Must Teachers be Passionate? #sol14

Slice of Life is sponsored on Tuesdays by Two Writing Teachers. For the month of March my students are posting a slice each day on their blogs and I am joining them.
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I’ve been doing a lot of pondering lately.  The topic of most of my thinking has been teacher passion.  This morning I finally shared my questions on Twitter.

I work with a lot of amazing, passionate educators every day at HTHS.  I’m also lucky to have a PLN full of teachers who are passionate and engaged, always seeking new information and honing their craft.  But I  recognize that passion can be consuming.  It means lost sleep and bringing work home with you.  It means you can’t (or don’t) leave your job at the office.  It means spending money and time on conferences, books, journals, professional development.  Granted, if you are passionate about a subject it doesn’t always feel like work.  But it still takes a lot out of you.

My question is, should we expect all teachers to be passionate?  Is that fair?  Or is it ok for a teacher to be in it for the convenient schedule, steady paycheck, and reliable hours? Plenty of teachers enter the classroom for those reasons and do a fine job. And the expectation for most careers seems to be that you go in from 9-5, do your job, and come home.  Passion not necessary.

Business Journal recently looked at passion in the workplace and  discovered that passion is rare in more careers and workplaces.

Two recent discoveries by The Gallup Organization offer insights into why passion is rare in U.S. workplaces:

  • 55% of the U.S. working population is not engaged at work.
  • 16% of the U.S. working population is actively disengaged

 

This pushed my thinking a bit more. Then my friend Teresa and I started talking.

That’s where I get stuck. Part of me feels that it isn’t fair to expect all teachers to be passionate about their career or current position.  But if we aren’t passionate, don’t our students suffer?  If my job performance suffers as a result of not being engaged at my 9-5 job, who is affected?  My company and I will have to deal with the ramifications, but odds are no one else will.  But if a teacher is not engaged and passionate about their subject area or their job, then their students are the first to suffer the consequences.

So what should expectations be?  Is it ok for teaching to be a way to pass the time, get a paycheck, and get to retirement?  Or should we demand that our teachers are passionate about something related to their job? That could be a passion for the subject matter they teach, or a passion for learning, or a passion for fostering the best in kids, as long as the passion is related to their job. Is that the answer?

I’m not sure what the answer is, because teaching is an all-consuming job, whether you are passionate about the career or just showing up everyday.  You won’t leave work at the office, you won’t be able to stay distanced from the students, and you will never be able to walk away unscathed.  Even if you aren’t passionate, it will have a deep and lasting impact on you.  And you can certainly teach students without being passionate, provided you are engaged in the day-to-day activities in your classroom.  When we demand passion, are we demanding too much?

Could passion lead to burnout?  Or does it prevent burnout?  My friend Tony Keefer used the word “play” to describe what teachers can do to spark passion and I love that.  You can play in a subject area, in the field, in reading, in writing, and beyond.  And play is equated with fun, so that’s good!

One of my experiences in school today pushed me to think further about this topic.  My awesome student-teacher set up a Skype call today for my seniors, who were able to speak with a local news anchor about her life in the industry.  The anchor was so passionate about her job but she made it very clear that it’s a 24/7 job, which reminded me a lot of teaching.  She said you are always “on” and always representing your company.  As a teachers, we can certainly relate!  She pointed out that if you don’t enjoy the job and you aren’t engaged and passionate, then you wouldn’t make it.  Should teaching be the same way?  Maybe it’s the responsibility of administrators to filter out teachers who are not passionate, to make sure they don’t end up stuck in a career path that they despise to the detriment of students.

All of these questions are still swirling about in my mind.  I’m not sure there is an answer, but it’s fascinating to think about.  I’ve been coming back to this question of passion since I wrote my post “You’re Too Smart to be a Teacher”.  That post inspired conversations about teaching as a backup career and way to get by until something better came along and whether that was fair to students and colleagues.  I won’t pretend I haven’t met teachers like that in the past, so I know they are out there.  But that might be true in all careers, so is it fair to expect something above and beyond that in teaching?

What do you think?
 

Check out my friend Katherine’s response to my pondering, too!

Why Is the Only Way Up to Go Out?

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I tweeted this message out the other night and the response was tremendous.  I began teaching in 2005 and many of my friends have already left the classroom.  Almost all of them are still in education, but they are no longer teachers.  My friends are principals, vice-principals, supervisors, coaches, curriculum coordinators, professional development coordinators, and every other title in the education world.  Many of them were phenomenal teachers and it saddens me to know that they are no longer bringing that enthusiasm and expertise to students.  That’s part of the reason I have no interest in that world.  It’s not that I don’t want to take on a leadership position…..I would love that!  But there are few options for teachers who want to remain in the classroom.

It made me feel better to learn that I am not the only teacher who does not plan to enter administration in the near future (or ever, at this point). During the conversation on Twitter it became clear that talented teachers  crave leadership positions.  So then why is it that the only way to move into a leadership position in education is to move out of the classroom? The Atlantic took on this issue a few days ago in “Great Teachers Don’t Always Want to Become Principals“.

I think that part of the reason teachers are not given the same respect as other careers is because many members of the general public view it as a stop-gap.  There are two choices, in their eyes: if you are a great teacher then you teach for a few years (ideally under 10 years) and move into administration, or if you are a bad teacher you stay in the classroom.  I can’t tell you how often I am asked when I plan to get an administrative position and when I respond with “never”, people just stare at me. “But you are a good teacher!” they often say.  That means I shouldn’t stay in the classroom?

And I’m not knocking those who do move into administration!  All of my friends are fantastic at their new jobs, too.  I just hate that the only way to take on a leadership role is through that type of position, the one that removes you from the classroom.

I’ve already completed by National Board Certification but most districts don’t even treat that as equivalent to a masters degree, so there aren’t a lot of leadership opportunities available.  There are some national opportunities, but most of them involve leaving the classroom for a sabbatical at the least and forever in some cases.  That’s not what I am interested in.  I want to stay in the classroom and continue working with kids!

How can we allow teachers to take on leadership roles (not necessarily entirely new positions) and still keep good teachers in the classroom?  I know of some districts that create hybrid positions and I think that’s a great idea.  Teachers spend part of their day in the classroom, teaching their students, and the other part of the day running professional development and mentoring other teachers.  To me, that seems perfect.  It allows new teachers to learn from master teachers while also keeping those teachers in the classroom part-time.  Lots of districts have professional development coordinators who are solely administrators but I’d love to see those become hybrid positions.  Spend the morning teaching (the same type of classes you would normally teach, with consistent kids) and the afternoon planning PD, running PD sessions, and working with other teachers.

I know if that was an option I’d gladly take it at some point.  But I can’t see myself leaving the classroom completely, because teaching is my passion.  What about you?  What type of leadership position do you think should exist for teachers who want to stay in the classroom?

Help My Students Wreck This Book!

