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.

Can blogs have an identity crisis?

I feel as if this blog already has an identity crisis, in its early development stages.  And here’s my question, is a blog just born knowing if it’s personal or professional?  And how can you tell?   Are there signs?

Like today, I just want to write about Ash Wednesday and my husband.  But that’s not a professional topic.  So should I include that or just buy one of those fuzzy pink journals with a lock on it, like I had in middle school and scribbled all sorts of silly stuff.

Really?  Can someone tell me.

Is this real life? What do we give up, as educators?

Zero to Hero Day 3 Challenge: Write the post that was on your mind when you decided to start a blog.

Is This Real Life?

That is probably one of my all-time favorite, go-to YouTube videos when I’m having a crummy day.

But in my first week back from school, after winter break, I find myself asking, “Is this real life?”

This winter break, I vowed to spend more time in my “real life,” with my husband, friends, and family. And it was great!  All week, however, I had the nagging feeling that I needed to grade, that I should be planning, and that I wasn’t writing my entries for the National Boards process in which I’m currently engaged. It’s like I couldn’t turn “school life” off and just enjoy myself.

I did have fun. I did relax. And tomorrow is my first anniversary with my husband. We’re going to the same B&B we stayed at on the night we married. Tomorrow night, on the eve of returning to school, I vow to just shut “school life” off.  But in order to do that, I worked for the past two days to plan the first few weeks back to school and tomorrow morning I’ll get up early to grade a little in order to alleviate the guilt.

And as I’m writing this, I just got a text from a very hardworking teacher friend of mine: “I’m in major freak out mode!” She was freaked out that hasn’t planned for the semester, other than what we managed to get done together one afternoon during break, before letting ourselves get distracted with Christmas shopping.

So is this real life?  Do we have to choose one or the other? A real life or a school life?

When I debated leaving education, what kept me were the things that I’ve already committed myself to.  The things I want to see through.  This semester I received a grant to start a writing center in our bilingual office for peer tutoring in Spanish and English writing across the curriculum.  I’m continually revising my curriculum, I’m on the PD committee at school and can participate in the conversation to help support teachers as we move to the CCSS, and most importantly I love my students. I made a commitment to them on the first day of school.

And the kids in my classroom are amazing and it is a privilege to work with them each day.

But what is our commitment to ourselves?

Hello, world!

I’m super pumped, jazzed, excited, thrilled, psyched, enlivened, and whatever other adjectives come to mind, about this blog.  I’ve tried blogging before.  And if ever there is a website called Blog Fail, like Pinterest Fail, I’ll be all over that!

Given my many failed attempts at the blog-o-sphere, I’m trying the Zero to Hero 30 Days Challenge so that I can actually make this happen.  The first challenge is to “Introduce Yourself.”

And here I am, introducing myself.

And I have lots to say about education and what it’s like to be an educator in this crazy age of testing, Common Core, testing, teacher evaluations, and more testing.

I teach 12th grade AP  English literature and English 11 at a public high school. I’m also the Language Arts department chair (not English, as the Spanish Language Arts teachers have moved in with us, to create a true Language Arts Department) and the Bilingual Co-Coordinator (which is essentially why the Spanish Language Arts teachers moved in with us).

I am also curious about what happens next.  Will I be a classroom teacher for the rest of my life? This is what I’m trying to figure this out, as I’m also navigating the halls of my high school (both literally and figuratively).

This should be fun!