New Teacher Series/Question 6: How regimented should I be during the first few days of school?

Regimented, as in organized, controlled, and on top of your game? Yes. Regimented as in mean, militaristic, and Machiavellian?  No, no, no.

There should be clear consequences of ignoring your classroom expectations, and you should be ready to address those during the first two weeks when students test your boundaries, but how you address those behaviors will set the tone of trust, respect and positivity for the rest of the year.

New teachers are often told “don’t smile until Christmas,” and several very successful teachers I know run their class like a boot camp until October, but ultimately, every teacher works out her management style through trial and error. Personally, I could not drive to a job every day for five months where I couldn’t smile.  And even though I can be very intimidating, I have zero drill sergeant skills, so boot camping is not an option for me.

My approach is more like, “I’m a professional teacher who wants to arm you with the tools for a better life and help you discover and respect your own mind.  I will expect nothing less than your best. I will honor that by bringing my best. I will not waste your time with busy work, but you will not waste my time with drama and trifling. In this class, we are about learning, as individuals and as a community.  I take my role very seriously, and you should know your role too.  You will be a better thinker, writer, reader, and human being for having been in my class.”

Think this to yourself every day.  Walk into that classroom with this disposition on your face.  Then make it happen. Exude positivity and confidence.  You can truly change their lives.  Believe that.  Here are a few tips:

  1. Connect with every kid that first week. This could be a home visit, a letter, or a call home just to say hello to her parents. Ask your bandies what instrument they play. Ask your ballers about their strengths. Ask your corner reader if she has read X; if she hasn’t, give her a copy to take home.  These small things state an important message to kids:   I see you. I see you as an individual.  I know you.  In high school, especially, kids can move through the day and never have a meaningful conversation with an adult if they don’t want to. Make sure every kid is on your radar every day.
  2. Greet kids by name, welcome them, and then immediately engage them. If you haven’t read Harry Wong’s The First Days of School, you need to read it.  Wong suggests you stand at your door and welcome kids with smiles and instructions. They will be nervous that first day.  Be positive, be inviting.  Check out these step-by-step scripts for a smooth first day.
  3. Good idea – Always explain why a rule is a rule. Better idea – let the kids create the classroom norms. They will create seriously good rules, and there’s immediate buy-in because they’ve established their own boundaries.   Make sure kids see why the rules you (or they) have chosen serve the community. Make sure they understand how the rules protect and aid everyone.
  4. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. They’re watching you. Students want to know if you’re one of those teachers who has rules, but doesn’t really enforce them.  They’ll know this in two days.   Address every infraction in a calm, confident and firm manner.  Remember, you are the adult in the room. You don’t have to threaten, scream, or belittle kids; deal with everything explicitly, stating this is what you’re doing, this is the rule, this is what I expect.  And don’t wear everybody out with giving a dozen warnings. Act fairly and decisively.  Then get back to the business of learning.
  5. Make the consequence match the offense. The consequences should be established long before the rule is broken. Deal with small offenses in your classroom, and lean on your administrators for the big stuff. Don’t send kids to the office because they didn’t bring a pencil. And always be fair.  If your favorite kid in the class is breaking a rule, exact the same consequence as if another kid had broken it.  Then get back to the business of learning.
  6. Always be alert. You can sense a shift from positive to negative energy.  When you feel that shift, move quickly to bring things back in line with your lesson.  Step into a group, shift focus, crack a joke.   Every kid in that room is just as exhausted by drama as you are.  They want you to deal with the issue.
  7. Never create a show-down with a student. If you yell across the room at a kid for doing something, all heads swivel.  You’ve now put her in the position to either comply or tell you to go jump in the lake.  You can imagine which one she’ll choose.  Don’t ask kids to make choices like that; you will lose.   Move in close, address the offender quietly by name, tell her exactly how she can get back on task. State the offending behavior, state the correct behavior, give her an opportunity to change.
  8. Being prepared, professional, and positive will curb 95% of all classroom management issues. Being prepared will guarantee your students are engaged which cuts down on chicanery.   Sometime between now and when school starts, read Teach Like a Champion 2.0 , which offers 62 strategies for engaging students and maintaining high expectations.  The book also comes with a DVD with over 70 videos of real teachers using these strategies.
  9. Don’t let kids talk over you. I’m always surprised by how many teachers allow this. If I’m giving instructions or explaining something, I expect all kids to be listening. Do not tax them with long, boring lectures, but expect them to listen when you are speaking.   Deal with the offenders individually; don’t punish the whole class.
  10. Always be real, which sometimes means pretending you’re a better person than you really are. To paraphrase Whitman, you are large and contain multitudes. Every teacher must know when to use the hammer and when to use the kid gloves. You need to be versatile and self-aware enough to tap into which persona the situation demands:  the magician, the healer, the listener, the guru, the crazy aunt, the wise sage, the storyteller, the performer, or the professional.  And at the center of all these multitudes is an authentic person who is honest and caring, led by an ethical vision that far exceeds whatever is educationally trendy.

