Archive for the ‘Teaching’ Category


Friday, June 15th, 2012

[photo credit]

Yesterday marked the last day of the school year for my ninth graders. Due to me coming in after the school year had started, I got a LOT of the students you might call “stragglers”… those for whom school maybe isn’t the most important thing in the world, as evidenced by the fact that they’re transferring schools in October or mid-year. As a result, a huge percentage of my students failed. And not just 55% failed — a lot of these kids got 0%, 25% and the like from just not turning in any work.

That makes me sad. My supervisor told me not to worry about it in terms of my own performance as a teacher – that freshmen haven’t gotten into their heads yet that failing matters in high school, and they don’t believe you when you tell them they’ll have to retake the class. They call your bluff, but unfortunately for them, you’re not bluffing.

These are the pains of teaching — doing your best and still watching children growing into adults making bad decisions about their futures.

And the joys of teaching? Right now, the most obvious one is summer break.

I don’t really get one since I’m writing, but that’s not going to stop me from fully enjoying the feeling of submitting my last grades this weekend and shutting down my teaching system for a good long while.

Happy summer, all you students and teachers out there!


No results.

Monday, April 30th, 2012

The strangest thing happened today. I submitted a story around 10:30. And I signed on to check my student emails and grading list. All of the items are dated 4/24 or later, which means it has not been five business days and I don’t have to grade anything until tomorrow. I already put together my month’s-end invoices. I am waiting on a couple assignments. This means that for the first time in three months…

I don’t have to do anything.

Tasks Today: No Results.

Yeah, there’s plenty to do: get ahead on grading, wash those kitchen towels I forgot to throw in the laundry last week, work out, put away some clothes or take out the gross amounts of recycling piled next to the dining table. But I get to decide. It’s blowing my mind a little.

You see, I spent February and March and a couple weeks in April working on a really consuming, pretty monotonous project. From taking on that project until now, I worked anywhere from 8 to 16-hour days as a full-time writer and half-time teacher with some more freelance work on the side. I had to submit the same word count every day regardless of topic, required research or other factors, whether it took me half the day or I worked well past my bedtime. That means work sucked up weekends, I ate like a college boy, and I wore the same sweatpants for 5 days straight. I didn’t really read for fun (with the exception of the Hunger Games on our anniversary trip), didn’t play piano, didn’t go to the gym or really even move much. Didn’t clean. Didn’t shower. You get the picture.

Finally I had enough. Providentially, this enough-having aligned with an opportunity to contract with a great writing agency in Portland more or less full time (once transition time is over). I have no idea what this will actually look like or what the summer will hold, but I’m so excited.

Two weeks ago, I gave my notice for the writing project.

On Friday, I submitted my resignation for my half-time teaching position so that I’ll be able to focus on writing completely once June is over.

Is this really happening? Eight months after I bought business cards and started a website, I am well on my way to meeting my goals.

I was so, so afraid it would never happen. (And truthfully, I’m still afraid of what’s to come.)

I’m learning—slowly, maybe—to put away fear and walk boldly.


Five reasons you shouldn’t become a teacher

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

classroom[photo credit: Todd Binger]

Here’s a little change of pace for you all.  I suppose I’ve whined enough recently. If this post looks like whining, it really is not.  It is a well intended warning and cautionary tale that I don’t think is told often enough. Mostly.

Teachers change careers at a stunning rate—something like half of all teachers stop teaching within the first five years.  Considering that most new teachers in 2011 and 12 have master’s degrees, that’s a lot of wasted education and money for those individuals, and awfully bad news for education as a whole.

I went into teaching in 2009 with the idea that because I love English and loved working in the youth group, I would be able to cut it as a teacher. Two student teaching positions, lots of job searching, plenty of subbing, a half time job in a junior high and a (current) position as an adjunct teacher later, I realize how much more seriously I should have taken my decision.

The truth is I could just as easily make a “five reasons you should become a teacher” list. I could even make that “fifty reasons.” The point is not that teaching is a bad or unworthy profession (quite the contrary) but that young people who think they want to be teachers are not told often enough the reasons why they may need to consider their options more carefully.

Without further ado…

5 reasons you should not become a teacher.

1. You are going into teaching because you don’t know what else to do with your degree.

Really, seriously, worst reason ever.  And don’t you be tricked like I was into thinking that this idea just hadn’t dawned on you until graduation, and how silly of you, of course you were meant to be a teacher!  Some people do reach this realization and live happily ever after with it.  Just proceed cautiously—the epiphany will not be enough to sustain you. And you will figure out something to do with your English or history or sociology degree.  Chances are, it’s what you love and are afraid to do.

2. You just really like teaching.

Here’s a tricky one.  You absolutely must love teaching to be a teacher. But you cannot only love teaching. Because the reality is, you will spend a huge amount of time not teaching but writing (and losing) important lists, making copies, shuffling papers, holding your bladder, attending meetings, calling and emailing parents, repeating yourself to people (kids and adults) who didn’t listen the first time, etc. Teaching is filled with red tape, bureaucrats, and people who like to tell you how to do your job. Students often control their parents, who control school funding and therefore administrators, who control teachers.  Sometimes students think they just straight up control teachers without all those middle men. It is what it is. Yes, there are some exceptions—but mostly there are just exceptional, superhuman teachers who somehow deal with it all and continue to love teaching.  Make sure you’re one of those. If you are, God bless you.

