Inspirational Teacher Mugs

My collection of inspirational teacher mugs gifted to me by students is growing. And how hilarious/awesome are they?

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Something No One Mentions About Teaching

Every year I have taught in my career thus far has been at a new and unfamiliar school system. I taught at Lawrence Public High School for one year before moving on. My student teaching at Newburyport High School was only meant to last a single semester. My first year teaching at Lexington Christian Academy was a dream. And now, for the 2017-2018 academic year, I am returning to a familiar school and faculty for the first time. And I am finding some things I didn’t expect!

While I am unequivocally and wholeheartedly thrilled to be back in Room 212 with my LCA family, I was not prepared for the sense of loss and heavy-heartedness that comes with a transition of this kind. Let me preface this by saying that I absolutely adore my new group of 10th graders. They are precocious, enthusiastic, hilarious, messy, and creative; I’m very lucky to have them in my classes. But they are also a change from last year. They don’t know me, and, despite the fact that we are a month into school, I don’t really know them. Yet.

Looking back through the rose-tinted glow of my first full-time year of teaching, I think I forgot how hard it is for students and teachers to learn one another in the first few weeks of a new school year. Before we can joke, take risks, go deep, and really work together, my students and I have to develop rapport, relationship, and trust. Last year my students and I labored alongside one another, sharing successes and hardships in their academic, social, personal, and spiritual lives. We grew together as individuals and as a small community of learners that was part of a larger community of learners. By the end of the year, we had built something unique and complex and wonderful. But, as I said, that was the END of the year. All of that work came to a kind of end with the final academic semester.

My students graduated from 10th grade. They are in 11th grade now, and their job is to build entirely new learning communities and relationships with new teachers. It’s important that they move on from the community we built together. It’s important that they move on from my classroom, and I find deep joy and beauty in the natural evolution and growth that reflects. But it is also somewhat naive to overlook the sense of sadness that accompanies this whole process. It is important that most, admittedly not all, of what we built together comes to an end.

At the same time, I am now responsible for starting over with an entirely new group of faces, lives, backgrounds, fears, passions, and dreams. I begin again with students who might not love the lessons that last year’s community loved or who might not be ready for the playful banter I so enjoyed with my group from last year. This group will have different strengths and unfamiliar or unexpected weaknesses. I have to learn them, and they have to learn me. We have to make mistakes together and create our own rituals and memories. It’s a daunting prospect.

I am so deeply honored and excited to be working with my current 10th graders. And I love them just as much as I loved my 10th graders from last year. But they are different and new. They mean something else has ended. And, while they are the best and most laughter-filled way to spend my days, they are a significant change from what I knew and loved last year. I have a firm sense of peace and certainty that my class and I will create our own sense of community and scholarship this year. But, especially as I ask around and find that so many of my coworkers exprience the same sadness, I do think it’s odd that no one really mentions how starting a new school year means ending an old one, which is both somber and stunning all at once.

 

 

Playing with My Friends

I’ve blogged before about how much joy I get out of playfully collaborating with my colleagues to create exciting and awesome new ideas and compositions. From presenting at conferences to reflectively exploring new areas of scholarship to writing this awesome piece on composing with sound for Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, some of my best work has come from working alongside others to create something much greater and more complex than I could have come up with using just my mind alone.

Carrying on in this developing personal practice, I have teamed up with Kate Artz and Anne Mooney to publish our most recent piece with Kairos, “Transmodality in Action: A Manifesto.” It’s definitely my oddest, most experimental publication to date, but I love it passionately, largely because it was really really fun to make.

Don’t get me wrong; the scholarly value and complexity of my publications and research matters to me greatly. However, there is just no way around the fact that I like doing things that are a lot of fun with people that are fun to work with. Playing in this way inevitably leads me to create excellent work. And therein lies the heart of what I want to say in this post.

Here are some things that happen when I playfully explore my field alongside like minded colleagues:

  • I discover new facets and angles to issues that interest and excite me and that shape the way I think about my discipline.
  • I create high quality work that expresses my passion for my field and engages others to play with or dialogue over the ideas we are exploring.
  • I push myself to articulate my thoughts and observe how others understand and interact with them.
  • I find myself happily and willingly dedicating long hours of hard work to scholarly endeavors without excessive fatigue or frustration.
  • I develop habits of questioning, trying on multiple perspectives, and hunting for new ways to view things.
  • When a project draws to a close, I am eager and excited for new, bigger, and more elaborate projects.