 

 

 

 

New Teacher Series/ Question 5: How do I gauge student learning with 100 kids?

To do this, you will need to employ an edu-darling term, “formative assessment,” which is a fancy way of saying figure out where your kids are, either two inches or two miles away, from the standard, then give them clear feedback on how to take the next step toward it.

The first lesson of formative assessment: it’s not a thing; it’s a state of mind.  Formative assessment is not a grade in the gradebook or an activity to pass the time until the test comes around. It is the sum of all knowledge you own about the students. It is the collected and analyzed product of bell ringers, exit slips, writing notebooks, open ended responses, lab reports, quizlets, classroom observations, student interviews, homework, and portfolios.   It’s the answer to the question: where do my kids stand in relation to  where they need to be?

No one method of formative assessment is better than the next because, like a piece of exercise equipment, the best form of formative assessment is one you actually use.  Sometimes administrators force teachers to track student growth goals, but assessing kids just for the purpose of data collection doesn’t move them closer to the goals. It’s analyzing that data and modifying your teaching to move the kids up, back, right or left toward the goal that’s important.

Standards are static; kids are dynamic. Figure out where your shifting, ranging, all-over-the-map kids are in relation to those immovable standards. Think of a ladder as you map out the small steps that leads toward mastery of the standard. The correct edu-term for this is a “learning progression.”

Let’s say you have Standard A, which is a giant standard.  You break it down into 10 smaller learning goals, or ten rungs on the ladder, and design ten clear lessons to address those smaller chunks.  Each lesson should allow for multiple attempts, lots of feedback, and practice, practice, practice. Better yet, get your kids in on the action, and let them map out the ladder, wrestle with the smaller steps, connect to the ladder through their own interests.

Early in the process, design a formative assessment tool that asks questions about all ten smaller goals.  You could use a quick Google form, which provides you with immediate and collated feedback, or you could use a simple thumbs up/ thumbs down method too, as long as you get the data you need.  You analyze it and discover 25% of your class has only mastered two of the ten rungs required to climb the ladder while 50% of your class has mastered six of the ten and the last 25% have mastered eight rungs on the ladder.

Of course, it will never be exactly this easy because standards don’t necessarily distribute themselves into ten clean, small goals. Nor is the ladder always straight or OSHA certified.  And students’ abilities aren’t divided neatly into three categories (although it’s surprising how often they do.)

However, enlisting these three steps – breaking down the standard in smaller pieces, assessing the kidlets, then analyzing that data- will established a great starting place to meet their needs.   By matching an appropriate lesson to the students’ readiness, you have created differentiation.  You can also create more student ownership and investment by asking students to

  • set goals in relation to their progress and their own interests,
  • create their own rubric for meeting proficiency,
  • develop their own questions for the final exam based on the standard,
  • maintain their own spreadsheet or other visual representation of growth, and
  • analyze their own progress.

Give students many, many opportunities to apply the skills and concepts in your class to gain proficiency. Learning is not one and done.  Learning is trying, failing, re-adjustment, trying again.  Your job is to encourage, evaluate, modify, and assist. (Book recommendation: Read Robyn Jackson’s great book Never Work Harder Than Your Students about motivating kids to own their learning experience in order to create independence and autonomy.)

To assess learning, you don’t have to give a formal quiz or test.  It could be as simple as a day-to-day student reflection that you collect at the end of class.  Get tech savvy, which will save you time. Use a classroom response system, like a clicker system, that records and prints out numerical data easily. Use online Google forms that collect and display data in linear scales, pie charts, and graphs.  Check out Alice Keeler’s website. She is the master of the Google classroom and has written two books and produced numerous videos to help you figure out how to use the Google suite of utilities to gather, analyze, and reflect on your growing, but manageable data of student wants and needs.

Remember, data is not the enemy.  Unanalyzed, empty data, whose production is washed in the tears of over-tested youth, is the enemy.  Data that builds the ladders for your students to make gains is your absolute BFF.