I just created a request for my classroom: Help My Students Wreck This Book!

If you chip in to help my students, you’ll get awesome photos and our heartfelt thanks.  I am working with two of my colleagues in the district to establish a “Wellness Day” for our incoming freshmen.  Keri Smith’s “Wreck This Book” will play a vital role in helping our students learn that making mistakes is ok and often encouraged!

Your support would mean so much to us.  And you can use code DREAMS to have your donation matched!

 

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Is It the Teacher or the System?

No doubt you have seen this week’s viral video of high school student Jeff Bliss demanding an end to what he calls “packet teaching.”  I don’t disagree with Mr. Bliss’ sentiment and I sincerely hope he does create change.  I hope people continue to talk about education and what students deserve long after the furor has died down. But I do have a problem with how the media has attacked the teacher seen in the video.

Do we blame the teacher or the system? That’s the question we need to focus on.

The media and most comments on news websites are attacking the teacher for being a paper-pusher, an awful teacher, and much worse.  The vitriol is cruel and beyond the pale. But how do we know this specific teacher made the packets that she handed out?  How do we know she had a choice in the matter? We don’t, and that’s a problem.  I refuse to crucify a singular person for what may be a much larger problem over which she has no control.

Right now we have Jeff Bliss’ side of the story, and a 90-second long clip of his speech during class.  We do not have information from the teacher and if she expects to continue teaching in any capacity I imagine we will never hear from her.  However, a little digging will show that she has a social media presence devoted to her classes. (I won’t link to her here because I don’t want to contribute to her name being brought up any more, as the district is not using it in their statements).

She has a Pinterest page devoted to resources students can use, a Youtube page linking to Crash Course videos and other content for her classes, a Twitter account, and a few other history-based resources where she interacts with students.  Obviously, this does not mean she is a wonderful teacher, but it does seem to me  that she is passionate about her job.  Those social media sites are most likely culled together outside of school hours as most schools block them, so she is devoting time outside of the 9-3 of classes to her profession.  It seems to show dedication to her students and passion about the subject matter she teaches.  And I have a hard time juxtaposing that with the comments I am reading on websites decrying her as the world’s worst teacher, a lazy idiot, and a detriment to society. Again, there’s nothing about a social media presence that guarantees she is a vibrant, engaging teacher. But it does give me pause. If she is a terrible teacher who does nothing but pass out packets, why has the district not addressed that prior to this situation? Does she have positive evaluations? Has she been encouraged and mentored? What is the truth about this situation?

I’ve read too many comments on news websites that say something along the lines of,  “Come on, this is all on the teacher.  It’s not like there are principals out there saying, here, hey you have to devote all of your class time to test prep.  You are required to assemble some packets of prep, pass them out, and have students complete them before the standardized tests.”

I have news for those commenters.  There are many, many districts like that.  Too many.  I have friends who are amazing teachers and are now being handed a packaged curriculum, complete with a script, that they must follow.  They are being forced to skip teaching science and history and instead must hand out test prep packets for math and ELA tests that will decide whether they are “good” or “bad” teachers.  They must administer practice tests in their classes instead of doing PBL or science experiments.  One friend, currently teaching elementary school, just told me that after our state tests next week her school will finally let her teach science and social studies.  Pretty much an entire year’s worth of curriculum in one month.  And this is in a good district, a district that people move into because it is highly-ranked!

They aren’t an anomaly.  Sadly, in our standardized-test obsessed culture they are becoming the norm.  And that is a huge problem.  It’s not the students’ responsibility to fight this and I don’t blame Jeff Bliss for standing up to the person in front of him, the teacher he deals with daily.  But the reaction from the public needs to go way beyond that one teacher.  Where is the investigation into the district as a whole?  Where are the interviews with students talking about the test prep they are forced to do in all classes?  Where are the interviews with parents in other states explaining how their children no longer take music or art classes but instead they take test prep classes in their place?  Where are the interviews with administrators explaining how their schools are  considered failing or no good because the difference between their special ed population and gifted student population scores is too large and now they must force packaged curriculum on their teachers and students in order to satisfy the state or federal government?

“But why don’t they fight back? A good teacher would stand up and refuse to teach like that!” commenters say.  But they do fight back. It’s not just in a way that gets them fired and I can’t begrudge them that.  They fight back by attending meetings, bringing research to their supervisors, talking to parents about getting involved, sharing books and other unpackaged curriculum with students.  They put themselves in the line of fire as much as possible without getting fired.  Are we really asking teachers to get fired in order to prove they are good teachers? Can’t you fight from the inside? Don’t you want those teachers in front of your classroom while they wage a silent war outside the classroom walls? Or would you prefer they get fired? Is that the answer?

That’s the problem. And that’s what I wish we were talking about thanks to Jeff Bliss.  And I’m pretty sure it’s what Jeff Bliss wants us to talk about. Because that’s how we will begin to change things.  Not by focusing on a single situation in a single classroom but instead, focusing on the results of NCLB and the standardized tests being forced on our students and teachers.  By 2015, our students will all be taking the PARCC tests and teachers’ jobs will depend on the results. In NJ, PARCC third-grade assessments will have nine sessions with an estimated eight hours of testing compared to NJ ASK’s five hours and four days. The PARCC assessments in other grades will run approximately nine and half hours compared to about six for NJ ASK. That’s a lot of lost teaching time in just a few grades in one state.  It’s even worse in other places.  The numbers get worse when you add in test prep classes that districts require students to take and the time taken from other content areas in order to prepare students.

So yes, Jeff Bliss has every right to confront his teacher and demand a better education.  But the adults reading the articles, writing editorials, and speaking on 24-hour news channels about the situation have a responsibility to dig even deeper.  One teacher in one school is not the problem.  Administrators and districts who demand “packet teaching” are the problem. And that’s what we need to be talking about.  We need to put the spotlight on the decision-makers who choose the curriculum teachers are told to teach with. We need to demand that politicians stand up for our students instead of making money for Pearson and other testing companies.  I am grateful to Jeff Bliss for showing the world what testing culture has done to many of our schools. I just hope that parents and taxpayers start to see beyond that classroom and look at the bigger picture.  Because I don’t think Jeff Bliss is speaking about one situation in one class.  He wants to change the paradigm and we all have to stand up in order for that to happen.

Why I Stay

A few weeks ago, my friend Beth Shaum asked  if I would share why I stay in the classroom, despite the current teaching climate and  teachers leaving in droves. I kept thinking about it and drafting a response, but eventually the email fell  into the abyss of my inbox and I was swept up in taking care of my husband, who was having surgery at the same time.  I never did get my response to her.  But that’s ok.

Beth didn’t need my response, because she received so many beautiful photos and reasons.  She shared her final video this weekend and it’s something that every American needs see.  Teachers, from all over the country, teaching everything from elementary school to high school, share deep and heartfelt reasons for remaining in a profession that’s slowly becoming one of the most negative careers one can choose.

