Teaching is hard work. And unless you are a teacher (or married to/related to one) many people don’t realize the day-to-day challenges we face. This is why so many teachers wash out of the profession. I remember being told that if I make it to year five, I’ll be a lifer and I’ll be able to teach in my sleep. Well, I’m entering year six and I don’t think this year will be any easier than the past five.
Sure, I’ve become pretty good at classroom management and I can grade essays with more ease, but teaching is always challenging. And some of those challenges never go away – like lack of collaborative time. In many cases, there is no time built into teacher’s schedules to collaborate on a weekly basis. This lack of time can make teachers feel like they are teaching in a vacuum. In fact, a colleague once compared it to working in a mall. She explained that the teachers are the shop owners who pop in at the same time each morning, say our hellos, but interact only with our “customers”. Never the other storeowners around us.
This comparison has stuck with me, partly because it’s completely true, and mostly because it goes against everything I know to be true about good teaching.
For one, I know I am better when collaborating with others. Sharing ideas, building curriculum, true professional development. Bottom-up teamwork. Instead of the one-shot top down variety. I have successfully implemented dozens of great lessons because I have the support and collaboration of my peers (both in my school and outside). Yes, we’ve hard to carve out time to meet on our own (often int he summer), and yes, this is difficult for many, but perhaps this is where Teacher’s Podium can help.
Teacher’s Podium is a blog created my 4 teachers as a way to start challenging that mall-like climate too many high schools face. A way for teachers to talk about their teaching and hopefully break down some barriers. It started with four English teachers simply talking about their teaching and it’s morphed into a blog where we write about it. None of us on Podium claim to have all the answers. Or any answers. But we have all found that working together not only energizes our teaching, but enhances our classrooms as well. We are better together. We learn together and from each other and I know that with their continued support I am a better teacher.
On Podium we write, we peer edit and we hope to practice the skills we teach in our room. For me, blogging about my challenges as a teacher makes me reflect on what I’m doing in my classroom and that reflection makes me a better teacher. When I read blogs from other teachers and I see their challenges, it does two things for me: first, it scares me because I see that this craft never really gets “easy” (who really does this in their sleep??), and I also see that I am not alone in my challenges. Other people are struggling with getting kids to love reading, or to write a stronger conclusion. It’s not just me. This makes me feel part of a larger community, instead of locked in a mall all alone. And community is the heart of teaching.
We all strive to build community in our classrooms. It’s time that community spreads to the larger school as well.
Who wants another mall anyway?
I love TED talks.
I often find myself consumed by the wonders of TED. Technology. Entertainment. Design. In fact, before sitting down to write this blog, I logged onto TED and watched an hour’s worth of videos. TED truly is a teacher’s paradise. I mean, when you think about it – isn’t that what we do? We teach with technology, we entertain for engagement and we design our own lessons / units / projects. Teachers are, in a sense, artists.
Do we all see ourselves that way?
For the rest of this article, please check out Teacher’s Podium!
Myself and eight crazy high school students will spend the next 8 days (5 hours a day!) writing memoirs.
It’s actually a very cool program. My school is calling it the Summer Institute. There’s a French Immersion class, a National History Day Bootcamp and a US Sports and History class running as well. Students take these pass/fail classes and earn 2 elective credits at the end of their 40 hours. I’m very excited to start on Monday. Especially since I scored another author to come and work with the kids!
Rebecca Rule a hilarious local author and storyteller will share her wisdom and expertise with students on Wednesday. Why Becky? She has a phenomenal writing book for teachers and students called True Stories that she co-authored with Susan Wheeler. The book is geared toward college students, but if your kids are like mine, they’ll love that. I’ve used her Revisor’s Checklist and idea generators in my year-long classes for a few years now. Students in this enrichment course will all receive a copy of her book (and hopefully her autograph!). More on her visit to come.
In the meantime, if you’d like to see/borrow from our prompts or my syllabus, you can link to the class website here. Be kind, this is my first attempt at using GoogleSites! I’ll add to the GoogleSite each day as the class continues. Or stop by after the 4th of July and see what we did.
A student taped King reading from his latest novel Joyland. The video quality is poor, but I’m grateful to have it either way.
I never thought I'd ever write that line. The prolific Stephen King, a man so ingrained in our cultural consciousness, popped into my high school yesterday for a visit. No fan fare. No press. Just Steve, rolling up in his Ford, new book Joyland in hand, clad in a baseball hat and t-shirt.