 

 

New Teacher Series/ Question 4: What system do you use for planning?

On average, a new teacher hits her lesson planning and teaching stride during her third year.  Don’t despair.  It will feel like you are drowning, flailing to stay just two days ahead of the kids. This is normal.  It doesn’t make you a bad teacher. It means you are a good teacher getting better to become great.

I’m a big picture planner, and even though I know daily what I’m shooting for (often called a learning objective or learning goal), I hate making rigid lesson plans.  If your plan is too exacting, it may leave no room for speeding up and slowing down, for the teachable moment or for the re-teachable moment.  An unexpected detour can often be the most productive part of the day.

Sometimes a lesson plan can be like a train you force your students to board. You’re the crazy engineer yelling, “We’re on this train, and no one’s getting off until the test!” That feels damaging to me because it doesn’t allow for student choice, intervention, or enrichment.

As a new teacher, every time I committed to some rigid plan, dragging the kids along with me, it failed.   Learning isn’t neat; it doesn’t often happen on a timeline, in a nice tidy box.  That’s both the reason you have a plan, and the reason you develop the versatility to abandon the plan for a better one.

Here’s a simple planning equation:  Know your standards + Know your students = Plan accordingly.  I know how irritatingly simple that sounds, but that’s basically it:    deeply understand the skill or concept you are teaching, then figure out what your students know and don’t know about that concept or skill through inquiry, then build a bridge between those two camps.

“Backward design” describes developing lessons based on the end goals or the desired results.   When teachers use backward design to develop curriculum, they start with the goals of their unit and work backwards to determine what lessons need to be mastered to achieve the goals. Share this term with students. Ask them how they might learn the content best. Start the unit by giving the students the unit test.  It’s not “teaching the test,” but teaching toward the test and allowing students to gain proficiencies as they master those standards.

Let’s say you are charged by the commissioner of education to teach kids how to make delicious mashed potatoes.  The standard states:  Students will produce savory mashed potatoes with a smooth, fluffy texture and a nice white-golden tone.

Here are ten tips for planning that:

  1. Know how to make mashed potatoes yourself. Teach yourself if necessary, but never attempt to teach a skill or concept that you don’t deeply understand.  Kids will figure out you’re a faker in about two minutes.
  2. Figure out exactly what your students know about taters. Create an assessment, either verbal or paper/pencil, that gives you some data about their prior knowledge and their mashed potato readiness.  There will be kids that don’t know the difference between a turnip and a tater while other kids already know how to make mashed potatoes while dancing the mashed potato. It’s your job to engage them all; welcome to public education.
  3. Tap into students’ prior knowledge and interests. This is important.  Students have to know why mashed potatoes are important to their lives. One cannot divorce the process of learning from the person who is learning, and if the plan does not address the learner, then even the best planned lesson will be useless.
  4. Break down the skill or concept into its smallest components and develop smaller lessons that lead students toward proficiency. This is a potato. This is butter. This is how you boil water.  Some kids will already know that, so you’ll need a different approach for them.
  5. Plan lessons that allow students multiple opportunities to apply the skill and practice. You will then create a new lesson (sometimes on the fly) to give feedback, reteach, ferret out misunderstandings, maybe reteach a third or fourth time. Give them as much practice as possible with feedback, not failure.
  6. Don’t absent-mindedly print a worksheet or an activity offline without understanding how it helps your students meet their goals.At the same time, don’t re-invent the wheel. Beg, borrow and steal all good lesson plans and tailor them for your kids.
  7. Don’t plan a lesson that you wouldn’t want to do yourself. Think of yourself as a teen in your class. Would this lesson make you want to hurl yourself out the window?
  8. Design lessons that hit multiple skills and concepts at once. Skills should not be taught in isolation.  One rich project-based assignment can hit dozens of standards.
  9. Some plans fail miserably; others succeed brilliantly. A lesson plan that worked fantastically first period will almost always fail after lunch. Be willing and able to abandon the plan mid-lesson and adapt on the fly.
  10. Struggle is good for students, but if you see students struggling to the point of frustration, stop everyone and say, “Hold up, what’s going on, why are you guys struggling with this?” You develop this intuition through failure, but don’t let that defeat you. The lesson plan is only as good as the reflection that follows it.

New Teacher Blog Series: Some Questions

This morning I met a brand new teacher. She’s bright, bubbly, and energetic.  She just landed her first full-time teaching gig. She currently works at a local coffee shop and knew I was a teacher.