Over the weekend, I shared why I became a teacher, despite being told I was wasting my potential by doing so.

But today I want to share why I stay.

Despite the vitriol.

Despite the standardized tests.

Despite the unions.

Despite the budget cuts.

Despite the mandates.

Despite the disrespect.

Despite the other options.

I stay because what I do matters and it makes a difference.

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I work hard to ignite a passion for reading in my students.  I introduce them to tools they can use after my class to continue reading and finding books.  Sometimes, years later, they contact me to talk about books. They are engaged.  That’s why I stay.

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I try to make writing fun and authentic.  Blogging, poetry, challenges– anything that provides an audience beyond me.  And now I have a classroom full of bloggers, some of whom are reaching out to other bloggers. They are writers. That’s why I stay.

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I create readers.  I create writers.  And there is no job in the world that can make me happier.  I owe my students a thanks for being so awesome.  They are wonderful people and citizens. That’s why I stay.

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Me and some students in central Mexico

I travel and share information about my students with children in other places.  And I bring back ideas and information for my students, who then make connections between their lives and the lives others are leading across the globe. Those connections will make them better global citizens. That’s why I stay.

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Monarch butterflies at the El Rosario eco-preserve in Michoacan, Mexico

I am a reader, a writer, and a citizen scientist.  I want to share my love of nature and science with my students and show them that anyone can participate in science, even if they don’t choose science as a career.  That’s why I stay.

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Watching the Newbery awards announcement with my 6th graders a few years ago.

I am a life-long learner. I love getting students excited about learning because I am excited about learning.  And when they leap out of their seats or squee in excitement I can’t help but get excited, too. That’s why stay.

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Donations for the children’s hospital– Valentines put together by middle schoolers.

The world is a big place and not everyone is as blessed as my students.  Everyone needs to reach out a hand to help those around them.  As a teacher, I can bring those opportunities to my students and help them become compassionate leaders.  That’s why I stay.

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A book can change a child’s life.  With a classroom library and the wide range of books I am always reading, I can help students find that special book.  That’s why I stay.

Not because of the tests. Or the mandates. Or the races to the top. Or the children not left behind. Not because of the curriculum. Or the meetings.  Or the time spent at home preparing lessons and grading papers.

“In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” Baba Dioum

That’s why I stay.

Because of the books. Because of the writing. Because of the changes I see my students leading the world towards.

Because I believe in my students.

Teaching isn’t perfect.  It isn’t fun everyday and sometimes you just want to give up.  But in the words of the Lorax, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”.  I decided a long time ago to be that someone.

“You’re Too Smart to be a Teacher!”

I’m sure this post will make some people mad, but I had strong feelings about assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education Jal Mehta’s op-ed published by The New York Times today.  I don’t agree with most of what he said, but this part struck a chord with me:

In the nations that lead the international rankings — Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Finland, Canada — teachers are drawn from the top third of college graduates, rather than the bottom 60 percent as is the case in the United States. Training in these countries is more rigorous, more tied to classroom practice and more often financed by the government than in America. There are also many fewer teacher-training institutions, with much higher standards. (Finland, a perennial leader in the P.I.S.A. rankings, has eight universities that train teachers; the United States has more than 1,200.)

There are brilliant people out there teaching right now.  I know because many of them are my friends.  I teach with amazing and smart colleagues.  My Twitter PLN teaches me something new everyday and forces me to reflect on my own teaching.  There are also some people who have no business being in the front of a classroom. I know some of them, too.

But too many of our brightest minds don’t even consider going into teaching.

I’m not saying this because I read statistics or talked to someone who did research.  I’m saying it because I lived it.  And I see it everyday with my students.  Teaching isn’t seen as a viable, worthwhile option for our brightest minds and that’s a terrible reflection of the value placed on teaching in this country.

I graduated in 2001 from High Technology High School.  My classmates were all brilliant, the top students in our county, and I count among my friends numerous engineers, doctors, lawyers, scientists, and CEOs.  One friend wrote a best-selling science book.  Another founded a rival to PayPal.  Many friends have worked for Google, Apple, and other top companies.  They write best-selling apps and are involved in world-changing research. They work in labs at Princeton, MIT, Harvard, and Yale.  They write code for Google and Mozilla.  They are the minds behind start-ups and tech giants.

But you know what my friends and classmates aren’t doing?  Teaching.  I can count on one hand those of us who went into teaching K-12 after college.  And that’s looking at multiple graduating classes.  When I decided to go into teaching, people looked at me and said, “But why?  You’re so smart!”.  As if you can’t be intelligent and want to go into teaching. Even today, when old friends learn that I am a teacher, they tilt their head and look at me as if I made a mistake.  They can’t understand why someone “so smart and with so many options” would decide to teach. Then they ask when I will go into administration.  When I explain I love the classroom and have no desire to enter administration, they shake their heads.  Obviously, I am not as intelligent as they thought I was.

It’s no different today. Looking at my current students, I have two or three  who have mentioned even a passing interest in teaching as a career.  And they’ve all told me that their parents are shocked to hear they would consider going into teaching when they “could do anything they want”!

In other countries, teaching is a competitive field.  Only the top third of college students are able to enter teaching programs in many of the countries exalted by the US for providing a top-tier education, such as Finland.  Teacher training courses are rigorous and well-respected.  A small number of colleges and universities are able to grant teaching licenses and teachers continue their training after entering the field, supported by their schools, districts, and the nation as a whole.  While many of these countries are smaller and more homogenous than the US, making the classroom much different from ours, that doesn’t change the respect given to teachers by those nations. And that respect starts when someone enters the teaching field as a university student.  It’s difficult to get into teaching, so you must be great if you make into the major, graduate, and get a job.  The United States is, unfortunately, very different.

Why aren’t our top students becoming teachers?  Obviously not every brilliant person is cut out to be a teacher.  All you have to do is sit in on a few college classes to see that.  But there are many intelligent people out there who would make fabulous teachers and are not entering the profession.  And I think the reason our top students discount teaching is because our teachers are seen as disposable. The public and politicians spit vitriol blaming teachers for everything from student behavior to the downfall of our country.  Teachers aren’t trusted to make decisions about their own classes and instead administrators and corporations hand down scripted curriculums.  Reformers like Michelle Rhee, who have barely any training or teaching experience, spend their days telling us how to teach.

Stop.  Just stop.  Start treating teachers like professionals– like engineers, doctors, lawyers, CEOs, actuaries, scientists–and we will attract more people to teaching.  When more people are attracted to teaching as a career, universities can develop more rigorous teacher education programs.  And teaching can stop being a back-up career for the lowest 60% of college students. Far too many people in the US think that teaching is an easy career, one to go into if you can’t decide what else to do. I have  too many acquaintances who went into teaching because they thought it would be easy or they wanted a job they could do for a few years before getting married.  The requirements for becoming an education major or doing alternate route are much lower in teaching than in many other professions. Do you know what I had to do to enter the highly-respected teacher education program at my university?  Fill out a sheet of paper, have a 2.75 GPA, show proof of a Mantoux test, and pass the Praxis I.  My friends in engineering and science majors had higher GPA requirements and more pre-requisites.

