June Dreams, October Realities

Every summer, I dream big and think of all the things I want to accomplish as a teacher. And each October, I am jolted back to reality and struggling to stay afloat. It turns out that I can’t do it all, or if by some small miracle I do, I can’t do it all well.

As a planner and perfectionist, this is a difficult truth to face. I think this is why I end up wallowing on my failures and shortcomings instead of celebrating my successes. (A flaw that my husband regularly points out to me).

So in the spirit of optimism, I am choosing to focus on what dreams have been made real:

Productive First Days. The first day of school is too often a boring, repetitive task for students as they are lectured on the syllabus, policies, and rules. I purposefully did none of this for the first week; instead, I focused on building community. Students worked in small groups to describe what an ideal community looks, sounds, and feels like. I made a word cloud of each class period’s descriptions and then had each class brainstorm community expectations that would serve as our “rules” for the year so that we could strive for that ideal each day. Those first days were focused, collaborative, and student driven – exactly the tone I want to set for the year.

Celebrating Students. The first text sophomores read is The Tragedy of Macbeth. Most often, we read this text aloud and in roles. I held my students accountable to reading a part at least once, but many students volunteered to read day after day. Shakespeare can be hard to read aloud, so I wanted to honor students for taking a risk. And then, in a moment of pure genius, the Golden globe award was born. Download this free resource here.

Shakespeare's Golden Globe Award

Turning awkward in to awesome. We offered one section of pre-AP freshman English this year, which I teach. At the start of September, our class size was down to 10 students… all girls. With so much empty space in our classroom, the environment turned a bit awkward. The girls whispered during small group discussions and were hesitant to share out in class, which makes perfect sense when everyone stands out because there are only a handful of people in the room. After talks with my colleagues (especially my BSWP fellows), I made two changes that really turned this class in to a vibrant and productive environment.  First, I was able to recruit 5 additional students for the class – 2 boys, even! Second, I implemented Treat Yo’ Self Fridays, where we listen to our class playlist and enjoy treats while we work. Obviously, this was a bit hit with my class.

Ditched the desks. Over the last few years, I have been gathering pieces to try flexible seating in my classroom. This summer, I acquired some new tables and decided to commit fully. I moved all of the desks out of my classroom. This was a scary step to take, as it moves the control of the space from teacher to students. Happily, the space is working for almost all of my students and allows me to make fast and easy changes to the space between class periods when needed.


Ready to Make a Difference

When I pulled in the school parking lot yesterday, I was greeted by several former students in the marching band as they walked out toward the practice field. One, spying the Dutch Bros. coffee perched on the top of my car, cheerfully asked, “an iced Kicker?” Another called out, “what’s up, B?”

In this moment, I found my answer to the question that teachers are continually asked this time of year. Are you ready/excited/looking forward to go back to school?

As with most things, the answer to this question is complicated. There’s always work to be done: arranging the room, collaborating and planning with colleagues, preparing materials… I am not sure that I will ever be fully ready in that sense. But yesterday, I again felt the joy of connecting with my students and building meaningful relationships with them which helped me find my answer. Absolutely.

The thing I notice about teaching that many misunderstand is that teachers do not stay in this profession because they enjoy crafting lesson plans, handling administrative tasks, or even spending time with a subject-area they love. Teachers stay in this profession because of their students.

We care deeply about these individuals and want to help them to find happiness and success in their lives. If that means they can talk about character development in a novel or correctly punctuate a compound, complex sentence – bonus. But what really matters is that they are respected, listened to, and shown compassion, regardless of their race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.

It is times like these, where the world seems to be imploding and destined for chaos, that my resolve to go back to the classroom is strengthened. People need to know their rights and practice empathy. They need to be able to listen to understand, think critically, and voice their own opinions. These are the skills I get to teach through writing and literature each year.

This is my small way of trying to change the world, and I am ready.


On the 20th Anniversary of Harry Potter

Twenty years ago, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published.

I remember going to the library for the Scholastic Book Fair at my elementary school with ten dollars jammed in my pocket. The room was transformed with rows and rows of books – some on tables, others on display racks. With wide eyes, I studied the titles carefully, fingers trailing across the covers. One stack caught my eye – a tawny book with gold embossed lettering and a boy flying on a broom, arm outstretched, red cape flying.

I picked up the paperback book and rifled the pages, enjoying the new book smell of fresh ink and paper and glue. I paid the cashier, clutched the book to my chest, and scurried off to find a place to read.

Chapter One. The Boy Who Lived.

I desperately wish I could go back in time and revisit that moment. What was it like to be eleven years old and read Harry Potter for the very first time? To grapple with how many knuts are in a galleon or to try and pronounce Hermione and Quidditch? What would it be like to revel in the pure joy of Fred and George’s antics without the dark cloud of book seven looming in the distance?

Maybe that is why I work so hard to convert so many readers, so that I can catch their eye in the following days with a grin and a leading “and?… do you love it?”

This story grew with me. There were Christmases where I would tear through wrapping paper and devour the next installment, summers where I would impatiently wait for the Amazon box to arrive and spend the entire day on the porch swing. Each book was a portkey to King’s Cross Station, the start of a journey into new friendships, overcoming obstacles, and growth.

Ten years ago, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released.

It was the summer of my freshman year of college. I remember running to the store first thing in the morning to buy a copy because I was too impatient to wait for my pre-order to arrive – and making the mistake of seeing the name Albus as I flipped to the end to check how many pages there were. I remember slowing down, stretching the book over days because I didn’t want it to be over.

I grew up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. They came in to my life when I was eleven – the same age as the first years – and they set out in the world when I was eighteen. The end of the series marked the end of my childhood. Both were over.

Diagon AlleyNow, I am approaching the end of my twenties and staring adulthood dead in the face. And now, I am experiencing the magic of Harry Potter in new ways. I get to discover new parts of the wizarding world through The Cursed Child, Fantastic Beasts, and Pottermore. I can talk with my students about the stories and share in their excitement as they experience this world for the first time. I even spent one glorious summer day flitting around in my Ravenclaw house robes at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Orlando, casting spells with my interactive wand and literally making it rain.

It is hard to believe that two decades have passed since I first encountered this magical world. And while I will never again be able to experience the wonder of meeting Harry for the first time, I know that he will continue to be an old friend that I can visit for years to come.

Perhaps J. K. Rowling, the queen herself, says it best:

“Whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”