Posted in Curriculum, ELA, English, Lesson plans, Literature, Reflection, Student-led learning

Chapter 14: Let the Kids Drive

If I could give new teachers just one piece of advice, it would be this:

Let the kids drive.

Yes, you’re the one with the degree in education. Yes, you’re the one who knows the Common Core standards. Yes, you’re the one who’s seen the blueprint for the flavor-of-the-week standardized test. But your kids are the ones who know themselves, and that might be more important. Trust them. Seize the teachable moments, and let the kids drive — the lesson, the unit, even the curriculum if necessary.

Here’s what that looks like in practice: Continue reading “Chapter 14: Let the Kids Drive”

Posted in ELA, Journalism, Reflection

Chapter 7: View from the Sidelines

If someone had told me, two years ago, that I could be happy sitting on the sidelines, watching other journalists work, I would have been convinced that person was hallucinating.

In between teaching gigs, I’ve spent most of the past 30 years in journalism at one level or another. I know the frustration of fruitless investigations, the tedium of crunching crime stats, and the frenetic energy of a newsroom on Election Night. I’ve pored over court records, spent holidays covering crime scenes, and done shots of peppermint schnapps to remove the stench of dead bodies from my sinuses. And I’ve found the profession wildly addictive, despite its myriad drawbacks.

Last time I taught it, I relapsed and ended up back at a newspaper less than two years later — so you can imagine my consternation last spring when my boss asked me to take over our journalism program. Continue reading “Chapter 7: View from the Sidelines”

Posted in Background, Gratuitous literary references

Chapter One: Where It Began

Once upon a time, a young woman loved books. She loved them so much that she decided to be an English teacher when she grew up. She worked hard, got a bachelor’s degree in English education, and landed a job teaching in a St. Louis County school district as soon as she graduated from college.

This district was run by the sort of Muggles who were perfectly normal, thank you very much, and preferred for their teachers to be as strict as Severus Snape, as boring as Cuthbert Binns, and as unimaginative as Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive.

There would be no foolish wand-waving or silly incantations in their classes — which was unfortunate, because this young woman liked foolish wand-waving and silly incantations. She had, after all, grown up exploring the Hundred Acre Wood with her beloved Winnie-the-Pooh plushie, starting wild rumpuses with Max and the Wild Things, running up and down Klickitat Street with Ramona Quimby, matching wits with Gollum, wandering to the far edge of town in search of the Once-ler’s Lerkim, and singing endless scales on the off-chance the Phantom of the Opera might hear her and draw her through the mirror and into his lair for a few voice lessons.

Her head was squarely in the clouds where it belonged, and her teaching style reflected that.

Her Muggle administrators were unimpressed, so she wound up leaving the classroom to spend the next decade chasing stories and laying out pages at various newspapers from Illinois to Oklahoma.

Then, in 2008, something downright magical happened: She got pink-slipped from the Tulsa World, took a secretarial job at a local nonprofit, and met a high-school principal who coaxed her back into the classroom, where she discovered that her gonzo approach to teaching had somehow become fashionable. Free to be as creative as she liked, she thrived, and her students did, too.

Today, she teaches high-school English and journalism at a tiny school district in rural New Mexico, where her students roll around on yoga balls and pet mermaid pillows in a classroom covered with elaborate literary-themed murals, and where her superintendent wholeheartedly endorses all manner of foolish wand-waving and silly incantations, as long as her students keep passing their OWLs and NEWTs PARCC and EOC tests.

This blog is her attempt to share some of her better ideas with other teachers.