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We Teach Who We Are: Unpacking our Identities

Reading a few conversations online recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the urgent need for us as teachers to do some hard, internal work of unpacking the identities we bring to the classroom. More and more lately, I’ve seen teachers get defensive in conversations about curriculum, which I’ve come to realize are often really conversations about racism, sexism, classism, and other issues in which arguments about books and the canon have become a proxy.

Teaching is an intensely human activity. The best teachers are those who know that teaching—and students—cannot be standardized. Giving two teachers the same curriculum and asking them to follow it “with fidelity” is an impossible task. Not only are the teachers different individuals, but they’re also charged with the care of dozens of individual children.  We teach who we are. This is what can make our practice so powerful—even transformative—but also potentially dangerous.

We bring all of our identities—and the experiences that informed them—into our teaching. So we have to interrogate the ways in which these experiences have shaped our practices and our relationships with kids. These experiences are those that gave us opportunities to be educated ourselves, which eventually led to our teaching “credentials.” It’s this professional learning and all our years in the classroom that we draw upon when we make decisions. We draw upon our years of kid-watching and theory-making.

But I would argue that it’s often our personal identities and experiences that have the most profound effects on our teaching, and that which most often—and most dangerously—go unexamined. Read More

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Disrupting Texts as a Restorative Practice

One of the wonderful things that the #DisruptTexts chat has brought is opportunities to talk with teachers about what disruption can look like in the English classroom. Yesterday was one of those days as our team was invited to talk with teachers at an NCTE Summer Institute workshop run by Ken Lindblom and Leila Christenbury called “Continuing the Journey: Becoming a Better Teacher of Literature.”

Yesterday at the workshop, Ken opened with the question, “What does it mean to #DisruptTexts?” My initial response was to frame it within the context of our classrooms. And so #DisruptTexts for me involves at least two related and necessary moves: Read More

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A thought experiment on our reading lives (part 1)

I‘ve been in a serious writing slump over the last year or longer. I don’t know what it is. I joked with a friend that since I’ve been engaging and thinking more on Twitter that I’ve only been able to think in 240 characters at a time. It’s become a real problem.

But someone suggested seeing the micro-writing I’m doing on Twitter as small, rough drafts—pieces of thinking, some scrappier than others, that I might be able to reflect upon, cobble some thoughts together, and then explore a bit deeper. A few days ago, I posted a thread reflecting on the diversity of my own reading life, so I want to include those thoughts and expand a little on them here.   Read More

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Heinemann Fellows Capstone Presentation

In June 2018, the second cohort of Heinemann Fellows presented their action research Capstone presentations in Portsmouth, NH. No words will ever fully capture the way this experience has transformed my professional and personal life. I will forever be grateful to Vicki Boyd and Ellin Keene for bringing the eleven of us together to reflect and examine our most urgent work in our classrooms. While I am saddened at the end of this stage in the process, I am excited for the many opportunities for continued learning ahead.

Click HERE to view the slides from my Capstone Presentation.

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Student-Led Mentor Text Talks

We have officially arrived at the point in the year where panic ensues. The fourth marking period is here and there is still. so. much. to. do. And with the additional pressures of AP and state testing season, to say I’m feeling overwhelmed would be an understatement.

The truth is that it’s when the going gets rough that I tend to slip back into a more teacher-directed instructional style. It makes sense, after all; as the sage-on-the-stage, I can control the pacing of the class and how much time we spend — or don’t spend — on any particular activity. Free-flowing conversations? Write to explore? Who has time for that when the clock is ticking?

But that’s when I take a deep breath and remember that any heavy lifting I’m doing at the end of the year is only heavy when I’m the one doing all the work. More than ever, it’s time like this that I need to engage students as active learners — to get them up, moving, talking, walking.

So here we are with only a few weeks to go, and in my AP Lang class, there are still so many wonderful essays and mentor texts that we have yet to read. Ideally, with more time, my students and I could spend 1-2+ days discussing each text. So my dilemma was this: how could I maximize the number of high quality mentor texts they could read but also give them the time needed to dive into a deep study about craft and style?

CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE READING ON MOVINGWRITERS.ORG.

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Leaning into Difficult Topics: Toward an Informed Stance

After the Parkland school shooting in February, we witnessed something tangible shift in our discourse about school safety and gun regulation.

Nationally, we saw and still see young people like the Parkland student survivors stand up and make their voices heard, including the CNN sponsored town hall with Florida politicians and a coordinated student-led walkout on March 14 in schools across the country. With the increased attention to issues related to gun control and gun rights, we’ve also seen some (though not enough) discourse around the history of activism among students of color regarding school safety and gun reform.  And this weekend, millions are expected to gather for March for Our Lives events around the country to advocate for gun reform.

But something shifted, too, among my students. All politics is local, and the fears and challenges that have increased in the wake of the Parkland shooting has become personal for many of my students. In fact, shortly after the shooting, several of my own students asked me to sponsor a new club, Students Against Gun Violence. They hope to not just increase awareness through greater education on gun control issues, but to also advocate for change that will keep students safe in schools. They want change, and inspired by their fellow young people at Parkland and across the country, they don’t want to wait for the change to happen—they want to do something.

Yet in my actual classes, students didn’t bring up Parkland and many seemed content to go on with class, business as usual. But as a teacher, it seemed strange to continue with the lesson of the day with so much happening in the world affecting our students’ lives. Perhaps it was me: maybe students feel comfortable with me leading us through these messy conversations. I know the routine and ritual of school can also be comforting for kids. Or perhaps it was a lack of awareness or disinterest. But no, I knew that wasn’t true. You could hear their conversations in the hallways, on social media, and in the library. Students were already talking about these issues, which made me wonder: How? Who was leading them through these difficult conversations? If school is any kind of reflection of the outside world, I wondered, how many of their conversations included multiple perspectives? How critical was their media consumption? How were they processing the endless stream of noise? How were they distinguishing the shouting from the dialogue?

CONTINUE READING ON MOVINGWRITERS.ORG…