I Am Not a Rockstar, Superhero, or Dragonslayer – I Am a Teacher

I’m a big fan of inspirational quotes, but lately I’ve become a little disillusioned with many of the ones I see about teaching. Quotes that remind us of our ‘super powers’, call us rockstars, or forge images of us as mythical heroes slaying dragons.

I’ll admit that I’ve shared some of them and even allowed them to bolster my sense of value when public education is belittled.

But the more I think about it, I don’t want to be any of those things because it cheapens what I really do. Those labels take away from the pedagogy I’ve learned, the skills I’ve honed, and the enormous amount of hard work that goes into teaching.

It’s not some freak super power that helps me connect with students. That’s good old-fashioned relationship building and content knowledge.

It’s not rockstar showmanship or fill the stadium adrenaline that engages students. It’s the hours spent creating and developing relevant lessons.

It’s not a quest to slay a dragon and come back with tales of heroism. It’s endless moments of one on one time, words of encouragement, giving one more chance.

Superheroes work alone. Teachers depend on each other for success.

Rockstars often allow success to go to their heads and stop listening to advice. Teachers are humbled every day by mistakes they make and successes they never knew were coming.

Dragonslayers set out alone with a single weapon. Teachers work together and have an arsenal of strategies.

I am a teacher.

That title is enough.


Their Eyes Are On Us

Their eyes are on us.

Every comment we post

Every story we share without fact checking

Every post we start with, “I’m hoping this isn’t true…”

Every keystroke that calls someone with an opposing view an idiot or worse

Every time we sit in silence  when someone spews hate

Every time we shout down someone whose views are different from ours

Every time we marginalize a perspective we have never experienced

Their eyes are on us.

We preach to them about digital citizenship – think before you post…

Is it kind?

Is it true?

Is it necessary?

We admonish them to think about their digital footprint – ask before you post…

What if your grandmother saw this?

What about your future college?

Your future boss?

We lament the rise in cyberbullying and shake our heads and talk about “this generation” that has grown up with screen names and avatars, and we want to blame technology for the downfall of their social skills.

But their eyes are on us…


Is Your Classroom on Broadcast Delay?


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I wrote this post four years ago while watching the London Games. It seems like a good time to share again.

I love the Olympics, but last night I found myself going, “Eh, I don’t care,” when C asked if he could watch a movie instead. It’s not that I wasn’t interested in the events, it was that I already knew the outcome; in fact I knew every highlight, so why waste my time watching it? And that was the ‘aha’ moment. For many students, the classroom is a lot like NBC’s broadcast delay of the Olympics.

  • They already know the end results before class starts.
  • They can easily find the answer with a simple search on www.google.com
  • They get tired of the banal commentary.
  • They tune in when it’s something they are interested in.
  • You cover the same things over and over, leaving out opportunities to learn about new things.
  • The experts debate whether technology offers an unfair advantage or changes the game; often banning it altogether.

So, what can we do?

  • Stop teaching basic facts. Really, it’s out there. I read this post from @GingerLewman this morning on Twitter http://gingerlewman.com/from-pencilpaper-rigor-to-pbl-the-transformation-of-a-teacher/ and she hits the nail on the head – they learn it by using it, not memorizing it.
  • Stop talking so much! Think about how long it takes before you tune out during a lecture. I make it about ten minutes before my mind wanders. The classroom needs to be collaborative and conversational. Rather than telling them what they are seeing, give them time to observe and reflect. You’ll be amazed at what they discover.
  • Get to know your students. It’s amazing what you can teach through real world problems and their interests.
  • Give up that unit/topic/book if it’s taught in other grade levels. You may love it, but they already know it. Let it go. Information is growing exponentially; we need to stop limiting their learning.
  • Embrace technology. Yes, it does give them an advantage. Yes, it does change the game. That’s not a bad thing.

So, as the new year begins, ask yourself, “Is my classroom on broadcast delay?” If the answer is yes, what are you going to do to fix that?

Teaching Kids Not Lessons


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It’s graduation day, and as excited as I am to watch our students walk across the stage, there is a part of me mourning the ones who didn’t quite make it.

Those kids who didn’t turn in that one assignment that made the difference between passing or failing.

Those kids who missed too many days and couldn’t do ALL the work that was missing.

Those kids who just never quite fit in at school and slipped through the cracks.

Those kids who realized, at the eleventh hour, that they had messed up.

To those of you reading this who are thinking, “It’s their own fault,” please take a moment and step back and think about your own mistakes. I’m sure you’ve made a few.