I can say with certainty that my colleagues experience all these same benefits in their own ways. And if it’s true for us, it’s true for our students. Looking over this list, these are some of the core skills and experiences I want my students to have in my classroom. So while I am pouring over elaborate lesson plans and assessments, I resolve to make it a goal to carve out time to let my students and their friends play with composition and literature. Because that seems to be where the real magic happens.

 

My 2017-2018 Teaching Manifesto

The 2017-2018 academic year is right around the corner and, per the urging of fellow teacher/blogger Susan G. Barber, I have set aside some time to compose my manifesto. These are my commitments to myself, to my colleagues, and to my students for this academic year. My goal is to be intentional, focused, and public about my standards for this academic year. I want to be transparent and tenacious about this manifesto, and I hope to make a yearly ritual out of this process, regularly assessing and refocusing my attitudes, philosophies, and standards for myself and my classroom. So, for my 2017-2018 manifesto,

I will honor my students.

  • I will be careful with their time. I will not overload them with homework, but will instead be conscious of spacing assignments and deadlines. I will only ask them to do what I feel is most necessary for their success, and I will not intentionally ask them to sacrifice necessary sleep, extracurricular, or family time for my class.
  • I will place their personal and educational needs over my desires for how my classroom looks and unfolds. This may mean shifting deadlines, rearranging schedules, adjusting assignments, or repurposing my carefully planned class time. I will not cling to my own visions for my class out of vanity, selfishness, or personal goals.
  • When my students share reactions, emotions, or expectations, I will carefully listen, process what they say, and incorporate their feedback into our class time as much as I can.
  • I will build relationships with my students. I will attend games, performances, and awards ceremonies. When students stop by to talk, I will take time to stop what I am working on and have conversations with them. I will make an effort to stay aware of what is going on with them inside and outside of my classroom so that I can understand and pray for them as people as well as students.
  • I will work passionately and diligently to make sure that the lessons, assignments, and assessments I am providing my students with are high quality, well-researched, and deeply thought out. I will create opportunities for collaboration, real-world experience, experimentation, and exploration.
  • I will only speak with positivity and respect about my students, whether or not they are there to hear what I say. When my students can hear what I am saying, I will make a conscious effort to praise and affirm each one of them.
  • I will resist the temptation to rely on quick grading schemes, easy teacher-centric lessons, and passive teaching. I will continue to push myself to do the extra work required to promote student choice, empowerment, and involvement.
  • I will allow my students to be individuals, celebrating their differences and creating opportunities for them to engage with literature and composition in ways that interest and challenge each one of them. I will not ask for uniformity or standardization, and I will push myself to recognize unique gifts, interests, and abilities, explicitly affirming each student individually.
  • I will enjoy my students, laughing, learning, and playing with them. We will drink tea, eat snacks, and take breaks together in addition to working and learning alongside one another.

I will honor my colleagues.

  • I will seek out guidance and advice from my colleagues on questions I have in my classroom. I will ask for support and rely on their experience, even if I  feel am capable of resolving my concerns without their assistance.
  • I will cheerfully provide them with my encouragement and support whenever I possibly can, even if it detracts from my free time or cramps my schedule.
  • I will continue to build personal relationships with my colleagues, taking time to get to know them better, remembering interests that they have expressed, and responding with prayer and support when they share frustrations or struggles in their lives.
  • I will enjoy my colleagues, laughing, learning, and playing with them. We will drink tea, eat snacks, and take breaks together in addition to working and learning alongside one another.

I will honor my scholarship.

  • I will stay current in my field. I will continue to make time to research, write, and publish during the school year, resisting the urge to place my scholarship on the back burner. This may be as simple as continuing to read articles and books within my areas of research, or it may involve conference presentations or publications.
  • I will not guilt myself into dedicating time to scholarship just for the sake of continuing my research or achieving career status. I will only give my time to topics and opportunities that capture my interest and authentically spill over into my classroom practice.
  • I will continue to reflect on my practice and connect with others in my field through my blog and Twitter account.
  • I will make time to continue my own practices as a reader and a writer, creating space to read and write for a variety of personal and enjoyable reasons.

