Showing posts from April, 2016

Day 30: What #Aprilblogaday Challenge Gave Me

Take Aways: New thinking about yourself and/or your craft after completing the April Blog A Day Challenge

This is my second year doing the April Blog A Day Challenge.  Last year, it came just a few weeks after I had undergone major surgery to remove the cancer from my body.  It was a scary time and having the space to write and reflect, to focus on my work and think about the hows and whys of my craft were a welcome distraction.  I didn't think that this year I would be facilitating this journey for others.  I wish I has been able to get more people involved.  I pitched to the staff of 50+ teachers at my school and while in theory teachers want to do this kind of work, making time to write and reflect in this way is a big ask of oneself when already feeling overwhelmed with the work to be done.
Ultimately, I am glad I took this on.  I wish I had pushed harder, dig deeper.  I also valued the insight that the small group of bloggers brought to the conversations.  As always the thinkin…

Day 29: Teacher Appreciation Week! #AprilBlogADay

-->Prompt: Teacher Appreciation Week is coming up. (May 2-6)- How do you celebrate your work and the work of your colleagues? 

One of my favorite people, Kathleen, who also happens to be an amazing 8th grade teacher, posted a photo of herself on Facebook yesterday sitting in a GIANT beach chair. (Does spring break really have to end?!)  In the comments I wrote, "Edith Ann!" realizing after the fact that she may have no idea who I was talking about.  I had not thought about Edith Ann in years and then this morning as I was doing a little research for this blog post I came across this quote:

"I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework."  
~Lily Tomlin as "Edith Ann"

 This is so, so true.  As we head into teacher appreciation week it is important to thank teachers for their work and commitment to thinking. My favorite and best teachers challenged my thinking about what I was learning.  For me, every day I step into…

Day 28: Why Teach? WHo would be crazy enough to do that? #aprilblogaday

-->Prompt:  Would you encourage young people to consider the field as a profession?

Every teacher has seen lists like this one in the HuffPost titled "21 Reasons To Quit Your Job And Become A Teacher" (2013) I, like many teachers here in NYC, am a career changer.  I started grad school in the fall of 2006 at the age of 29.  There were not any fancy incentives for me becoming a teacher.  I don't teach math or science and I am not a special education teacher.  I am a run of the mill English teacher.  What makes me a little different is that I am also a theatre teacher.  I am licensed in both subjects.  I also has a successful career as a theatre professional before moving to teaching. I didn't become a teacher because I couldn't DO what I intended to in my first career.  I became a teacher because I wanted to (and I have already established how selfish teaching is).  It was my evolution. 

I often tell my students is that one of my biggest priorities as their teac…

Day 27: Rejuvenation! #AprilBlogADay Challenge

-->Prompt: Continuing: how do you keep stretching and learning over the summer?

 I love summer.  My birthday is in August and I am a true summer baby.  Growing up in Seattle, summer was the pay off for so many months of overcast skies, gloom, and wet.  When it finally came it meant late nights at the park, wondering around the neighborhood with the plethora of kids I grew up with, and swimming in the lakes. It was a different time.  As I get older I am thankful for my 8 weeks off each summer. It is a time for R&R- Rest and REJUVENATION! I have sought out opportunities for me to learn.  Last summer I took an eight week memoir writing class at NYU School of Professional Studies. The summer before I took the College Board AP Summer institute (APSI) Workshop for AP English.  This was only a week.  The summer of 2013 I was accepted at The Cullman Center Institute for Teachers at the NY Public Library for a week long writing intensive with John Wray. These bursts of creative work and…

Day 26: If I Was In Charge #AprilBlogADay Challenge

-->Prompt: If you were in charge: What needs to change about education?

I put it out there to the Facebook Hive Mind.  I know a lot of teachers.  I also know a lot of parents.  I was curious to hear what others think about what needs to change.  Here are some of the responses: 

"Smaller class sizes~" -M.M. (parent, school administrator)

"I read a while back the the brain isn't fully awake so to speak early in the morning. The article suggested that kids could learn better if they started school a little later in the morning. Also, recess and naps are essential even after kindergarten. The brains need a quiet moment to recharge. Seating arrangements need to change. The square classroom set up is not methodical. Also, please get rid of the awful fluorescent lights. They mess up the vision and aren't beneficial. I'm very pro vocational schools too. Study what you'd like to study and place more emphasis on that skill opposed to a generalized curriculum.&quo…

Day 25: The Wrap Up- Did I Get It Done? #AprilBlogADay

Prompt: Wrapping Up The School Year- How will you know if you did what you needed to do this year?

I don't know if you are like me, but usually in early August, about 4 weeks before school starts, the ideas really begin to start flowing and developing.  All the things I want to do differently, to try, begin to take shape.  Last year I taught AP Lang for the first time.  I also had cancer last year.  The second half of my school year was a bit of a mess. I did everything I could to keep up with work and manage my own care and healing.  Being sick and being a teacher is perhaps the most difficult thing I have had to do. I had hoped that this year would be easier.  It was not.  I had surgery to help my paralyzed vocal cord in November and a week into my recovery I found out I had gallstones (as a result from weight loss surgery in November 2013).  You can read more about that journey here. 

The first 4 months of 2016 have been painful and exhausting.  I used all my self-treated days an…

Day 24: The Selfishness of Teaching #Aprilblogaday Challenge

Missteps: if you could go back and do something differently in your classroom/with a student/with a colleague what would you do?

