23$ and One Library Book Sale Later

Once a month, our public library holds a book sale. It’s 2$ to get in and books are anywhere from 25 cents to 2 dollars. It’s great! Today was my first time.

I popped my library sale cherry and check out my haul!

I’ve only read The Goldfinch before but I think I might read it again. I was so enthralled in the plot that I found myself reading too quickly to savour her delicious syntax.

Happy summer reading, friends!

4:17 AM

I’ve been unable to sleep for the last three hours, after waking up to dogs barking and a loud crash from our roof.  It turns out, when we had our roof redone two years ago, the roofers did not completely reattach the solar panels. Ooops.  Now one is hanging literally by a thread/some sort of electrical cords. Thanks, wind.

Home ownership is no joke.

But now I can’t seem to go back to sleep.  My mind is racing, while my body is tired.

Tomorrow we graduate another class of seniors and getting these 311 students to the finish line and through the seemingly endless assortment of ceremonies has plumb worn me out. It’s such an exciting time, while also emotionally exhausting and physically grueling.

But I didn’t come here to complain!

I haven’t written here in two years, which seems about right.  Last year all of my writing energy went into my National Boards (which I finally passed this past November!) and this year I’ve committed 100% of my energy into my class and the Dual Language program.  And it has paid off!

We had 55 seniors graduate with the Bilingual Seal on their diploma (58 were eligible but unfortunately, 3 did not graduate).  I am so proud of these young men and women and their commitment to their education.  These kids sacrifice an elective each year to take Spanish Language Arts and take an average of 5-6 credits taught in Spanish, exceeding the minimum district requirement of 4 content credits in Spanish. They are amazing! In addition to this, they must pass an oral and written portfolio assessment in both English and Spanish, in which they reflect on and present their educational experience throughout their Dual Language education. Amazing!

Next time, maybe I’ll share more about our philosophy and program structure. And maybe that next time won’t be two years from now.

Learning to network

Networking is not my forte. AT. ALL. I go to professional development sessions or conferences on the district and national level and I get so wrapped up in my own head, thinking about how I will take this back to my students or school and I forget to talk to the people around me.

And in this way, teaching can be lonely.

But! I’ve recently gotten more involved in Twitter, especially after all of the time I freed up by giving up Facebook. This was my level of social networking proficiency, a few weeks ago:

And through Twitter I’m moving past this and instead learning to network productively and share thoughts about instructional practices or texts on a daily basis, instead of at the infrequent PD or conference. And tonight I engaged in my first #NCTEchat, about the Teacher as Writer, which was really my first Twitter chat … ever! It was exciting! (Here’s the archive, in case you missed it.) I honestly could have sat all night, communicating with educators across the world (including Mexico!), but my dogs were restless and needed a run to the dog park and the Hubbs needs help drafting a music review for his music appreciation class. Talk about writing! I love writing with my husband for his various classes. This is my favorite way to learn more about the way he thinks and to practice my questioning methods with my student writers (instead of just telling them how I would phrase things).

Before I had to tear myself away from the chat, I scribbled some highlights in my blog journal, that I mentioned here:

And here’s what that journal looks like, along with my messy work desk:


And now I’ll make sense of those highlights:

  1. Writing with students: Writing with students is essential. Sadly, I did not do enough of this last year. I debriefed a lot about their writing, and they wrote together, but only a few times did I engage in writing with my students. This, I will change. There were some great suggestions as to how to do this: revising some of my written work on the overhead with them, using Google Docs to model writing as they write, using Google Docs to write and edit with them, or using Edmodo as a tool for writing collaboration with and among students. I vow to use a little bit of all of these ideas!
  2. Mentor texts: Using mentor texts to teach writing. At one point, I asked about using graphic organizers to teach writing. The resounding response seemed to be that graphic organizers should only be used early in the writing process/learning to write a new genre. I definitely don’t sit down and use graphic organizers when I sit down to write a blog or an article for publication. But how do we find these mentor texts? I say, in EVERYTHING! In grad school, one of my favorite professors brought to class Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit. In is, she describes her methods for collecting inspiration for dance. I don’t use this book as a mentor text in my classroom but instead as a framework for collecting my own inspiration.
  3. Sharing resources: Several teachers shared blogs but from clicking through several of them, I already have one favorite (which I already follow) Two Writing Teachers. I love, love, love Two Writing Teachers. I love the look/feel of their blog (which Catherine and I are trying to manage on our shared blog Not So Common) and their content. The topics are so diverse! And again, I found this resource weeks ago through Twitter and it has inspired many changes to my AP Literature curriculum. MANY CHANGES.

I feel invigorated, inspired and most of all, a part of community among English teachers. Now … how can we organize (or I can find an already existing) chat about Dual Language at the secondary level. What would the hashtag be? #DLHSchat (Dual Language High School chat)? But that looks like Schat. Which, when pronounced phonetically is slightly inappropriate!

In what ways do you network with other educators? Or what are your favorite Twitter chats?

If Tolkien says teaching is “depressing” …

After reading an article posted by a colleague from another content area, deriding the work high school English teachers do to teach writing and prompting me to give up Facebook, I found a pretty little hole in the ground.

In a letter to a friend, which was recently discovered, JRR Tolkien describes teaching as “exhausting and depressing.”

In fact, he was inspired by terrible student papers to write The Hobbit. In another letter to WH Auden, he explains that as he graded a set of student essays,

On the blank leaf I scrawled: ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.’ I did not and do not know why.

