What does “college-ready” mean anyway?”
Theme seems like a no-brainer–it’s the universal truths we find in a text that make it relevant to the human experience. Yet teaching theme can be quite challenging. Students have difficulty grasping the concept, and I am not sure if it’s because they don’t know how to phrase a theme statement or if they simply don’t have quite enough life experience to recognize grand human truths (we’ll set aside semantics for now and operate on the premise that there are “human truths” by which we live). Continue reading “Judging a Book by its Cover: Teaching Theme”
Getting students to read can sometimes be a monumental task. With so many other engaging multimedia entertainment options for children to choose, assigning chapters to be read for class often results in students arriving in class without having completed the required reading. I can’t say I blame them. In my own education, I’ve been assigned some texts that were real snooze-fests. And if we are being totally honest, I am much more unlikely to read a novel that is assigned–perhaps there’s a bit of passive-aggressive behavior in that. I don’t like being told to read something because it has “literary merit” and is part of the canon. Continue reading “Building a Culture of Reading through Choice”
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a pretty busy woman. Between teaching 150-something students, leading an English department, coaching 6-12th grade ELA teachers, directing our district’s AP programs, advocating on behalf of students and teachers at the state and national level, completing a dissertation, blogging, consulting, scoring, mentoring, and enjoying my precious little downtime with my (very patient) husband, people are always surprised when I say that I cook dinner. Every night. And that I enjoy cooking. They’re even more surprised when I say I have it ready and on the table when my husband gets home from work. Strange looks are cast my direction, women have visions of placing a plastic bag over my face, people tilt their heads as if asking, “Are you for real, lady?” Even my students are astonished: “Bailey, you cook?! Real food??” Continue reading “A Pinch of Peace, A Dash of Joy”
The Professional Learning Community (PLC) has gained traction in recent years, even though its initial introduction to the education circuit began in earnest in the early 1990s when researchers documented the efficacy of the PLC to bring sustained school improvement and student achievement gains, to say nothing of the increase in teacher morale, improved professional development, and promotion of best practices. These benefits can be directly linked to teachers collaborating to study student formative and summative assessment data, write lesson plans, discuss the best teaching strategies and interventions, reflect, and support one another in a shared goal and purpose. Continue reading “The Most Effective PLCs”
During the first week of school, I give my seniors a questionnaire that, among other things, asks them to reflect on their writing strengths and challenges. One particular question asks students to discuss how they feel when they are given an in-class essay to write, and each time I ask, the overwhelming response is always “anxious” followed closely by dread. Worse, many of them describe their physical reactions to writing assignments with symptoms that are tantamount to anxiety attacks: an inability to breathe, clammy hands, headaches, racing heart beats, scattered or blank thoughts, blurred or tunnel vision, difficulty sitting still, nausea. When I ask students to consider why they feel this way when given a writing task, many of them cite failure and judgment as the chief reasons for their anxiety.
As every writer knows, there’s an element of exposure and vulnerability when writing for an audience that can be intimidating even for the most seasoned of us, but which for novice writers can easily become debilitating. Their struggle is real and rather than risk failure or a blow to their self-confidence, some students simply will choose not to write anything, feeling Continue reading “Taking student anxiety out of writing”
It seems no matter where we look, we are constantly bombarded by the many and various evils attacking our youths in today’s educational system: inappropriate student-teacher relationships, child abuse, unqualified teachers, unreasonable zero tolerance policies, volatile union riots, over-testing, questionable curricula, funding, the list goes on. It seems every day a new story is “exposed;” news channels like Fox News and NBC News even have segments called “The Trouble with Schools” and “Education Nation.” Simply watching the news or reading headlines could easily persuade us that schools today are corrupt, unhealthy places for children to be and the only answer for parents who care at all about their children is either private schooling or homeschooling, and if neither is an option for parents, then they may as well throw in the towel and accept the inevitable subpar education their child will receive because they can do nothing to change the outcome.
I may perhaps be overstating the case, although I’m not so sure when one considers the fear-mongering the media perpetuates by reporting nearly exclusively the terrible events happening in schools and the need for education reform. Certainly there are a few instances where the media occasionally features one good thing happening at one school in one corner of the United States, and every now and then, Hollywood gets on board by making a movie that highlights the positive impact a teacher had on his or her students such as Stand and Deliver, Lean on Me, Freedom Writers, Coach Carter, and The Ron Clark Story; or (as if excellent teachers are difficult to unearth somehow) they write fiction-feelgood: Dangerous Minds, Dead Poets Society, Mr. Holland’s Opus. However, more often than not, even Hollywood perpetuates the myth that teachers and schools are warped or deceptive: Bad Teacher, Teaching Mrs. Tingle, The Faculty, Election, The Breakfast Club, even Ferris Buehler’s Day Off (yes, I know—it’s a classic for all ages but it still misrepresents the motivations of teachers and schools). Continue reading “A Call to Action to all Education Stakeholders”
Besides Christmas and the end of the school year, the first weeks of school seem to be the most popular time for former students to send emails, cards, or simply come around to visit. Certainly one of the most rewarding aspects of being a teacher is when students continue to share their lives with us long after they’ve left our classrooms. Some of them are excited about their path toward great success, while others seem to be stuck in a holding pattern, waiting for something, although they can’t quite articulate what that is. One thing they all have in common, though, is the greeting: “Remember me? It’s your favorite student!”
It always tickles me when kids who graduated a mere three months ago ask if I remember them, as if my short term memory is somehow compromised, yet they all follow it with the proclamation that they are my favorite student. The logic is a bit asinine: if indeed they are my favorite, then surely I wouldn’t forget them. Nonetheless, it seems to be more about ensuring they mattered to me enough to remember them than it is about jockeying for position in my affections. I am always intrigued by this desire to be a “favorite,” but it is something I understand. Continue reading “What Makes a Great Teacher?”
As a child, there was one thing my mother could do that would simultaneously make my blood run cold and my vision blur with tears: The Eyebrow.
I always knew my mother’s stages of agitation. If she middle-named me (“Ev-e-line-Ma-RIE!“), I still had time to continue whatever I was doing before Nuclear Meltdown and my rear-end would look like Chernobyl. But the moment she became very very quiet and turned her eyes on me with one arched brow and eyes staring daggers into my very soul, I knew it was only moments before I was going to meet Jesus in my ratty flip-flops and orange 80s plaid polyester pants if I did not immediately cease and desist my antics. Only once did I ever test that Eyebrow. Once was all it took. I was a fast learner.
As I got older and into my teens, I am thankful to say my mother had less cause to Eyebrow me. Of course, I was also much better at hiding my misdeeds from her (or so I thought). I didn’t do much to earn her rebuke but I did have occasion to study the way she used this powerful tool to Continue reading “The Power of the Brow”