I will honor myself.

  • I will make time for my life outside of school. I will spend quality time with my family, cuddle my dogs, and allow myself to forget school work intermittently.
  • I will prioritize my physical well-being. I will do my best to keep myself reasonably well-fed, well-rested, and physically active.
  • I will maintain a healthy, guilt-free faith life, praying, worshipping, and resting in ways that bring me closer to God, enrich my daily life, and shape my pedagogy.
  • I will push myself to be my best, but I will be kind to myself when I fall short.

I am sure there are things I should add, but this, at least, is my manifesto for this next academic year! And I can’t wait to start.

 

Revisiting the Student Experience

It’s been quite some time since someone has marked up my writing with red pen or given me a homework assignment with a deadline that I was genuinely worried about meeting. I had almost forgotten that unpleasant feeling that settles in my stomach as an instructor starts writing rapidly and prolifically concerning something I have only a very vague understanding of.

But one of my goals for this summer is to dive headlong back into Arabic classes. Back when I was visiting my family in Syria each summer, I could read, write, and speak much more capably than I do now; however, as my knowledge falls into disuse, I feel my hard-earned conversational skills eroding. So, for the last 3 weeks, I’ve been driving into Boston to meet with a tutor 2 days a week for 2-hour Arabic classes.

I told her I wanted to move quickly. I told her not to go easy on me and to expect me to use my time in between classes ambitiously and effectively. And she really took that to heart. So, as I hurtle through the dusty archives of my Arabic language skills, I find myself once again seated in the place of one of my students, sitting in observant silence and wondering what in the world I have gotten myself into.

While I am excited about and grateful for the opportunity to brush up on my Arabic language skills, I am also finding an unexpected and deeply valuable treasure in revisiting the student experience. During the school year, I spend my days asking students to push themselves, develop trust in their own intellectual capacities, take risks, embrace failure, and ask questions fearlessly. With what is really only a little distance between myself and my time as a student, I am finding that I have already begun to forget the challenges and emotions surrounding these undertakings. Being a student is really really hard. And scary and overwhelming. When it goes well, it is also exhilarating and empowering. But there is no way around the need to operate outside our own comfort zones when sitting in the role of a student exploring some new skill, field, or idea. And if I’m going to ask my students to do this boldly, it is important that I be willing and able to do the same in my own life.

I can already feel the ways in which this experience will strengthen my ability to empathize and connect with my students as they grapple with some of the very challenges I am facing as a student this summer. My hope is that, as I intentionally observe my own responses and struggles in my own learning experience, I am able to more gently, insightfully, and effectively encourage my own students in their extremely complex and important roles.

I Believe 3 Things About Reading for Fun

Summer is here. My manic school year days are slowly decelerating into a warm, easy rhythm. Although my time still feels full with a myriad of small tasks required to get our somewhat derailed lives back on track, I am finally able to set aside the time to reach into my pile of “for fun” reading books. The stack has been accumulating since the end of last summer, which was the last time I could plausibly read for pleasure. But summer is back again in all its humid goodness, and I couldn’t be more ready to sink into the pages of a book that I chose simply because I thought it sounded good.

Over the years, I’ve gotten fairly good at reading for a variety of purposes OTHER than for fun. I am pretty good at reading to understand, to memorize, to meet a time crunch, to search for specific information, to check facts etc. I mean, I’m an English teacher now, so these tasks are kind of inherent in my daily life. I have even learned to enjoy reading for some of these end goals. But returning to my pleasure reading pile this summer has reminded me of 3 very important personal beliefs.