Who on earth would go into teaching today, with the vitriol and hatred spewed at teachers? Certainly not many college-bound students with other options. And those at the top of their class have lots of other options. Hmmm….study business and be respected or study education and spend the next twenty years being cursed and blamed for everything wrong with this country? Sounds like an easy decision to me.

We need to change how teachers are viewed. Obviously there are many amazing teachers out there. I know lots of them. But we need even more. And we need to make sure education isn’t a last-choice major for anyone. If it is, they should be weeded out instead of thrown in front of kids. (*ahem* Teach For America, etc *ahem*). Teaching is a profession, it’s what teachers are. It’s not just something we do. So it’s time to raise the bar.

We need to move away from the Praxis and other one-time tests.  In order to earn certification, teachers should be reflecting and improving constantly.  One way to do this is through a portfolio-based requirement. That’s why I love National Board Certification. Unlike the Praxis exam (pretty much the only requirement in some states), National Board is reflective, difficult, and empowering. Something like National Board certification should be required of all teachers within the first few years of teaching. And the process should start in college, just like it does for other well-respected professions.  Take engineering, for example.  Engineers are expected to attain their PE, or Professional Engineers Certificate.  Many employers in industry and government require licensure in order to advance to senior engineering positions. It’s a years-long process:

The Licensure Process:
1. Earn an engineering degree.
2. Pass the F.E. Examination. (8-hour exam)
3. Gain engineering employment experience. (All states require that candidates complete four years of qualifying engineering experience, under the supervision of a professional engineer.)
4. Pass the P.E. Examination. (8-hour exam)

Engineers are expected to pass two exams and complete four years of work under a mentor before becoming certified.  They are made aware of this in college and begin with internships before graduation. Why aren’t teachers required to do something similar?  Instituting a process like this would require districts, states, and the federal government to provide teachers with more support, more time to collaborate, and more professional development.  You may not agree with it, but the lack of requirements for teaching and the abundance of teacher education programs make the general public see teaching as a career anyone can do.  There’s no challenge in getting certified, as long as you don’t have a criminal record, and it’s a career that anyone can enter.  That needs to change.

Great teachers are passionate.  They love their teaching material or content area.  They are life-long learners and model that for their students.  They read.  They write.  They collaborate.  They are patient. They are kind.  They are the utmost professionals.  But they are treated as inferior and worthless.  “I can be a teacher! It seems like such a nice gig,” is a refrain I’ve heard all to often from those not in education.  They think because they showed someone in their office how to print from the computer or how to use the new Keurig that they can teach a room full of high schoolers.  Or even worse, “I went to school. I had teachers from kindergarten til twelfth grade.  I learned how to teach.” Who needs to study education, right?  Teachers are little more than babysitters in the eyes of too many.

Raise the bar.  Make the education major more like pre-med, engineering, or most hard science degrees.  Require a higher GPA to enter the program.  Institute pre-requisites.  Require education majors to double-major or minor in a subject-area  or child-development. Send students into the field more often and for longer periods of time. When they enter the field, new teachers should be mentored by great teachers for more than just their first year.  Districts should provide more opportunities for authentic professional development.  Teachers should be given more autonomy and celebrated when they and their students succeed (and success should not equal scores on a standardized test).  High-achieving schools and teachers should serve as models.  Pay teachers like the professionals they are.  Not just a living wage, but a respectable wage.  This will take money.  But it’s about time we made education a priority, rather than just a soundbite.

Raise the bar, raise the profession, and raise each other up in the eyes of the public.

When teachers are seen as professionals, it will be a more attractive career choice for the brightest minds.  And a larger pool of applicants, especially talented applicants, can only help students in the classroom.  Choosing to teach shouldn’t be seen as a waste of potential.  It should be the most respected decision one can make.

Our children deserve the best, so we need to attract the best to the classroom and keep them there.  Stop telling me I made a mistake and instead ask me about a day in my classroom.  Stop telling your son or daughter that choosing to teach will be a waste of their talent and instead encourage them to make a difference.  Stop encouraging great teachers to leave the classroom and enter administration, as if teaching is beneath them.

There’s no such thing as being too smart to teach.  Start respecting me and my colleagues.  Start treating us like the professionals we are.  Start making a difference.

More Reading, More Writing, More Engaged Citizens of the World.

Cum hoc non propter hoc.

Causation does not equal correlation, especially when it comes to children and test results.  In today’s  NY Daily News, Robert Pondiscio, a former fifth-grade teacher at Public School 277 in the South Bronx and now the executive director of CitizenshipFirst, lauds the NYC Education department for “… abandoning the literacy curriculum used to teach a generation of our children to read”.  In the shift to the Common Core, he says the NYC Dept of Ed is leaving behind the balanced literacy approach of Lucy Calkins and the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, which he says has done a disservice to students.  Having taught at a Project school here in NJ and at non-Project schools, I beg to differ.

I began my teaching career in a 3rd grade heterogeneously-grouped class that used Lucy Calkins’ methods.  I attended training workshops, Saturday reunions at the Project, and read every piece of material I could get my hands on.  And I watched those third-graders blossom as readers and writers.  It was hard to facilitate the workshop and took a lot out of me as a teacher, but I was a better teacher for it. I was constantly reading and writing alongside my students, pushing them to reach higher and higher.  While they may have started by reading books that were “just right”, my mentor and I were always pushing them to follow the  reading ladder, as Teri Lesesne shows us.   Students did not stay stuck on a lower level, never moving forward, as Pondiscio insinuates in his op-ed.  That’s not the point of the method! The students receive individual attention, conferences, and book recommendations.  They read constantly, both in and out of class.  In the year that I spent with those third graders, they grew into stronger readers and writers, as evidenced by their assessment scores.

When I moved to my own classroom and started teaching sixth grade, I brought the balanced literacy approach with me.  Today, I teach high school in a co-taught humanities class (alongside the world history teacher).  I continue to use a balanced literacy approach, modified for my high school students and schedule.  And guess what?  It still works.  Which is why I am baffled by Mr. Pondiscio’s claims.

He says,

What is wrong with balanced literacy? It assumes you build readers by encouraging kids to find books they love and read a lot. But over the years, that approach has consistently and systematically failed. Only 23% of our eighth-graders score “proficient” or higher on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a figure that hasn’t budged in a decade.