“I just want to pick your brain.”  She handed me a coffee-stained menu. On the back she had written fourteen questions, jotted down, I imagine, during her shift.

A multi-tasker.  I liked her already.  I gave up this simple gratitude:  Thank you for young, engaged, smart, caring, pro-active, ever-learning, ever-growing new teachers.

I skimmed down her list.

“When does your next shift start?”

“In 45 minutes,” she said.

“I don’t think we’ll be able to scratch the surface.”

Books can, have, and should continue to be written about these questions. The questions are important and critical, especially to a new teacher who wants to do the very best job for her students.

These would make great blog posts, I mused.  And that’s how, kids, this blog series was born.

Dear optimistic, new teacher, we have three weeks before school starts. Gird your loins. In the next 21 days, I’m going to offer you some tips (First lesson: There are no real answers, only tips; anyone who says he has the answers is a company representative looking to sell your district a costly curriculum package that will, one year later, collect dust in the bookroom.) on the 14 questions you asked (plus one I’m adding into the mix) via this blog.

Below are the questions/topics.  As I complete each blog, I will hyperlink the post to its topic.  Bookmark my blog, and let’s get started!

Blog 1: What were your biggest mistakes as a new teacher?

Blog 2: Should I create a website? If so, what kind?

Blog 3: What if I’m not given a scope and sequence? How will I know what to teach?

Blog 4: What system do you use for planning?

Blog 5: How do you gauge student learning and meeting their needs when you have 100 students?

Blog 6: How regimented should I be with rules and procedures during the first few days of school?

Blog 7: Should I create a classroom protocol list or go by school policy?

Blog 8: Keeping up with attendance and make-up work seem really time consuming with so many students.  How does a teacher organize this?

Blog 9: What are the best strategies for reading novels?

Blog 10: What are the best strategies for teaching vocabulary?

Blog 11: What are the best strategies for teaching grammar?

Blog 12: What are the best strategies for teaching writing? (You actually didn’t ask this one, but I’m suggesting a few tips anyway.)

Blog 13: Do you find bell ringers helpful?

Blog 14: How do you stay on top of grading?

Blog 15: What is the best way to involve parents?

Teacher As Nomad: Packing It Up Here, Boss

“Are you moving rooms next year?” Shannon, my colleague down-the-hall, asked me on Friday.  I’d been scurrying around before school that morning, packing boxes out to my car.

“Oh no.  Just getting ready for the end of the year,” I said.

“Why do you take down these posters every year if you just have to put them back up in August?” Jenna, my sophomore master of pragmatism, asked me later that day.

“Have I not taught you the value of ritual yet?” I said.

Jenna rolled her eyes.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, I will probably be holding forth in Room 303 at Lafayette high school for the rest of my teaching career. I love that room. From its roof top vantage point, I can see all the way to downtown Lexington. With three huge windows that look out over a little courtyard, sunrises from the east flood the room on dark winter mornings.

So why do I pack up every single May like I’m leaving the profession?

Because teachers should never, ever, ever settle.  Into a classroom. Into a curriculum. Into a rut. Into a single way of teaching.

Of course, teachers should adopt instructional practices and management strategies that are consistent, proven, and experience tested. But ongoing reflection demands ongoing revision.  We are tweakers, on the move, educational bedouins, sitting up provisional camps in all kinds of unlikely psychological territories.

During my first year of teaching, I heard my principal describe a teacher in my building as someone who “taught her first year twenty-seven years in a row.”  I vowed to never be that teacher. Conventional wisdom says it takes three years for a beginning teacher to hit her stride.  I think teaching is a science and a craft that takes at least ten years to figure out what you’re doing, then ten more years to become sufficiently accomplished. Then your gig is almost up.

For me, taking everything down at the end of the year signals this year is over.  I tried my best.  I failed with some students; I succeeded with others.  I knocked some lessons out of the park; I missed the ball completely with others, but I didn’t sit still. I grew, I learned. Packing up the room, boxing up books, taking down posters is an external ritual for an internal measurement.  The ritual signals the end of a cycle, which promises the beginning of another one.

I’m packing it in for this year because I’m moving on to different territory next year even though I’ll be in the same room.  That different territory will be new students, new chemistries, new dynamics, new lessons, newly-imagined delivery systems for the old conceptual verities.