His visit was a tightly kept secret. It had to be. And it started last July when I posted on StephenKing.com about a class I designed on King’s epic novel The Stand. I asked all King lovers if they had any suggestions for my class. Several people responded, asking to know more about a high school English class centered on a King novel. One of those responders was King’s assistant. She said King was intrigued by my class and he asked her to find out more about it. (I may have flipped out a bit here. Stephen King asked about me??!!) I told her more and asked if he’d Skype with us. She said probably not – he never fills those requests. But…he has family in my district and my class intrigues him. He might consider it. I, jokingly, (okay half-jokingly, okay, not a joke at all) asked if he’d like to come for a visit. Four months later (Feb. 19th) his assistant responded —
Sorry to take so long to get back to you. I’ve had a chance to run this by Steve and he’d like to set up a visit to the school in May. Would you be able to give me a call at the office (207-999-9999) between 8:30 and 4 PM weekdays so that we can discuss this in more detail?
And I did. And he came.
We bought him lunch. A roast beef sandwich and a diet pepsi (not coke). We chatted for 40 minutes. He signed a few books and took some funny pictures. He was amazing. Humble, funny, down-to-earth.
After lunch, my Great Works class was invited in for a private session with him. I had lied to them for the past few months – they thought we were having an end of the year “party” and they thought King had agreed to answer questions (through email) they had generated earlier this month. They had no idea he’d be sitting in the room! He shook all of their hands, amidst tears, screams, and sheer, unadulterated joy. He explained how he got the idea for his novel, who inspired the characters (his favorite is Stu. He said he’d like to grow up to be Stu someday) and answered all my student’s questions. No, he didn’t like Molly Ringwald in the mini-series (she thought the role was beneath her, but the network insisted). And when he couldn’t remember a part from a novel he wrote 35 years ago, he simply said “I don’t know. What do you think?” The hour flew by and then it was off to the auditorium.
Earlier this year, three English teachers decided to run a series where they bring in local writers to talk to English classes about their craft. So far, we’ve met with a writer from the local university, a few from the local newspaper and an Iraq war vet who published a book of poems. When I told King’s assistant about this program, she asked Steve if he’d be interested. He was. And he wanted to read to us from Joyland! I spent months trying to figure out what to say to introduce him. After all, no one could know it was him. How can I introduce a man of this magnitude to a group of teens that have no idea what they’re doing in the auditorium?
Here is what I said:
Good afternoon everyone! Thank you very much for coming. I promise I will speak for less than two minutes. I know this, because I’ve timed it.
I’ve been trying to figure out what I want to say for months now. I have the immeasurable honor of introducing our mystery guest speaker this afternoon, and I’ll be honest, I’m at a loss.
I could rattle off facts about his life, like where he was born and how many novels he’s published.
But that wouldn’t be enough.
Because the fact is he’s everywhere: on TV and movie screens, on our bookshelves, and here, backstage, right now. He knows our deepest fears and desires, he knows the skeletons hidden in our closets, and the nightmares that drive us mad. The power of his novels lie in the fact that they feel so real – the heroes and villains are us. He is, quite literally, one of the best-selling authors of our lifetime. In fact, when you Google his name, you get 380 million results in less than half a second.
So, herein lies my problem, what can I possibly say to you that would adequately convey the magnitude of this afternoon?
Well, I can tell you this for sure.
This author, who is about to take this stage, a man who is known throughout the world, has agreed to speak with us today and read an except from his latest novel, for only a roast beef sandwich and a Diet Pepsi. He is as humble and down to earth as he is famous and I am beyond excited to introduce him.
So now, without further ado, please join me in welcoming our esteemed Writer on an EHS Stage, Mr. Stephen King.
And he took the stage.
The screams from the crowd were enormous. They were shocked.
And spent the rest of the hour answering questions. He was hilarious, sarcastic and a little dirty — when I had to help him turn the mic on he told the crowd that their teacher “turned him on”. The kids went crazy and my face turned 50 shades of red.
Some of our questions and his response:
Favorite book or author – he has too many to list off (Ray Bradbury, Cormic McCarthy and several others)
Guilty Pleasure Book – he read 50 Shades of Grey, but it wasn’t that pleasurable.
How much does he write a day – 1,000 words.
Does he keep a Writer’s Notebook? No. He doesn’t want any evidence of bad writing.
How do you become a writer? You write. A lot. And read. A lot. It’s one thing to have an idea for a novel, everyone has ideas, but it’s another thing entirely to write it. He made a joke about how if he had a nickel for every time someone told him they had an idea for a novel he’d be rich….well, he’s pretty rich already, but he’d be even richer.