Before I moved to my current job, I taught at an average middle school in suburbia.  It wasn’t a Project school, but I used the same methods and ideas with my sixth graders at that time.  I still attended Saturday Reunions, on my own time, and brought new ideas and methods back to my classes.  And once again, I watched my students grow into readers and writers. Like Pondiscio’s students, many of mine came to me without background knowledge and needing scaffolding.  Over 80% admitted to being nonreaders on my annual first day survey. So we read.  A lot.  Just like I do with my students in high school.  They read their independent novels, where I challenged them with Donalyn Miller’s 40-book challenge.  We read shared texts in class, both whole class novels and shorter pieces.  And we used Kelly Gallagher’s Article of the Week to share great informational pieces at least once per week.  I expected my students to read and they did.  I expected them to improve as readers and writers, and they did.  I had the test scores to prove it.  Again, these were classes that were grouped heterogeneously and included students from all kinds of economic backgrounds. High expectations yielded higher results.

How does Mr. Pondiscio’s statement relate to balanced literacy? Where is the evidence that there is a connection between the balanced literacy approach and the percentage of eighth-graders who score proficient and higher? Causation does not equal correlation.  My guess is that poverty and other issues outside the classroom contribute a great deal to those numbers.  Do we know what the passing rate would be if the students were not being encouraged to read and write on a daily basis? Of course not.  But we do know that Mr. Pondiscio taught at a school where 89% of students receive free and reduced lunch.    Noted researcher Stephen Krashen has been telling administrators for years that our crisis is not literacy, but poverty.   As Mr. Pondiscio points out in his op-ed, students who come from poverty typically don’t have access to books, museums, and parents who stay home with them.  So if, as Krashen says in his research, “more access leads to more reading, and if more reading leads to better reading, writing, spelling, grammar, and a larger vocabulary (Krashen 2004),” then we need to flood students with books and reading material at school.  And that’s exactly what a balanced literacy approach does.

We do build readers by encouraging them to find books they love and read a lot.  And unlike Mr. Pondoscio, I can share examples with you.  Take this email that I received a few weeks ago from a former student.  Now in high school, she tracked me down via this blog and sent me an email that still has me on cloud nine:

 I don’t know if you remember me but I thought I should contact you because I owe you a thanks. Before having you as a teacher, I wasn’t a fan of books or reading, but you changed that for me. I was able to find my love for books in your class. When you first handed out that reading packet, where we were challenged to complete 40 books by the end of the school year, I was horrified. When the end of the year came and I saw that 38 of those boxes were completed, I felt so accomplished, and to know I enjoyed most of those books was an even greater feeling. It was like I discovered something new about myself. I have a learning disability that is associated with reading so to have flipped my view on reading like that gave me a lot of self confidence, since it was such a difficulty before. I am so thankful to you for helping me discover my love for books, which in the long run helped to minimize my disability. You always encouraged us to read what we would enjoy…

Tell me that a balanced literacy approach doesn’t work and I’ll show you 200 more survey responses, emails, and notes from students that show you it does.  Students who now score higher on their SATs/ACTs, receive higher grades in all of their classes, and are more knowledgeable about the world they live in.

That student is still a reader, so I asked her what her favorite book is (seeing as tastes change after middle school!).  What she said simultaneously broke my heart and made my heart sing:

It’s so hard to pick a favorite book when there are so many good ones out there! I guess if I had to pick I would say that Too Kill a Mockingbird and Penny from Heaven are tied for first. I heard a lot of good things about To Kill a Mockingbird, but my brother and sister told me they hated it for the reason that in high school their teachers made them dissect every detail of the book to the point where the sight of the book made them sick. I wanted to read the book on my own, before I could have the chance to hate it. I needed to read this classic on my own without bias so in the seventh grade, I did. It turned out to be a very great favorite of mine.

Stop buying programs.  Stop buying novel comprehension kits, scripted texts, and items like Accelerated Reader.  They do not work.  They aren’t real.  Instead, they create a false sense of security because students can game the system and “pass” an assessment.  An assessment that looks nothing like the real world.  I asked this student about her favorite book because I wanted to know if she still read.  After leaving my class, students moved on to a new building where they were forced to use Accelerated Reader.  Unfortunately, I’ve shared my frustrations with AR (and similar programs) many times in the past.  Student after student would come back to me and say they were only allowed to read AR books, so they just stopped reading.  We need to stop this.

Mr. Pondiscio is right:  “The more children know, the more they can read with genuine comprehension.”  So let’s give them more knowledge.  Surround them with books, newspapers, read alouds, magazines, websites, technology, and fabulous teachers.  No one method is everything.  Mr. Pondiscio talks about E.D. Hirch’s early-childhood curriculum, one of the many recommended by the Dept of Ed, and says, “Its central premise is that an essential goal of reading instruction must be to ensure that all students — and disadvantaged kids most specifically — are explicitly taught the knowledge and vocabulary that speakers and writers assume they know.”

Exactly.  And we don’t do that when we hand teachers a curriculum and standardize education.  Excellent teachers know that children get smarter when they are all provided with the opportunity to learn more and become more knowledgeable.  So we need ELA and content area teachers working together to flood all students.  That means dropping the standardization and being flexible.  Taking the time to read one more chapter in that great read aloud because it sparked a cool research project for the class, or debating an article in the newspaper because the students have strong feelings about the topic, or throwing out the lesson plan because an issue in a popular novel or nonfiction text has inspired the students to write letters to a local politician.  Students need real-world experiences and real audiences.  They need to read like adults read, talk and write about books the way educated adults do, seek out more information the way your or I might, and write like they will when they are adults.  And we get them there by encouraging them read and write as much as possible in school.

And that’s what I see when teachers use a balanced literacy approach.  It’s a balance between choice and shared reading using authentic texts, not some piece created for a textbook company to use.  As Mr. Pondicio says, “…stops treating reading comprehension as a skill to be taught and sees it as a reflection of everything a child learns about the world.”  Exactly, sir.  More authentic reading. More authentic writing.  And the result? Smarter, more engaged citizens of the world.

Why Can’t We Be Friends? The Common Core, Informational Text, and Literature

summer reading

summer reading (Photo credit: ruminatrix)

This is a blog post I have been meaning to write for months.  But I am finally sitting down to write it after reading the Telegraph’s “Catcher in the Rye dropped from US school curriculum“, an article that went viral this weekend.  As I read the article, I couldn’t help but think that it was alarmist and extreme.  For those who haven’t read it, the article claims that “Schools in America are to drop classic books such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and JD Salinger‘s Catcher in the Rye from their curriculum in favour of ‘informational texts’.”  It goes on to say that classrooms will no longer read literature and instead students will be required to read “insulation manuals and plant inventories in US classrooms by 2014.”.

