Monday, December 30, 2013


One of the greatest rewards of teaching is catching glimpses that you made an impact on a student's life.

When I taught at the charter school, I had some of my students for three or four years. I really felt like I knew these students well. I felt that I had an impact on some of them. I went on hikes with them, many field trips, and orchestrated many service excursions. I taught them English, creative writing, journalism, yearbook, and drama. I saw them through many projects. I hope that many of them will remember me long after they reach adulthood.

At the junior high, I also built some relationships with my students, writing needed letters, exposing them to Sherlock Holmes, and enjoying their amazing stories in creative writing class.

Hopefully I'll continue having an impact and making a difference at my new school as well.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

First Week

I started my first week at the high school last week. It's going to be an adjustment. New bell schedules, older students that have been used to having very little rules (electronics, texting, surfing the Internet, listening to music with their earbuds while I'm teaching, eating food and leaving a mess, and just leaving the classroom whenever they want, and coming to class late, etc.) so I'm having to reign them in some. And that will continue after the break.

But I knew it was going to be a rough go at first.

The upside is that the faculty has been bending over backwards to be helpful and welcoming. Great people to work with. And I love the content I'm teaching: Shakeseare, Emerson and Thoreau. It's the stuff I fell in love with and what I want to teach. My students, despite the loose rules they've been used to, are generally good kids and little by little they've been coming around and will learn my expectations quickly. It's also been great that I'm not a first-year teacher. Everything I've learned over the past five-plus years has seved me well. I really think I'm going to love it at the high school.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Celebration of Learning

While I was at the charter school, we held a celebration of learning twice a year. It was a culminating event where the students could show off their projects they had been working on all term. It was exhausting for the teachers and required long hours, but in the end the students were held accountable for their work. Their projects would be displayed along with everyone else and many of the students worked hard, knowing it would be in front of a real audience.

It was much more fun than a packet of worksheets or a test. It was a bonus if we made the projects meaningful in some way to the students. If they had an authentic audience, then they had a purpose and were generally more motivated.


Almost a month after I was hired, I will officially be moving to the high school.

I've been giving information to the new teacher replacing me and I wonder how much I should say. Should I warn her about what she's coming in to?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Two Places At Once: I Need A Clone

I moved quite a bit of my stuff in yesterday. Wow, the school is impressive! I'm excited to be there.

I found that the prior teacher left a bunch of stuff behind. Her career as a teacher is over since she is most likely heading to jail, so I guess that's why. I'm having to do some cleaning out while I move in.

The high school wants me to start immediately. Other teachers are planning lessons for the sub and grading papers on top of their own class responsibilities. I'm anxious to get started as well.

But then I haven't left the junior high yet either. I still have an obligation to those students and that school to continue teaching well there and to stay up on my grading.

On the other hand, I need to start prepping and planning for my new job! I'm nervous about coming in mid year. I really just want to jump in and forge ahead, but in order to do that, I need to know what curriculum to plan for. Luckily I'll be meeting with one of the high school teachers next week.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Another Move

I am in my sixth year of teaching. And I have moved five times in those years.

First move: first teaching job, charter school. It was the first year of this school, and the building was still under construction. So, we rented an old elementary school. I was in a portable. I was grateful. There were a few weeks when we weren't sure where our (the middle school) classrooms were going to be. The director was talking tents or dividing the library up.

Second move: the charter school's building was completed for the next school year. I moved with the school into a brand new building and a classroom with windows.

Third move: I wanted to teach the older students. That meant another move into the ninth grade classroom. A room in the shape of a sort-of triangle, and lots of windows.

Fourth move: left the charter school and got hired on to a junior high, a regular public school. Older building, but a whole wall of windows! This was my current position until . . .

Fifth move: which is what I'm currently undergoing. I got a job at a high school with a fantastic reputation with the district. I'm pretty excited about this move and I'm hoping to settle in for a long while here. I haven't seen my room yet. Hoping to have windows.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Camping with Students?

So the brick that broke the camel's back for me at the charter school, was camping with the students.  As the charter school grew, adding a high school, the board wanted all of the high schoolers (9th and up) to go camping with the teachers and principal for the first week or second week of school.

The idea behind it was so that students could and teachers could bond, do some activities to push themselves (ropes courses, etc.) and do light academic work to warm them back up for the school year.

Some good ideas, I guess, but I didn't want to leave my family behind for a week to monitor my students for a full week, round the clock. It was too much responsibility, and I loved my students, but I needed to say goodbye to them at the end of the day.

So that was it, the final element that helped me decide to move onto another school.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Expeditionary Learning: Outward Bound

The charter school I worked at emphasized expeditionary learning. Unfamiliar with this type of education?  You can learn more about it at:

Part of expeditionary learning is getting the students learning outside of the classroom. Our school would take the middle school age students on a hike annually, sometimes more. Now, I normally really enjoy hiking. I grew up on camping trips, hiking around the national parks Of the western US. But hiking with a few hundred students . . . Not my idea of fun. I was worried about the risks of taking that many students out on a hike.

I will say that the times we went we had all teachers and many parent volunteers come with us. Most of the time, things went well and the students were safe. We tackled some challenging hikes, some peaks along the northern mountains of the sate. But there was that one time . . .

I was with a group of students heading up this steep trail and one of my students fell. She wasn't paying attention to the path, looking back and laughing with her friends, acting like a kid. One misstep and she slipped off the path, sliding and falling nearly 30 feet. All I could do was watch her fall. I have never felt more helpless.

