Teachers Workout Too: New Music!

If you're like me, Thanksgiving break provided a few opportunities for those workouts you had been dreaming about. With a break from work and two parents home to take turns for those with kids, suddenly the gym and the trails became doable. Lucky, too, since there was also plenty of time for cooking and eating awesome food! 

Now that things are back in full swing, I hope to be able to continue my working out momentum. I love it, it's just hard to find the time! I know you understand.  

I'm always looking for new workout music. It makes a huge difference to the speed and joy of my workout to have really good songs in my ears. That's why I wanted to share some of my favorite  songs with you. If you haven't heard these, go check them out. They'll give a bit of extra inspiration to your early morning or late night workouts. 

And if you find yourself at the gym on the elliptical at 9:30 pm, cheers! I'm probably doing the same thing...


Using Postcards in the Classroom

Who doesn’t love getting a postcard in the mail? Turns out students enjoy them in the classroom too. Throughout my teaching career I have collected postcards – on my own trips, from friends, picked out from corner racks at stationary stores around America. 

Each card is completely different. Perhaps it shows a famous piece of art, a snapshot of life in a faraway country, a person doing something she loves. 

It doesn’t really matter. 

As a set, the postcards provide a beautiful series of writing prompts. I spread the postcards out on a front table and invite students to come up and choose whichever one they wish. 

“Begin a story set in your postcard scene,” I might say. Or perhaps, “Look at your postcard. Write whatever comes to mind.” Or with a bit more specific purpose, “Write a story about two characters connected to what you see on your postcard. Use as many sensory details (or vocabulary words, or whatever else we might be focusing on, etc.) as you can.”  

I love using the postcards as inspiration for writing. I also love using them as inspiration in general. Decorating my classroom walls with bits and pieces of the world is so much fun. If we are reading Pride and Prejudice, postcards from Brighton and Bath are suddenly fascinating. If we are reading the Transcendentalists, nature postcards make for a great bulletin board display. Surrounding my reading corner, I love putting up postcards with reading quotations or pictures of people reading in unusual places. 

Sharing a little bit of my international life also helps me feel like I am exposing my students to a broader perspective on the world. I want them to be able to imagine faraway places and to think about what life is like there. Whether they are writing a story set in a country they don't know much about, or examining a beautiful scene in a new continent on the wall, I like to think the postcards help them broaden their worldview.

Developing my postcard collection has taken me a long time. But it has been a joy.  It’s a way I can bring part of myself into my classroom – the places I have been, the parts of the world I love, the types of art and scenery that inspire me. I love getting to share this with my students. 

How do you share the things that inspire you with your students?

'Tis the Season to Boost Teacher Morale

Even though I am always completely tapped out by January 1st, I love this time of year! I haven't changed much since I stayed up half the night in high school hanging snowflakes all over my house to surprise my family. Though the holiday season can be stressful, there are lots of ways it can bring you joy and help you build community in your school. Here are six of the most successful ideas I've been part of over the years. 

#1 Operation Secret Santa
Who doesn't love a pleasant surprise? Organizing a secret santa exchange among your students, teaching team, club participants, or players can bring everyone closer and add delight to December. This year I am doing it with my advisees, and I designed these cute Secret Santa slips for giving them partners. Download them free, print them out and fill in the names. Easy!

#2 Host a Cookie Exchange
I've done cookie exchanges with other faculty and with my student cooking club, and both were big successes. It's so fun to have dozens of kinds of cookies to eat and share over the holidays, but who wants to bake 30 kinds? Who has the time?! For a cookie exchange, just invite others to bring in one type of cookie (and lots of 'em!) and a big container to a get-together. Put on a little holiday music, add a bit of warm cider, and you've got a party! Everyone walks around and helps themselves to several of every cookie. December never tasted so good. 

#3 ELA Teachers: Try a Reading Challenge over Break
Like so many English teachers, I love to read. And I love it when my students love to read. So it makes me happy, come December, to start promoting my winter break reading challenge. If students can get a BINGO on one of my winter break reading cards, I'll reward them with a prize when they get back. Talk up the challenge and the prizes during the month of December. Bringing in a shelf of library books you know they'll love doesn't hurt! 

#4 Reach out in Your Community
Help students give a gift of themselves this holiday season. Let them help you choose a project, whether it's collecting coats for a local homeless shelter, doing a book drive for the Prison Library Project, making ornaments for a surprise school tree you put up together by the front door, writing letters to deployed soldiers through Operation Gratitude, or some other initiative that is meaningful to your class. By helping others, you will also build a stronger bond with your students and your community. 