Perhaps the best part was when we asked him what message he wanted to leave the students of today with and he told them that if they could read and write well, they could own the world. So true. And thank you, Stephen King, for making my job easier.
I’m still in shock that it happened the way it did. Like I said, no fan fare. And believe it or not, he was nervous to take that stage! What an amazing man and what an amazing day. Thank you Stephen King for bringing my childhood dream to reality and for inspiring all those students today. Our world is better off for having you in it.
(A student recorded King reading. You can view that video here).
Do you dread them like I do?
RtI. Response to Intervention. Response to Instruction. Really Terrific Instruction. The acronym changes depending on who you ask. Either way, it is our new initiative. Even after a 5 hour session with a renowned psychologist on my last inservice day, I still can’t tell you what RtI is. Because he never told us. Sure, he regaled us with TED talks, fancy real-time surveys, and stories of his kids, but never once offered any true tips on what RtI is and how I can use it in my classroom.
That’s all I want. I want someone to say “hey. I’ve been there. Here’s what I did and it worked, maybe you could try it too.”
Am I alone in this?
Sure, this nameless psychologist dropped several names of programs we could purchase (a quick google search showed that he gets royalties from most) and named several books we could buy (most were roughly $150 each!), but not once did he share any insight or wisdom into the day to day plight that is teaching. Finally someone asked him what grades he taught and guess what — he’s only ever taught graduate students. Well, there you go. No surprise there.
Thanks for wasting my time.
So, what’s a teacher to do?
Seek out our own answers.
Thankfully, there are some wonderful mentors out there for us to ask. Kelly Gallagher is one of mine. And I had the pleasure of hearing him present at an all day workshop. I drove 2 and a half hours (one way) on a Saturday and learned more in those 5 hours about teaching English then I did in my entire master’s program.
If you are an English teach and you don’t know who Kelly is, you need to find out. He’s amazing. Down to earth, sharp as a tack and oh so honest. What I cherish most about him is each time he speaks he shares dozens of tried and true tips for teaching real kids to read and write. All things he’s doing. Right now. In his own classroom.
I took notes like a madwoman and here’s is a small sampling of the pearls of wisdom Kelly shared with us about writing:
- He calls a thesis a “claim”.
- He calls quickwriting “sneezing”. Blast it out. Don’t hold back.
- Grading does not make students better writers. Spending hours writing “frag” all over a batch of essays is not going to make anyone write better. Instead, conference with each kid at the midway point of an essay. Make them write down the verbal feedback you give them.
- Students should be writing four times more than any teacher can grade. As the late Don Graves said, “if students don’t write at least three times a week, they are dead.”
- Check out Writing Next. It’s a meta-analysis of over 200 studies about the teaching of writing. It gives 11 recommendations for help kids become better writers. One of those recommendations is that students need models – writers who know how to do it already. Kelly uses an example of learning to wait tables: when you first learn to be a server, you follow around a trainer (someone who knows how to do it) and you do everything they do. They model. Teachers should be doing that for students.
- Read. Analyze. Emulate: What does it say? How does it say it? How can I say it?
- The five paragraph essay is fake writing and should not be taught. It does not exist in the real world.
- There is a difference between revision and editing. Revision is making it better. Editing is making it correct.
- Assessments: As teachers our philosophy should be Everyone Improves. This is very different from sorting winners from losers.
The Writing Process:
1. Read a professional mentor. Or several. (READ)
2. Analyze the craft. Break it down. (ANALYZE)
3. Teacher tries it. (EMULATE) Teacher is the bridge.
4. Students sneeze draft 1. Take home and make it better.
5. Teacher has students Question Flood teacher draft (modeling).
6. Students question flood each other. Take home and make it better.
7. Teacher models RADaR Marks (Kelly’s revisions).
8. Students try it. Take home and make it better.
9. Mid-process assessment. Teacher meets with each student for 2-3 minutes and has a short verbal conference with them about possible improvements. All students come to this “conversation” with 2 or 3 questions on their essay that they would like help with.
10. Keep going until the essay is ready to hand in. Essays are never done, they are just ready to hand in.
I wish I could take credit for the above ideas. Each and every one of them came from Kelly’s talk last Saturday. You can see further explanation of all of them in many of his books. I suggest Write Like This for tips on helping kids write better.
And no, I don’t get any royalties.
I took at class from Maja Wilson 2 years ago at the UNH Literacy Institute. She is an amazing, strong, opinionated educator who truly opened up my eyes. This film cannot come out soon enough.
“Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.”
~ John Cotton Dana