When I walk back into this same classroom in August, the walls will be bare, the technology will be a tangled mess on my desk, all the chairs will be crammed against one wall, and I will take a deep breath and start assembling.  New year, new students, fresh start.  I will be thinking about every student who will sit in those chairs.  What’s the best arrangement this year? What’s the best book for that kid?  What’s the best way to illustrate this concept or that?  Every year is different. Every class is different.  Every kid, every day.

In this pleasant, creative, energetic environment that I have hopefully and expectantly created, I say Welcome.  Enter in, ye students o’ mine.  No year yet will be exactly like this one. I have made this new space just for you.

 

 

Twenty Reasons Why I Love Teaching

February 14-22 is #LoveTeaching week, a social media campaign designed to change the narrative about teaching and focus on the overwhelming and abundant positives about this job.  For the last four years, I have been involved with an online professional learning community with three other teachers: Stephanie Smith, Austen Reilley, and Amy Gilliam.  Between us, we cover elementary, middle, and high school classes.  When I heard about the #LoveTeaching campaign, I immediately posed the question to my posse, and here are the twenty things we love most about teaching in no particular order.

  1. When I get my roster for the new school year. I love to pull up our school’s internal directory and check out the kids that will be coming to me in the new year.  Hey, I know that kid from Tardy Table. That kid looks adorable. That kid looks sad.  That kid needs a hug. I have brightness, I have diversity, I have challenges. I have a room full of potential.
  2. The energy of the first day of school. There’s nothing like it.  Everything is possible.  It’s a clean slate.  Teachers and students strive to make the best impression. Everyone is fresh and new, looking and feeling their best.  The pencils are sharp and abundant.  Spiral notebooks crisp and ready to be filled.
  3. My classroom. I love my room, and I want my kids to love it.  It’s warm, inviting, colorful, clean, organized, and there’s always a pot of coffee brewing. I love the three wide windows that let in the morning sun, and I love the energy when kids come in before first block to hang out, joke, gossip, or talk about sports, news, and movies.
  4. My colleagues. Teachers are some of the coolest people I know.  They are tough, sassy, and curious. They are wise to human nature yet eternal optimists.  Always hopeful, always enthusiastic, always learning.  They are my witty, wonderful tribe.
  5. The teachable moment. I have written before that there are few more transcendent moments in a teacher’s life than when she’s standing in front of a group of students, explaining something, and everyone in the room is sitting on the edge of the seats. It’s a beautiful moment of showmanship delivered by a professional, without a lesson plan, without a standard.  It’s the zenith of a teaching life. It’s as good as it gets.
  6. When the light goes on. This is similar to the teachable moment, but it’s more profound because it’s a singular moment of revelation when a kid finally puts it all together. The clouds part and the angels sing.  The ah-ha!  The eureka! When the creases fall out of the kid’s forehead and the eyebrows go up, and she says, “So that’s what you’ve been talking about all year!!” Bingo.
  7. When the lesson plan beat drops. Some days the lesson you’ve planned is interrupted by a fire drill or you run out of time for the lab or there’s a full moon.  But then there are days… Oh, those days when it all comes together.  When the copier, the stapler, the projector works, when your bell ringer is on fleek, when your mini-lesson slays, when they inhale the reading selection, when everyone kills it during the activity, and the socratic discussion nears sublimity, and you have just enough time for the perfect exit slip which they finish with relish and reflection, and then the bell rings.  Oh, and you have planning next.   #GOLD
  8. That kid. You know the one. He’s the shy kid in the back who never does well on tests, but he’s the only one in the room who knows the answer to some deep, existential question about the human condition.  She’s the quiet girl in the corner who shares her poetry with you one day, and its ferocity tears your face off.  He’s the kid who never remembers his homework, but you hear him play the cello at the coffee shop around the corner, and you are transported.
  9. That other kid. She’s so mad at the world.  He’s angry with everything and everybody.  She’s raising her eight brothers and sisters in a double-wide trailer. His parents are in jail. She has no quiet place to read or do homework. He’s moved eight times in the last school year. Help me, this kid is saying to you, but he’s not using those words.  The words she uses are “this is stupid,” “I hate this class,” “you’re the worst teacher in the world.” This kid will break your heart.
  10. Oh, and that other one too. He’s the class clown.  She’s wise to all the futile exercises of the adult world.  And you can barely keep a straight face when you say, “That was completely inappropriate,” because you know in any other circumstance what that kid just said would have been the funniest thing ever in the history of funny things.
  11. When you are more than a teacher.  Maybe it’s the unity of the team or the club, maybe it’s the competition, or maybe it’s the out of classroom experience that draws you closer, but your relationship changes and deepens when you share in their lives outside the realm of your classroom as a sponsor or a coach.
  12. When they seek out your counsel. There are few better moments than when a student seeks out your opinion on a non-school matter.  When they respect your opinion and value your judgement enough to ask your advice on their future, their relationships, or their jobs, that is one of the highest callings.
  13. When you call parents to tell them how proud you are of their child. There’s no better phone call to make then calling a parent, especially one who may never have had a positive phone call from the school before, to say their child stood up for someone less fortunate or their child made good choices that day or their child improved by a letter grade or their child turned in all her homework for the six weeks.  Those calls are the life blood of our work.
  14. When parents tell you how much their kid loves you and your class. My friend and colleague Elizabeth Beck calls this kind of comment “a teacher paycheck.” There is nothing more rewarding than knowing you have made a positive difference in the life of a child.
  15. When students come back and tell you how much they loved your class. Ditto from #14, but better. Especially when they cite specific lessons, short stories, poems, moments from your class that they remember.  There’s nothing better. Really.
  16. When I read an essay and hear a thinking mind behind it. Yes, that’s the goal, but sometimes a correct essay isn’t always one of original thought. So many kids, like so many adults, repeat the same worn-out adages of convenience, the bromides and platitudes of popular opinion, but woah, when there’s evidence of a whirligig mind—musing, reflecting, speculating—yeehaw, I love teaching.
  17. When your kids leave love notes on your white board.  There’s nothing better than a group of high school kids covering your white board with pictures of pigs and alligators and frogs with messages like “We love you, P-Dog.”
  18. Keeping up with your graduates on social media. I have the good fortunate to have nearly a hundred former students as friends on social media. I love watching them grow, travel, earn degrees and new jobs, new loves, get married, have babies, adopt.  When I see them happy and successful, I am happy and successful.
  19. The energy of the last day of school. Like the first day, there’s nothing like it.  A buoyance in every step, a lightness in the air.  Celebrations are soon to follow. The graduates look so pleased, the parents so proud, the teachers so ready for summer. The ocean calls out your name like a lover.
  20. Summer. I’ve never met a summer I didn’t like.  Time to take classes, read books for pleasure, rejuvenate, plan, escape, and come back for the next exhilarating year.