 

I wish that some of these reporters who write about the Common Core would actually talk to teachers who are implementing the standards.  Standards are not curriculum, despite headlines that like to insinuate that those words are interchangeable.  Standards tell me, the teacher, where my students should end up.  I decide what our journey will look like.  I decide how far we will meander down one fork before choosing a different direction.  I decide when we sit and spend a while enjoying the scenery.  And my path may not look like the path the teacher down the hall, across the street, or in another state takes.  But as long as the destination is the same, we have the freedom to make our own choices.

 

I’m not afraid of the Common Core State Standards. I admit I was skeptical at first.  I definitely don’t support the testing that will be developed to assess the implementation of the standards.  But I do support the standards.  Are they perfect?  Not at all.  But they are a great place to start.  As teachers, we need to lead from the floor and take charge.  We need to take ownership of the standards and their implementation.

 

The misinformation out there about Common Core scares me and the attempt by some districts (and publishers) to use it as an excuse to implement a scripted curriculum worries me. Nowhere in the document adopted by 46 states is a prescribed list of books assigned.  Nowhere in the standards is there a script teachers must follow.  The most-maligned aspect of the standards is the call for students to read 70% nonfiction/informational text by 12th grade.  But what many administrators neglect is that that footnote (which should be in huge, bold letters) reminds teachers that the percentage is for all in-school reading and not just the reading done in English classes.  By senior year, most of our students are reading informational text the majority of the school day. A typical student spends 45 minutes in English class every day.  Over the course of the day they sit in an average of seven 45 minute classes.  That means that students in high school are spending about 14% of their school day in a class where fiction is read.  Sadly, many content area teachers, especially at the secondary level, don’t include fiction in their classes.  “That’s for the English teacher to do!  I have to cover my own curriculum!” is the typical explanation. So at this moment, many students are reading fiction less than 30% of their day!

 

14% of their school day.  That’s it. So I’m thrilled that the Common Core asks that 30% of what students read is fiction!  As for the 70% informational text?  It’s about time!

 

Have you looked at a textbook recently?  Most of them are dreadful.  I can’t tell you how dry and dull they are, not to mention riddled with errors.  Our students should be reading real-life informational text in their content area classes.  I want to see my students reading field guides in biology!  I want them to analyze journal articles and primary documents in history!  Why shouldn’t they read biographies of mathematicians in geometry or instruction manuals in CAD class?  There is no textbook in life, so they should be reading and interacting with these texts beginning in school.

 

And there is a place for literary nonfiction in the English classroom, too.  Does it need to push fiction out of the picture? Absolutely not.  But it should be offered as a choice.  Many of my students actually prefer nonfiction and rarely have a chance to see it in school.  But as English teachers we have the opportunity to reach across the aisle and facilitate interdisciplinary work with our colleagues in the content areas, to the benefit of our students.  As I am constantly telling my students, no one can claim that they are “just an engineer” who will never read and write as a professional.  Look at the job ads in any newspaper or online- almost all of them, regardless of occupation, require strong communication skills.  The world is not put into neat little boxes like our subject areas are.  The real world  is interdisciplinary!  A student just told me that she is working with a college engineering professor this semester and her first job?  Working alongside him reading and writing reports.  As an engineer!

 

Our students need to be prepared to the real world, for jobs that don’t even exist yet.  That means we need to bring the real world to them as often as possible.  The real world is not in a textbook.  The world is in Katherine Boo‘s Behind the Beautiful Forevers and David McCullough‘s The Johnstown Flood.  It’s in Dave Eggers‘ Zeitoun or Sue Halpern’s Four Wings and  a Prayer.  If the Common Core can help some districts move away from textbooks and into newspapers and literary nonfiction then I am all for it!

 

But for me, in my classroom? I’ve embraced the standards. My students are reading and writing more than ever before and I actually have the opportunity to add more literature to my curriculum. How? By working with my colleagues across disciplines to implement the reading and writing standards my students receive more instruction in informational text and I have more time in English! And I’m bringing the real world applications of the Common Core to my students as often as possible.  Most recently, I have begun interviewing authors about their experiences with STEM in the arts.  Full STEaM Ahead will allow me to bring these authors and their experiences to my students, who will see that being an author and being a scientist aren’t mutually exclusive.

 

We need to work with our colleagues in all disciplines in order to better serve our students.

 

What I have learned so far is that teachers can implement much of the Common Core just by bringing newspapers into the classroom, in any subject area.  My students read the paper every day and write in response to what they read.  They are surrounded by informational text mentors as I work with my history co-teacher, and then we draw connections between current events, the literature we read, and the information they study in history.  It’s truly a multidisciplinary approach and the students enjoy it!  The improvement in their reading and writing skills in just a few months is tremendous (and measurable!).  Even better?  They are reading more!  They pick up the newspaper and can think critically about the issue affecting their world.  Then they apply that same thinking to literature.  They also increase their background knowledge, very much like Kelly Gallagher has done with his Article of the Week, which enhances the reading they do, whether it is fiction or nonfiction. (To see what Jon and I are doing in the classroom, check out our weekly column on the NYTimes Learning Network.  Learn more about how we implemented it.)

 

You know what else?  I see more room for independent reading in the Common Core Standards.  I’m actually adding fiction to my English I class because we cover so much NF alongside history.  And I love sharing contemporary literature- YA and adult- with my students in 9th and 12th grade.  Now, thanks to the interdisciplinary call in the Common Core, I have an excuse to bring more of those books into my classroom.  Just take a look the summer reading suggestions my freshmen students receive.

 

The alarmist article did bring up one good point.  It’s about time teachers and districts started reevaluating the canon literature foisted upon every student.  Does every seventeen-year old need to read Catcher in the Rye? Or are there other, better books out there now?  Maybe every student isn’t ready for canon literature in high school.  So let’s get them ready by bringing them to the table and meeting them halfway.  Find what they like to read.  Offer them YA and NF, allow them some form of choice.  And get them reading!  There will be time for canon later. Right now, we need to get them to read.  As Penny Kittle says, “It’s not rigorous if they are not reading it”. So find what they like and bring that into the classroom! The standards give me more freedom to bring in newspapers and magazines, nonfiction books about math and mechanics, science and hobbies.  And those books can ladder to more rigorous texts.  And so on.

 

The standards give me the freedom to decide how I get my students ready.   I’ve found room for lots of choice. The examplar texts are just examples. They are not mandated. I’m sure there are districts who have decided to mandate them, but that’s a battle we need to fight as teachers.  Stand up to your administrators and set them straight!

 

Listen to me.  I am a teacher on the ground who is implementing the Common Core Standards every day.  Can we get one thing straight?  Nowhere does the Common Core state that literature must be removed from the classroom. If anyone is telling you, the teacher, that you can’t teach literature then you need to get out your copy of the Common Core and explain that they are wrong.  Don’t misunderstand me-there are plenty of districts making bad decisions around the CCSS. But the standards themselves aren’t as bad as these articles make them out to be.  Check out the Uncommon Corps for some real, in-the-field knowledge about bringing more nonfiction into classrooms.  Like me, Marc Aronson, Sue Bartle, Mary Ann Cappiello, Kathleen Odean, Myra Zarnowski think there is a dearth of fabulous nonfiction being shared with our students and they are embracing the call to action for more NF in the classroom.  And it’s about time.