How depressing, is right. Student writing as a hole in the ground?

I’ve been there before, a place in which writing teachers ask themselves, “Have you listened to anything I’ve said?”

And this is the question that I’ve been asking myself constantly: how can I ensure students are listening? But moreover, how can I ensure students see the benefit of what I’m saying and work hard to practice these skills in their writing?

How, indeed.

Here are three basic ways I hope to elevate my students’ writing this year:

  1. incorporating figurative language to describe concepts in their essays
  2. elevating the level of vocabulary in their writing
  3. varying sentence and paragraph structure (as to avoid this opening sentence: “In JRR Tolkien’s novel …”

Here are three new ways I might tackle these issues:

  1. Use bell ringers and quick writes to practice using figurative language, by giving them a metaphor triangle including only two sides: maybe the characteristics of a character, setting, action, etc. in what we have read, and the author’s meaning, requiring the student to fill in the characteristics of something to be compared, in order to achieve that meaning.
  2. Create a word wall with “Words we Love” and ask students to add their new words to the wall, as they encounter them (I haven’t quite decided another way to hold students accountable without stripping the joy of learning and experimenting with new words).
  3. Use bell ringers to revise previous student essays. I kept several student essays from last year, which I intend to use as opportunities to discuss what writers do well and what they should improve upon, in a non-threatening way before asking students to share their own writing.

Why I gave up Facebook

One day, it all became too much.

I think on the continuum of Facebook users, I’m closer to the “I-only-look-at-Facebook-when-I-need-toilet-reading,” instead of the “This-is-what-I-ate-for-breakfast” user.

But one day, even my infrequent Facebook use became too much.

All I saw on my news feed were stories about how the state of education is irreparable, infighting among educators who are split along party lines, and all-around complaining. I’m sure I contributed my fair share to these negative voices.

In fact, only months earlier I spoke to my educator-mentor, a former professor, who asked me if I even liked teaching, after she saw my posts for the past year or so. I was absolutely floored. I defended myself by explaining that I loved my students but I hated the system. But then I realized that maybe those two things became inextricable, as I sometimes struggled to maintain a positive attitude in my classroom because of my involvement and worry over issues in the system.

But after a colleague from a different content area posted an article which ridiculed the work high school English teachers do, which was written by a young college professor, I decided enough was enough. My feelings were hurt and I already struggle with confidence in my teaching (and in all things, really). And I decided enough is enough. I knew that if I didn’t quit Facebook, at least for the summer, that I may not make it back to school in May. I knew that I needed a way to energize myself, instead of weighing myself down.

So on June 20th, I quit Facebook. Which, of course, I announced on Facebook. And then after a couple weeks hiatus, I checked to see what people had to say about my announcement. But I’ve only been on a total of three times since then. And my life is all the better for it. I deleted the app from my phone and now I find myself using my phone much less.

I’m now engaged in much more productive and inspiring networking with teachers around the world, on Twitter.  I find myself cataloging new things to try in my class next year and asking more questions.

Twitter is inspiring me to get back to what I love most about teaching, asking questions. And maybe that’s why I felt so burdened by the system. I felt like my questions about teaching and student growth no longer mattered, in a system that prizes one-dimensional test data. And now that I’ve chosen to silence voices via Facebook, those things don’t matter as much anymore. And I feel myself getting excited about returning to school again.

But as a leader in my school, I feel as if I am walking a fine line. I still need to be informed about these issues, in order to properly educate the teachers in my department, but I don’t want to become entrenched in the negativity anymore.

How can we, as teacher-leaders, walk this line without falling?

Twitter, #ASCA14, and #FLOTUS

The ASCA conference was amazing! In my short time there (only 30 total hours spent traveling, in Florida, and the conference), I was entirely inspired!

I saw school counselors moved to tears as the First Lady #FLOTUS addressed us all in the morning’s general session. I saw my good friend and colleague, Catherine Allen in an entirely new setting, among her school counselor peers. I saw school counselors connect with one another via Twitter and Tweet Ups. I heard all of the amazing ways that school counselors make a difference daily. All of this made me entirely proud, not only of my friend, but also to work with this community of educators.

My favorite take-away from the weekend is the importance of collaboration. Of course, I was there to present with Catherine about the collaboration that we do but it’s more than that. I saw school counselors working together from across the country, world, and within schools. Catherine and I made relationships with people we wouldn’t have otherwise met. I follow twice as many people on Twitter than before and I’ve started searching out others to follow in my own discipline, to discuss/share with, and to hopefully collaborate with.

Sometimes teaching can be extremely isolating, especially in a school environment in which teachers are derisive of one another, and I find that Twitter is that safe place to reach out and explore. I’m beginning to think of how to incorporate Twitter in our department this year, as a networking tool.

Especially since I’ve given up Facebook.

Monday, Monday!

Lately, my entry titles have been music-centered (and by lately I mean all of two), almost like AVID Strands that begin with music after each break and at the start of every day. Maybe it’s that I drank the AVID cool-aid again this year at Summer Institute Dallas!

Nevertheless, on Monday I’m “leaving on a jet plane” to Florida to present with my dearest friend, Catherine Allen at the ASCA (the American School Counselor’s Association) about successful collaboration in the integration of school counselor and educators through the CCSS. It’s a mouthful!

But we’re excited! And the First Lady is the keynote the day of our presentation. We’re so big time!

More to come on this, after the presentation!