The short answer is: Everything.  While there have been a lot of RIGHT moves, there are more WRONG ones, which is why I keep coming back.  This is one of the things I love about teaching: each September is a chance to step into a classroom with a new crop of kids and try again to figure out what it means to get it right.   Part of me hopes I never figure it out.  Maybe that is the selfish part of teaching- knowing that it won't every be perfect but the experience of trying is what makes things better. Experience can be painful, brutal, but it makes us who we are each time we step into our rooms. 
Hindsight is 20/20, right?  If I say to myself, I should have done ______, the reality is: what did happen would not have.  For example: part of me knows I should have left my first school at the end of year 4.  Year 5 was painful both professionally and…

Day 23: Which Came First- The Teacher or The School? #aprilblogaday challenge

Do you make your school community or does your school community make you?
A variation on this was used as an essential question for my AP Lang class this unit. Does the individual make the group or place or is the place shaped by the people who occupy it. All terms used loosely.
Tonight, I sat next to one of my dearest friends in a room of distinguished alumni from the Program in Educational Theatre at NYU, which was celebrating its 50th anniversary. Phillip Taylor, who was the chair during my time there, interviewed playwright John Patrick Shanley ('77) who is perhaps best known for his play and later film: Doubt. There were a plethora of quotable quotes (would you expect anything less from a Pulitzer winning playwright?) that I wish I had written down. I, and I am sure many of my colleagues, would say the program gave me the space to become who I was meant to be: a teacher.  I don't know that my presence in the program made any sort of indelible mark on it however, which is o…

Day 22: My DREAM Team #aprilblogaday

Prompt: If you could collaborate with any teacher/class what/who would it be and what would the collaboration look like?

Our spring break is very late this year. It's felt like an incredibly long stretch, I am sure exacerbated by my surgery at the end of February. (It was my second surgery this school year and the 4th time I was subjected to anesthesia). All these things are incredibly hard on one's body. I'm ready for a break. However, this is also the time of year I start thinking about next year. All the things I can do differently... better. I often feel like I have failed my students, I could have done so much more, so how can I improve and do better. 
Next year will be round 9 in my own classrooms. Year 11 since I walked into my first DOE classroom. I have lost some of my passion when it comes to teaching and I have to work harder to fine new ways to grow and challenge myself and my students. There has been some great stuff with student led discussions in my 10th and 1…

Day 21: The Key To Teacher Resiliency May Be Mentoring #AprilBlogADay

-->Prompt: What makes you resilient? Why are you still teaching today?
In an article from NEA Today Cindy Long reports:
"However, “two important findings support what NEA has advocated for a long time,” says Segun Eubanks, director for Teacher Quality at the National Education Association (NEA). “That high quality mentors and competitive salaries make a difference in keeping teachers.”

According to the study, in 2008-2009, 92 percent of those who had first-year mentors were still teaching, compared to 84 percent of those without mentors. By 2011-12, 86 percent of those who had first-year mentors were teaching, compared to 71 percent who did not have mentors."

 If I do my English teacher math, based on the data, first year teachers who have mentoring are 15% more likely to to continue teaching than those who don't.  Is mentoring the key to resiliency? I didn't have much formal mentoring but I did have access to a number of amazing ELA coaches that I worked with …

Day 20: Our Students Change Us #aprilblogaday

Prompt: Tell a story about the student you have learned the most from.

I don't have children.  I wont be having children.  I think a lot about legacy and what I am leaving behind.  The mock AP Lang exam I gave last week included a speech from Jane Addams about the legacy of George Washington.  While I am certainly am not even remotely close to that kind of legacy I do want to leave something behind. I want to know that I have made an impact on both my students and my colleagues....

Last year I got to sit down for brunch with Jasmine.  She was immersed in the 3rd year of her teacher training program.  Jasmine was my student and now she is becoming the teacher. Her resilience and dedication to her chosen path is exciting.  When the students you teach become teachers themselves, especially students who struggled and understand challenges that their own students will face: that may be one of the most powerful experiences of my career.  I could not be more proud of Jasmine and her bright…

Day 19: Best Ever... #aprilblogaday

Prompt: Best lesson ever? Best unit? Best curriculum? What made it the best?
My first five years teaching I worked in a Transfer high school. In NYC these alternative high schools fell under the then Office of Multiple Pathways to Graduation. One of the many advantages for students is that they can earn credits at a faster pace to make up for time lost. This means three marking periods/report cards per year. This also means I was creating two new classes every trimester. That is 6 a year with little repetition, especially in the first couple years. Students may need 6 English credits which means they take your class all year long. (Small schools, only 2 ELA teachers). I wrote a lot of units of study. I got fast and efficient. This also allowed me the privilege of trying new things all the time. 
While I think my strength is the design and implementation of project based learning especially capstone or culminating portfolio work. That said, I have always enjoyed the writing piece more…

Day 18: Teacher Traning #AprilBlogADay Challenge

-->Prompt: What was your favorite part of your teacher training?

Last week my friend Kathleen, an 8th grade teacher here in NYC, emailed me: 

Hey Meredith,

I'm changing up my next unit, like, a lot. Normally I mirror it with what they are learning in history but the history units are different this I am spicing things up. 
I am starting a creative writing unit. We already did a few days of writing workshop and it's great! I am incorporating Postsecret as well. With all the tests done, they really need this. BUT... I want it to be differentiated  everywhere---especially with choosing what they actually create. Essentially, their final project can be any genre of writing BUT I wanted to give the option of a play. The problem, is I have little experience with theater. I was wondering if you have a relatively short play that follows a general story mountain to use as an example? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
Miss you.  Kathleen and I did our English stude…