What’s a Summer For?

In April, I attended an all-day writing retreat held at a regional university.  About three-quarters of the people in attendance were teachers; the other quarter, writers and poets.   The writing prompts were standard fare for these sorts of retreats – explorations into the past, clarifying values, cultivating gratitude.

As I looked around the room, the writers seemed engaged and serious about their art, but the teachers looked like they had just been rescued from a deserted island.  They were writing furtively as if their notebooks were dinner rolls about to be snatched out of their hands.  They were, to quote Annie Dillard, writing as if they were dying.

“Will I be able to scrape together enough of myself together over the summer to go back to the classroom again in the fall?” one teacher shared.

“Teachers are in a constant state of existential crisis.  We want to feel alive again,” another teacher read.

“Wow,” said one of the writers on the other side of the room. “I knew you teachers had it bad.  I didn’t know it was that bad.”

Perhaps he had caught us on a bad day.  It was, after all, about 25 days before the end of the school year. We were in the midst of the testing season.  Pink slips were flying about.  Nerves were frayed.

Now school is out.  The languid days of summer are upon us. We are given this gift of time in the summer. How do we scrape together ourselves? How do we feel alive again? How do we spend this gift?

Let me give you a single suggestion: Spend it on yourself.  The master teachers I know spend these precious eight weeks by investing in their selves, renewing and regenerating their personal and professional lives.  These investments might include participating in a hobby that renews their patience and peace, such as painting or cooking or it might include taking a class on a fascinating subject they want to teach next year.

Spending time on yourself is ultimately the greatest gift you can give your students.  Most teachers I know can’t help themselves.  We’re nerds.  We will be researching, studying, and becoming better at our craft. Or reading the professional material we’ve been bookmarking all year. A teacher who had called to tell me she had slept all day on her first day off also told me with delight and excitement about the Holocaust Educators Network seminar she would be attending next week.

Take a yoga class.  Pick up your dusty tennis racquet.  Read all day.  Build a pond.  Write some poems. Build a nuclear reactor.

Yes, teaching is a physically and emotionally demanding career that requires hours and hours of unpaid time spent developing instruction, assessing data, connecting with parents and students, but those sweet, sweet days of summer are important too for the longevity and the ultimate effectiveness of the greatest in the classroom.