 

There wasn’t a lot I could do, on a daily basis, about NCLB, Race to the Top, or other initiatives driven by lawmakers.  But the Common Core?  That I can drive with my own actions.  We are the ones on the ground, in the trenches, and we will lead with our actions.  We need to empower good teachers. Standards tell me where my kids should end up. I get to decide how we get there.

Introducing……Full STEaM Ahead!

Full STEAM Ahead

As a humanities teacher in a STEM-based school, I frequently hear from students that they “hate English” and “will never need to write papers or do research” when they become engineers or scientists.  After I count to ten, I always list off the many examples of friends and colleagues who work in those fields and are responsible for reading and writing more than they ever imagined back when they were high schoolers.  For the past few months I have been brainstorming ways to show my students that the world isn’t divided into cubicles and that the real world combines math, science, reading, writing, language, health, speaking, listening, social sciences, history, and so much more.

Take me, for example.

I am a reader, writer, teacher, blogger, social media user, therapy dog handler, and citizen scientist.  I wouldn’t be happy if could only work in one field. And in the 21st century, we need to prepare our students to be more than paper-pushers and solitary worker bees.  Another issue I frequently think about is the need for our students to be innovators.  STEM- science, technology, engineering, and mathematics- is the new buzzword for schools around the country.  I love what my colleagues and I do at our school and I think the cross-curricular opportunities we provide our students with are priceless .  My students need to be innovators and thinkers, brave enough to try fail and then try again, over and over. And they need to learn how to fail in school.

For a few months now, I have been working on a new series for the blog.  I am a STEM-loving English teacher who often feels caught between my love of science and my love of literature.  While I have managed to find a job that allows me to embrace both, and hobbies that do the same, I meet far too many students, teachers, and parents who believe that life must be lived within the confines of either/or scenarios.  Either you are a scientist or a writer.  Either you are a linguist or an engineer.  Either you are a mathematician or a reader.  While I know that this could not be farther from the truth, it is still a stereotype I butt heads with on a  regular basis.

That’s when I started reading about STEAM.  I spent a lot of time exploring STEAM-notSTEM and found myself agreeing with almost everything they stand for.  As they say on their website, “creativity enables innovation”.  We need innovators and that’s a skill that needs to be cultivated in our students.  If we want to succeed as a country, we need to encourage and incubate innovators. So what is STEAM?  It’s a call for the addition of a national arts curriculum to the science, technology, engineering, and math focus that is the focus of many educational institutions right now.  The arts are proven to be a key to creativity, which in turn leads to innovation.  According to  STEAM-notSTEM

The future of the US economy rests on its ability to be a leader in the innovation that will be essential in creating the new industries and jobs that will be the heart of our new economy…STEM is based on skills generally using the left half of the brain and thus is logic driven. Much research and data shows that activities like Arts, which uses the right side of the brain supports and fosters creativity, which is essential to innovation. Clearly the combination of superior STEM education combined with Arts education (STEAM) should provide us with the education system that offers us the best chance for regaining the innovation leadership essential to the new economy.

I’m not an artist by any means.  I can barely draw a stick figure, bubble letters leave me frustrated, and my coloring leaves something to be desired.  But I love doodling, sketchnoting, and writing. I completed a NaNoWriMo novel, writing 50,000 words during the month of November.  My art is usually related to writing or reading, with a infrequent Pinterest-inspired craft thrown in the mix.  But that NaNoWriMo novel I wrote last year? It is focused on the migration of the monarch butterfly.  Science informs a lot of my writing and my teaching, and I realized that many of my favorite books also include real science.  This was a eureka moment for me and I had an idea.  Why not reach out to writers who delve into real science in their books and have them share their stories?  Those authors, of books that I would classify as lablit, as this NYTimes articles details, have become experts in a STEM-related topic in order to write the story they needed to tell.

Science and art have not always been relegated to separate corners.  Leonardo Da Vinci and the renowned Persian polymath Omar Khayyám, both of whom I study with my freshman humanities students, were readers, writers, poets, astronomers, inventors, designers, and scientists. . One of Carl Jung’s mythological archetypes was the artist-scientist, for heaven’s sake!  The artist-scientist archetype represents builders, inventors, and dreamers.

Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci, Galleria d...

Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci, Galleria dell’ Accademia, Venice (1485-90) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And according to Scientific American, “Nobel laureates in the sciences are seventeen times likelier than the average scientist to be a painter, twelve times as likely to be a poet, and four times as likely to be a musician.”   It’s time for us to recognize these geniuses and those who are among us today, moving effortlessly between poetry, science, design, math, and much more.

I reached out and a fabulous group of authors agreed to share their experience with STEM as part of my new blog series, Full STEAM Ahead.  It’s time for the STEM world to embrace the arts, and reading and writing are a great way for teachers to bring STEM and STEAM together in the classroom.  The feature will be running weekly, with the first author scheduled to share his story on Thursday.  Eliot Schrefer, author of the National Book Award nominated Endangered (one of my favorite books of the year!) will be sharing how he researched bonobos and spent time studying them while working on his book.  Please be sure to come back on Thursday to read the first entry in the Full STEAM Ahead series here on TheReadingZone!

My NCTE Reflections

It’s been almost a week since I flew home from NCTE and I’m still recovering. NCTE is the best conference I attend all year and it’s a must-not-miss for me. I am reinvigorated, excited, and passionate after meeting with my fellow English teachers and learning from them. This year was the best year of all, because I connected with so many of my Twitter pals and they enriched my conference experience.

Chris and I arrived on Friday afternoon, ready for dinner. Unfortunately, due to the 3 hours time difference, it was only lunch time. (Sidenote- by the time I got used to the time difference, it was time to go home. Can’t wait for NCTE Boston because it’s on the East coast!). Chris and I checked in to the MGM Signature and it was best hotel decision we could have made. The Signature is connected to the MGM Grand, the convention hotel, via moving walkway and it’s about a 5 minute walk. But the Signature has not casino, is quiet, and has it’s own Starbucks that didn’t have a line all weekend. So awesome!

After grabbing a quick lunch, I left Chris to rest and explore while I hit up the exhibit hall and planned the rest of my day. The Southwest flight we arrived on had wifi, so I had made dinner plans with the amazing Chris Lehman and a few other tweeps.  I wanted to get the lay of the land first, so I spent some time wandering the exhibit hall (and picking up books, of course).  Then, I headed to the Mexican restaurant in the hotel and shared a fabulous meal with Chris, Meeno Rami, Franki Sibberson, Jen Vincent, Alyson Beecher, John, and many more.  Fabulous conversation, of course.  It was wonderful to put faces (and voices!) to Tweeps after chatting on Twitter for so long.