  1. There is no kind of reading like pleasure reading. I can sometimes forget the immersive sensation of losing touch with the world around me as my mind and emotions detach from reality and latch organically and enthusiastically to some novel or short story or poem that has captured my attention. It is a welcome and familiar thrill to find myself elaborately constructing my own, unique visions and interpretations of places, people, and situations in my mind, creating my own reading experience and building something that draws in both my own life story, imagination, and personality as well as the author’s carefully crafted composition. There is simply nothing quite like it.
  2. Teachers of reading and writing need to make time to read for pleasure. So does everyone, but especially teachers of reading and writing. If we want our students to be fascinated, intrigued, or consumed by the compositions they interact with, we need to model that. We need to have an intimate familiarity with the feeling of that magnetic connection to and investment in a story, idea, or image so we can explain it, recognize it, and work towards creating it in our students. I see in myself how easy it is to forget the joy and simple sense of play in reading just for the fun of it; as an educator, it is essential that I not forget.
  3. Teachers of reading and writing need to create time and opportunities to allow their students to read for pleasure. This is difficult; as with most things in life, you have to give something up to achieve this. In my classes last year, I sacrificed a few assignments I had planned in order to keep the pace at a place where students could enjoy what we were reading. I also did the extra leg work required to give students some choices in their reading, allowing them time and opportunity to recognize and choose what they gravitated towards. Student life hurtles by at a breakneck pace; even students who love to read won’t have time to read for fun unless their teachers give it to them. And if we don’t give it to them, how many kids will forget entirely what it feels like? Or never even get a chance to feel it? It’s our job to make the time for them.

I won’t make the claim that these are particularly complex or scholarly beliefs. Nevertheless, I find myself consistently forgetting them, sliding them into the back of my mind and letting them gather dust while I crash through my days in a frenzy of productivity.

Thankfully, there is quiet, warm summer to remind me of my dusty beliefs. Thankfully there are porch swings and glasses of lemonade and happy dogs all just waiting for me to pull up a good book and dive in. Thank goodness.

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Presenting at New England CCCCs 2017: Continuing my Career as a Teacher-Scholar

As I’ve blogged about extensively in the past, I have an enthusiastic love for academic conferences within my discipline. Even when the conference or the keynote speaker isn’t what I was expecting or hoping for, I always walk away from my conference experiences feeling enriched, motivated, and challenged. Now that I have completed my graduate degrees and am working full time in a high school classroom, conference participation and attendance don’t fall quite as readily into my work life routine as they have in the past; however, I find it more important now than ever that I continue pushing myself to remain actively engaged in current, ongoing scholarship within my field. It matters deeply to me both as a scholar and as an educator. To my pleasant surprise my supervisors, administrators, and colleagues at LCA support me in this wholeheartedly.

As a result of all these factors, this past May, I had the genuine pleasure of continuing my research and scholarship in teaching composition by working alongside my longtime research colleagues, Anne Mooney and Kate Artz, to organize a 60-minute panel at NCTE’s New England Summer Conference on College Composition & Communication (CCCCs): Sharing Best Practices at Boston University. And let me just say, my passion for academic conferences has not waned in the slightest.

Our session, entitled “Making Audio Accessible: Teaching Transcription as Composition” examined how teaching transcription of audio files as a rhetorical process empowers students to create purposeful and accessible texts of their own. Attendees of the session participated in an activity designed to help them better understand the experiences transcripts create for their readers. We also provided assignment materials for attendees to use in their own classrooms. It was a great turnout with truly fantastic and engaged participation from our attendees.

We were also fortuitously paired with Dartmouth College’s Mark Koch, who approached similar questions to the ones we explored in our panel, but through the rhetorical activity of composing maps. While his was a very visual mode and ours relied on the relationship between audio and text, both projects explored exciting and interesting ways to prompt students to grapple with complicated and difficult questions when composing. What information is included? What information is left out? What are my rhetorical goals, and how can I best achieve them? We felt very honored and lucky to have been so aptly paired with Dr. Koch.

As this was my first conference as an active teacher instead of a graduate student, I was definitely aware that my daily activities existed much father outside the realm of traditional research and scholarship than they have in the past; however, I became acutely conscious of the difference my role in the classroom made in the way I was able to process and engage with some of the theoretical ideas we were batting around. The immediacy with which I was able to envision the practical implementation of some of the principles and concepts we were exploring was pointed and fascinating to say the least. More than ever before I felt the importance of the balance between my identity as an educator and my identity as a scholar, and the energy and excitement of that recognition has not left me as I transition into my summer.

Ultimately, I was able to gather with motivated and experienced educators from across New England to share our research, discuss developments in our discipline, and provoke deeper, more complex thought on the issues shaping our field today. But I was able to do so while inhabiting the role of a teacher-scholar more fully than I ever have before. And I have a sense that the gravity of that has yet to entirely hit me, which excites me greatly.

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