I got on my radio and let the other teachers know as I slowly tried to climb down after her. A volunteer and another teacher found us and got down to her before I could. Thankfully, she was alright aside for some cuts and bruises. But I refused to hike that trail with students ever again and my reluctance to take students out hiking increased dramatically.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Charter vs. Public School

I've had the opportunity to teach at both a regular public school and a charter school. A charter school is a free public school. Enrollment is just capped and enrollment selection is usually based on a lottery selection.

No two charter schools are alike. Each one has a different community feel and a different emphasis. But that's the thing you get at a charter that you don't find at a regular school: a community. Charter schools have a small student body. There seems to be more of a smaller community feel as well as a stronger sense of school culture. As a teacher, I knew my students very well and sometimes, had them in my class for a few years. I knew the student's siblings and parents much more than in a regular school. I felt like I had a much closer relationship with my charter students and families than in a regular school. Students can't get lost in a charter school. Each student has a name, personality and individual needs.
There also seems to be greater flexibility in a charter. These schools are not afraid to break the mold and try new things. They offer parents a choice in their student's education.

Regular public schools, at least on Utah, are much larger than charters. Students can get lost in the huge junior highs and high schools. However, there is much more variety in classes, teacher personalities and extra curricular activities. But regular schools feel like an educational machine with compartmentalized classes held to the relentless ticking clock (45-50 minute classes.) There seems to be a bigger emphasis on testing in the regular schools and even teaching to the test. Student test scores reflect heavily on the teacher, but there is really no student accountability for these standardized tests.

The workload for teachers is greater at a charter. Smaller schools demand that teachers wear lots of different hats which requires a great deal more preparation. At my charter school there was much more freedom than at my current school.

Charter schools typically have very supportive parents that are very involved which is good and bad (helicopters parents--bad, supportive parents--good). The board (at the charter) was made up of parents which was difficult because many times they had these unrealistic, grandiose ideas but they weren't educators so they didn't realize how difficult the implementation of these dreams would be.

In a regular school, policies and procedures and curriculum are pretty tried and true. Sometimes rigidly so.

I don't know that one type is any better than the other. There are pros and cons to both. I do think it's liberating and wonderful that there is a CHOICE!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Drawing a Line

In over five years of teaching, I can count on one hand the times I sent a student to the office. I typically like to deal with problems in my own classroom. The office is the final resort after lots of other strategies.

I sent one girl to the office for biting another student. She was an 8th grader. My response was, "I never thought I'd have to deal with students biting each other in junior high school." Turns out I was wrong. Most junoir high kids are like elementary kids; they're just bigger and can be a little mouthier.

If a student is over-the-top disrespectful, I'll send them out in the hall to cool off and then have a long talk with them before I notify their parents later the same day. I had to throw a girl out of my class the second day of school during my first year of teaching. She was arguing with me in front of the whole class, being totally disrespectful so I threw her out. It was a rude shock to be spoken to like that. And the thought did cross my mind that i don't get paid near enough . . .  We had trouble with that girl all year long. She was suspended over and over again for various reasons. And she was finally expelled the last week of school.

This year, I had to kick a kid out of my class during the first week of school. He was totally out of control, disrespectful, so I asked him to leave. I talked at him for quite awhile out in the hall. He wouldn't make eye contact or respond to me at all. I thought I was going to have a very long year with this kid. But I have been pleasantly surprised. The kid has totally shaped up, gotten in control of himself and is polite and respectful. There are occasions when he bursts out loudly about something, but never any disrespect. Never anything like that first week when I threw him out.

So sometimes, throwing a kid out once, drawing a line in the sand is all it takes to get them to come around. But no two kids are alike, just like no two days are the same while your teaching. There are no proven formulas on what will make a student behave and what won't.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


In my subject area, I don't think there is a great need for traditional textbooks. Diagramming sentences and the study of grammar has been proven to have no impact on improving writing ability.

A literature book with short stories and poems is a helpful resource, but I never see myself using it from start to finish. Of course, I think novels for students are the most appropriate "textbooks" to actually check out to students.

This has been a wrestle with my department last year and this year. The long-timers in the department insist that all students should have a literature and language book checked out to them all year and to require students to bring them to class daily. I fail to see the educational value in this practice, so I didn't check books out to my students. And it didn't go over well.

There are so many resources and more current texts out there, I hate to be tied to the regiment of a dated textbook.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Resistance is Futile

When I worked at a charter school, we didn't have department heads. We had "pods," groups of teachers that taught students of a similar age. I had to collaborate extensively with these teachers, blending disciplines, coming up with themes and projects, coordinating field trips, etc. While we didn't always see eye to eye and had huge disagreements, in the end, we respected each other as human beings, as fellow teachers.

The whole idea of a department head was new to me when I started at a regular public school a year ago. My first experience with a department head has not been positive. In fact, my experience with this English department has been a disappointment.

If you've ever watched Star Trek, you'll be familiar with the Borg. Ever seen the Stepford Wives? Then you get the idea.

My principal pointed out to me that he is my boss, not my department head. Good distinction to know.

So, I've chosen to take a stand and preserve my individuality but it has not been without its cost. My only salvation is that another English teacher started with me last year. So at least we have each other.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Back to School

It's September and I've headed back to school for my sixth year of teaching. I'm teaching seventh and eight grade English and creative writing.

It's always rough, heading back to school after a long enjoyable summer. The daily, grinding of the academic machine is demanding.

I try to show my students some mercy by easing them into it. I also like to spend a little time building a classroom culture. I think it's important for students to know each others names. It's so easy for them to get lost in these huge schools with hundreds of kids dashing around the halls.

I forget how young and wide-eyed the seventh graders are at the beginning of the year. I forget how many procedures I need to teach them before we can really gear up and get going.

It's a lesson in patience.