Then, it was time for us all to head to the NerdyBookClub party.  Yes, we were some of the only people in Vegas partying it up in a suite where the conversation centered around books.  And it was awesome.

Donalyn addresses the wild Nerdy crowd.

If NCTE is made up of my people, the NerdyBookClub is my tribe.  A room full of introverts, noshing on brownies, talking about books.  I met so many wonderful folks and got to know many of them better.  A huge thank you to Donalyn, Colby, Cindy, and the entire Nerdy-dom for a fabulous, fabulous party.  (At this point, I have to admit that I did sneak off a few times to see if the National Board results were posted yet.  Once a nerd, always a nerd.  At one point, the website went down and I knew the results were being uploaded.  I couldn’t handle finding out the results in the middle of the party, so I headed back to my room.  Plus, my body thought it was 3am at this point!).

The nerdybookclub party!

Can we have a Nerdy conference?  Because the party was seriously awesome.  R.J. Palacio (Wonder) was there, Beck McDowell (This Is Not a Drill), and Jonathan Auxier (Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes).  Jonathan Auxier treated us to a booktalk about Peter Nimble and he did ridiculously awesome yo-yo tricks while talking.  He used to yo-yo professionally!  Needless to say, it was pretty much the best party I have ever been to.  So many Twitter friends were there, I made new friends, and we shared stories about books and connecting our students with books.

I headed back to my room around 3am EST and once I got back, I decided to check my National Board results one more time.  As my phone was loading the web page I was taking out my contacts.  I glanced over and freaked out when I saw that the website looked different.  I squinted, flailed around for my glasses, finally found them, and then read the magic words: “You are a National Board Certified Teacher”!  And that’s how I closed out my first night at NCTE.  Pretty darn awesome!

Saturday was devoted to lots of workshops.  I started the morning off bright and early in the sports betting area of the hotel, where Chris placed a bet on the Rutgers game.  Then, I headed to my first workshop while he settled in to watch the game in the comfy recliners.  My first session was about connecting high school English teachers and first-year compositional teachers.  The presenters were an AP English teacher, a first-year comp professor, and a mutual student. It was a great session and made me wish that more students presented at NCTE.  It was great hearing from all three stakeholders!  I was also happy to hear that college writing teachers do not ban the use of 1st person.  Instead, it’s about the students learning to make choices based on audience, tone, and voice.

After that session I rushed to the Folger Shakespeare session on assessment while teaching Shakespeare’s plays.  I had never made it to a Folger presentation before and I was impressed.  However, I did not get much out of the session that I hadn’t already learned from their fabulous professional books.  I ended up leaving a few minutes early because my phone was dying and needed a charge.

Then I spent some more time in the exhibit hall, where I chatted with lots of publishers and finally met up with Zsofia from Stenhouse.  Zsofia and I have been emailing for a few years and it was a pleasure to finally meet in person. She showed me a few upcoming books, which I will be posting about in the next few weeks.

Of course, I picked up a bunch of books for my classroom and waited on a few author signing lines.  Then I had a fabulous meeting before heading off to the NerdyBookClub session.  First of all, The Eagles (yes, those Eagles- the band) were in soundcheck right on the other side of the wall.  The NerdyBookClub really is made up of rockstars!  The session was awesome and the panelists traveled from table to table, presenting on a variety of topics.  Mindi made my day when she told us about Haikudeck, an amazing Ipad app for presentations.  But all of the presenters were great and I learned so much.  (I was tweeting so much that Chris had to bring my charger downstairs so I could recharge mid-workshop!).  Colby Sharp and Tony Keefer presented on their Nerdy Book Club, Jr. and reminded my how much I loved doing the Mock Newbery with my 6th graders.  I think it’s time for a mock Printz with my high schoolers.  I have ideas….

That night, Chris and I decided to see a little bit of Vegas.  We walked to the Bellagio and watched the fountain show, which was pretty cool.

Bellagio

Paris

Paris Hotel

You know what is not a good idea?  Walking to the Hard Rock Hotel from the Strip.  Everything in Vegas is much farther away than it appears.  Almost two miles later, through some very shady areas, we made it to the Hard Rock.  But we got our meal from the secret menu, so it was awesome.

The famous “Gambler’s Special” at the Hard Rock Hotel

Sunday morning started out bright and early with some Starbucks before Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts’ fabulous session on research and note-taking.  What a breath of fresh air!  I did my student teaching at a TCRWP school and have used lots of their strategies in middle school and high school.  However, it’s been a long time since I was in a room of TCRWP folks and this reminded me how much I love them.  Chris and Kate were amazing and I am still thinking about what they said. Below are some of my tweets from the session.

I had to leave the session early because I needed to get to the exhibit hall to see Eliot Schrefer and Matthew Quick.  I felt so bad leaving the session, but I had promised signed copies to some students (and I needed some for me!).  Thankfully, the session was tweeted all over so I was able to continue following the last few minutes.  And on my way to te exhibit hall I ran into Donalyn Miller and the Paul Hankins, two English idols of mine!  Donalyn is a friend, but I had never had the pleasure of meeting Paul in person until that moment.  Of course, I was also impatient to get to the signings, but luckily no one understands that more than Paul and Donalyn.  So we hugged and chatted before I ran off and made it just in time for my signings!

I spent the rest of Sunday networking in the exhibit hall before spending a fabulous lunch with lots of my tweeps.  I also made sure I was out of the exhibit hall before the publishers started giving away books they didn’t want to pack up and bring home.  My suitcase was already full!

Later that afternoon I spent a wonderful time with Kellie, of Walden Pond Press.  We talked about upcoming books, books in the classroom, and lots more.  Kellie is absolutely fabulous and I am looking forward to chatting with her more at the next conference.

Finally, I ended my conference by popping into the ALAN cocktail party.  Before entering, a bunch of us Nerdy Book Clubbers met up for a photo.  I LOVE this picture and I’m so grateful for this fabulous PLN that has enriched my life.

At the party, I chatted with Mike Mullin and probably scared Seth Rudetsky when I practically ran up to him.  What can I say?  I’m a huge Broadway fan and love all of his work!  I also said my goodbyes and made my way back to the room to pack my last few books.  Next year I am definitely attending ALAN!

Sunday night Chris and I went back out on the Strip and visited the Siren show at Treasure Island, the waterfall at the Wynn, and a few other landmarks.  We picked up a few souvenirs, packed our bags, and took a quick nap before checking out at 4am.  Our flight left right on time at 6am and made it home at 5pm EST.  It was an exhausting weekend but one I would not miss for the world.  I left Vegas feeling invigorated and brimming with ideas, both personal and professional.  I can’t wait to put some of them into action and I look forward to connecting with my PLN even more over the next year.

I guess it’s time to start working on my NCTE proposal for Boston?

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