3. You don’t know what it’s really like to work with students.

This does not mean you don’t like kids, or that you haven’t spent time around them.  Enjoying children (particularly older children and teenagers, who really are just fun to hang out with sometimes) is not the same thing as enjoying working with children. Until you have spent enough time volunteering in a classroom to know what working with children is really like, do not proceed.  I found out the hard way that mentoring kids in small groups in church is not even remotely like being in charge of a student’s grades, the way she occupies her time for an hour a day, and making sure she’s not being disruptive. You will be the uncool adult in charge. The disciplinarian. The bad guy who calls home. Which brings me to…

4. You care if people like you.

Teaching, like parenting, is best accomplished when you care deeply about your reputation as an educator, yet don’t give two shakes what people think about you. (Sound impossible?…No comment.) To be a decent teacher, you need a combination of teachability and unshakeable confidence. Teachability because you never will know everything. Unshakeable confidence because everyone and their mother (literally) will tell you you don’t know anything. You must be so sure of your calling that you are willing to juggle being disliked by kids, parents, other teachers, and administrators all at once.  I promise all four will not like you at the same time.

5. You aren’t sure you are sure you are sure you want to be one.

As I mentioned above, teaching is a calling. Not one, generally, that you decide upon last minute. Not one influenced by not knowing what else to do. Not one that sneaks up on you.  Many of the most talented teachers I know have always known they want to be teachers. Some decide later in their educations, but have gotten their feet wet somehow in teaching (usually through volunteering or a class in undergrad) and can say with certainty that they are prepared to experience the joys of teaching amidst the struggles.

In conclusion, I have learned that I am just not as cut out to be a teacher as I thought I was. I’m not a bad teacher, and my “success” has made this realization even more confusing. Truthfully, it’s been a painful (and expensive) realization, and since coming to it, every time I talk to teacher friends I see how obvious their passion is and how obviously lacking it is in me. The way they are able to deal with the things that bother me with so much more grace and perspective, because the end goal, the absolute joy of teaching, is their single passion.  And they find it, against all odds.

I hope you find that passion in yourself, whether or not you end up becoming a teacher.

Meanwhile, I’ll panic about lesson plans and get excited to write about medical software. I can’t explain it, either.

Any questions or comments on what I’ve addressed here can be directed to my email (contact page) or left in comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.


How to conduct an interview like a middle school teacher.

Friday, November 11th, 2011

Happy Friday, Veterans’ Day, and 11/11/11, friends.

I’m writing a website bio and story for a “client” who is very dear to my heart. She happens to also be my sister, so I ended up taking a few liberties with her interview, and the end result looks quite unlike most interviews I’ve written.

Do you ever conduct interviews? Have you noticed that they’re missing a certain juvenile spice? If so (and even if not), here’s my quick tutorial:

How to conduct an interview like a middle school teacher
(and still get professional results)
*Click to enlarge images.

1. First, make an entire fill in the blank section. This is the warm-up.


2. Add a list section (still warming up).


3. Get serious, now.  Include diagrams, and throw in some new vocab words while you’re at it.  Make interviewee analyze the diagram and apply new vocab words to her own life.


4. Any self-respecting middle school test has a writing section. Include criteria and instructions before introducing your open-ended essay question. Bonus points for using phrases like “to inform your answer.” Use annoying fun colors for emphasis.


For best results, include a bunch of these.

Anyone else ready to go sharpen a bouquet of pencils?…

The sun is hiding today, and might hide indefinitely. I put eggnog in my coffee today, and listened to some Christmas music for the first time this season.

It’s feeling cozy in here.  Enjoy your weekends, y’all.

Found poetry

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

This month the 7th grade language arts class I’m teaching is studying Out of the Dust, a new favorite children’s novel by Karen Hesse written entirely in poetry.  Throughout our unit the kids will be writing poems, and I promised I’d do it along with them.  Our first is a “found” poem. Here’s mine, from a beautiful (albeit macabre) passage out of one of my very favorites, The Great Gatsby.  (Caution:  it contains a major spoiler.)

After the Gunshots

A barely perceptible movement:
urged toward the drain
in little ripples,
in shadows of waves.

The laden mattress moved
down the corrugated surface
of the pool,
its accidental course
with its accidental burden.

Revolving slowly
it traced,
like the leg of a compass,
a thin,
circle in the water.

I‘m pretty happy with how it turned out!

For those unfamiliar with found poetry, it’s easy a lot of fun.   It’s great for teaching because it’s very structured and accessible, since kids get to borrow someone else’s words instead of making up their own.

How to write a found poem:

1. Pick a passage about 100 words long.  It can be anything, but I’d steer clear of anything already very poetic, like poetry (duh) or song lyrics.  This passage should be something that you LIKE.  You’re going to turn it into a poem.

2. Copy down the passage word for word by hand.  I think this step is important even if you have a printed copy you can write on.  It helps you feel the words and familiarize yourself with them.  Copy it down in one paragraph with no line breaks.

2. Cross out words that are bland, repetitive, lack power or impact, etc.

3. Cross out more words.  Be liberal here — you can always add them back if you change your mind.

4. Add line breaks wherever you want them using a slash (/).

5. Rewrite the poem with the added line breaks onto a new piece of paper.  It can look however you want it to spatially.

6. Revise – a few times.  Ask yourself if places sound clumsy or awkward, or if different punctuation or transition words are needed.  If you want to, get rid of more words, combine phrases however you like, or add in words you think fit.  At this point, do whatever you want to make the poem its best.

7. Rewrite or type a final time for the finished draft.  It’s fun to show people the original passage and then your found poem.

Variations:  One variation I thought of that could be fun is to choose a slightly longer passage (150 words) and try to create two poems from it that are as different as possible.  Another is to grab a friend, use the same passage, and see how differently your found poems turn out.

I’m looking forward to seeing what those kids come up with!

Happy Saturday.