#5 Include Holiday Activities in your Day-to-Day
There's no reason you can't include a bit of holiday fun while learning what needs to be learned. Math students can do story problems about Christmas shopping and the amount of time it takes Santa to visit every house in a city, physics students can try to design gingerbread structures that support great weights, English students can write holiday stories, experiment with holiday sensory details, or practice writing holiday metaphors and similes. Whatever your discipline, it's easy to add a bit of cheer into a handout now and then. 

#6 Surprise your Teaching Team with a Treat
Once when I was coaching a long tennis match, one of my player's moms offered to grab Starbucks for me. I was so surprised! It was a small but lovely gesture. Last year I brought smoothies for all my son's preschool teachers on a ninety degree day, and it made me glad to be able to do a small thing to brighten their day. Maybe you can launch "Donut Fridays" for your teaching team or grab lattes for all on the way to work. You're spirits will get a lift when you see how happy you make everyone else. 

I hope this is a wonderful holiday season for you. If you haven't joined yet, this is a great time to hop into my growing Facebook group, Creative High School English. We'll be sharing all kinds of holiday fun over there.  



After the Election: Free Activities to Build Hope with your Students

This election has created more division in America than any I could imagine. While I try to keep my politics out of my dialogue with students, I think this era calls upon all of us to try to help students find common ground and understand each other better. As teachers I believe we must try to create positive change and promote understanding in our country.

This week I grappled with the question, how could I help students to process what had just happened without attacking each other for their differing beliefs?

I crafted some activities to try with students this week. Activities that help them to share their identities and beliefs, hopes and dreams for America. It's a small thing, the chance to share a bit of yourself with your classmates. But it's a place to start in the face of a very complex era.

If you'd like to use these post-election resources with your students, download them for free here.

The Introverted Teacher

After my first day of teaching, I cried in my office for two hours.

It was the most stressful and exhausting day of work I have ever endured. I wondered how on earth I would get through a whole year of such agony. Why had I ever thought I wanted to be a teacher? I laid on the floor, reliving the horror of each “Welcome to my class, here’s the syllabus” lecture I had given. The bored faces. The slow ticking of the clock. The crushing realization that no one could rescue the situation but me.

But that day I had a realization. I was not meant to be the kind of teacher who stands at the front of the room and talks. Not for long, anyway.

I’m an introvert. And once I realized what that meant for me as a teacher, I think it’s been an asset for me. As an introverted teacher, I have constantly searched for ways to present the material to my students in dynamic, creative ways. Ways that keep me out of the spotlight.

In my first year I tried new student-centered pedagogies every month.

We studied poetry through performance pieces and poetry slam. We studied The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn using the Harkness discussion method, and learned a lot about ourselves and how to relate to each other in the process. We produced our own outdoor version of A Long Day’s Journey Into Night, traveling around campus for each act. We divided into two literature circles to study The Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises, delving into the 1920s by examining its history, fashion and scandal. We practiced writing through workshops and conferences. 

Though I virtually never stood at the front of the classroom, I was up late every night preparing, always learning about new ways to teach.

At the end of that first year, when I said goodbye, my American Literature students gave me the only standing ovation I have ever received as a teacher. I get teary remembering how much I learned from them.

As the years have gone on, I’ve added new options to my introvert’s teaching toolbox. My students have done collaborative work with kids overseas (want to find a partner and try it? Hop into our Facebook group, Creative High School English and post a request!). We have created online writing portfolios and blogs. We’ve done literature-inspired art shows and lunchtime poetry jams. We’ve performed our own Canterbury tales on our own pilgrimage and produced live radio shows. We’ve had reading festivals and reading contests, acted out Shakespearean scenes in costume and done theater workshops with a guest artist.

Most recently I've been exploring English maker spaces as another way of putting together the materials and environment my students need to launch their own creativity. This is just another lovely way we introverted teachers can guide our students without the intensity of the spotlight. I love what I'm learning about the maker movement, and have just finished building curriculum for a maker project you can find right here if you'd like to try it out quickly and easily. 

I’m generally to be found at lunchtime eating alone at my desk, taking a break from it all. Sometimes I am worn through at the end of a teaching day from absorbing so many emotions and thoughts from my creative and occasionally grumpy and tired band of kids. But though the teaching profession presents its challenges to me, as an introvert, I truly believe that what first seemed like a weakness has become one of my greatest classroom strengths. Students get enough lectures. I have other gifts to share.

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