New (school)Year’s Resolutions

Each August brings with it mixed feelings.

The first is always shock: Wow, August already? Didn’t we just get out of school?

The second is denial: August? Really? It can’t be. Didn’t we just get of school?

Then anger: What, August?!? Why?!? We just got out of school!!

Eventually and slowly comes acceptance: August? Okay, deep breath, and here we go. For some teachers, this can happen in mid-August; those are the teachers who can be found coming to school early to get their classrooms set up.  For other teachers, acceptance may not happen until sometime during the first inservice day when they look around and realize: Wow, I guess this is really happening.

August always comes too quickly for me, mostly because I tend to have a huge to-do list for the summer that never gets done. This summer, for example, I was supposed to paint the downstairs powder room and renovate the boys’ bedroom. I got as far as picking out a few paint swatches from Lowe’s and taping them to the wall. (Somehow I still overestimate how much I can accomplish while watching/entertaining/feeding/herding my three boys.)


These guys keep me pretty busy in the summer (and year round)!

But now that it’s officially August, thoughts of back-to-school take center stage again and nervous excitement builds as I get closer to that first day. I love the beginning of the school year—the energy, the optimism. While January may be the time that the rest of the world makes their resolutions, for teachers, September is our new year, our time to begin anew, to set goals, be inspired. I suspect some students feel the same way, too.

Sometimes students ask if I get bored teaching the same thing over and over again. And my answer is always no, of course not! First, my students are different every year, so even if the material is the same, it’s the unique interaction between students and the material that makes each year special. And second, every year, I make it a point to try something new. Sometimes that means piloting a new book—such as when I introduced The Kite Runner two years ago. Or a new project—like the This American Life project my colleague Ben Smith and I did with our juniors last year.

So what will this year bring? A few of my goals:

For all my students:

  • Integrate more visual art—paintings, sketches, photography—into my writing instruction.
  • Create a system of visual note-taking or sketchnotes in my own notebook and teach students how to do the same.
  • Redesign various parts of my current instruction to reflect a more “Creativity Workshop” approach, including more opportunities for creative writing and for students to develop/express their voice

For my ninth graders:

  • Implement a more comprehensive reader’s/writer’s notebook approach with my ninth graders
  • Establish clearer goals and more structure to the independent reading program
  • Find a place to include more Asian literature in our world literature course

For my juniors:

  • Teach rhetorical analysis writing more explicitly, with a focus on pre-20th-century texts
  • Explore some flipped learning opportunities with writing mini-lessons

Of course, looking at this list already feels overwhelming! But it’s a good kind of overwhelming. The truth is that teaching can be an incredibly frustrating job. Increasingly, teachers are being tasked to do more with less: fewer resources and less time. That’s why setting personal teaching goals have been so valuable for me: they provide a sense of autonomy and a little “light at the end of the tunnel” even when there are outside forces tugging in other directions.