To those of you who didn’t bend even a little because “in the real world” or because you believe it’s your job to “teach them a lesson”, please think about a time someone gave you a second (or third or fourth) chance or lent you a helping hand.

I remember two things my first principal said to me. First, you can’t save them all (but I’ve spent 28 years trying), and second, never take something away from a student you can never give back.

Students only have one chance to walk across that stage and graduate with their class.

Sure, they can do summer school or come back as a 5th year senior. And yes, they can get their GED or HSED.

But they won’t ever have the chance to graduate with their peers again.

I get it. These kids have made choices that put them in this situation, and it’s hard to overlook that.

I get it. You have rules and expectations, and you want to be “fair” to all the students who followed those rules.

I get it. Those last-ditch efforts create more work for you.

I get it. Some kids are just so far behind, there’s not much you can do.

But what about the ones who are trying, even if it is at the eleventh hour?

Think about what you know about the adolescent brain (if you haven’t read anything since your undergrad adolescent psych class, you need to).

Think about the iceberg principle – we see 20% of what’s going on in a person’s life. 80% is hidden.

Think about what you really want that kid to learn.


I want to teach those kids that when they were down, someone lent a helping hand.

I want to be able to say, “Hey, you did mess up, but let’s figure out together how to fix it.”

I know we can’t save them all.

Despite our best efforts, there are those who won’t ever walk across that stage.

But what about those who are close?

What’s more important, teaching a lesson or teaching a kid?

For me, it will always be teaching a kid.

Time, Resources, and an Audience

Back in the fall I turned to an artist friend for advice on how to nurture the creativity of one of my students. We had an extensive conversation (art, pedagogy, creativity, how we kill creativity), but what I walked away with was a simple set of directions – give him time, resources, and an audience.

That advice is so simple yet so powerful.

What if that is what we did for everything in education? What if we provided our students with three simple things:






Let’s Talk About the Professional Part of Professional Development

I get it. We all have a million things we need to do that seem in direct competition with sitting through “yet another” professional development. I’ve seen this meme often enough this year to know that my teacher friends don’t always (ever?) value the time spent in professional meetings.
teacher inservice meme

And I’ll admit, there have been times in my career where I’ve thought, “Just leave me alone and let me teach my kids,” as I’ve sat in a district or building inservice.

But, let’s be honest, what would we say to our students if they came in our rooms and said, “Just leave me alone and let me do what I already know how to do,”?

And how offended would we be if the meme above was changed to this?

teacher inservice meme 2

Yes, there is a need for personalized professional development.

Yes, I value the professional learning I do on my own via Twitter, Google+, and even Facebook.

Yes, I love attending conferences about topics that are high interest.

Yes, we all need time to do our own thing.

And yes, there is a need for us to come together and learn things we might not really want to learn.

Things that might force us to take a second look at our practices.

Things that make us realize that to most effectively teach our students, we need to change what we do.

Like our students, sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know.


Dear School, It’s Not Me, It’s You

A few weeks ago, a friend shared an essay written by her son. It was a rough draft of an assignment in which he was to declare his independence from something.

She shared it with me for a couple of reasons. First, because he’s not a kid who likes to write, and second because there was a passion in his writing she’d not really seen before.

It’s not often I’m left with no words, but this essay made me just read and nod my head. He summed up, in a couple of pages, the frustrations many students have with the standardization of our education system.

I asked for permission to share his story right away, but I wasn’t sure how to put it out there. Then yesterday I read the latest blog post from Peter DeWitt (Finding Common Ground). According to an extensive student voice survey (Quaglia and Corso), only 46% of students feel valued in their school.

With that in mind, here is his draft.

Read it with an open mind (Yes, there are some things we probably all agree students need to learn).

Read it and remember your own school days.

Read it and ask yourself why so many students do not feel valued.

Dear School,

We have been together for twelve years now and I think it has been too long. You actually started out okay in the beginning: giving me time for naps during the day and allowing me go outside and get fresh air at least 3 times per day. You also let me play, build, pretend, create and color. At first, I thought you were pretty cool and that I would like you and would want to be with you forever.  However, I have finally figured out you have tricked me and I must say you have done a great job trapping kids in your world.  Each new school year, you take away a little bit of fun and add in boring activities that are supposed to help me “learn”.  Taking naps only lasted a mere year before you decided I didn’t need rest anymore and that I needed more work.  Very quickly, you turned my free play and discovery into subjects called math, science, reading and social studies.  You also took away my creativity and I had to do things your way or it was wrong.  Playing outside also slowly got cut down year by year.  Instead of being outside, you wanted to keep me inside of your walls.  Your subjects started out relevant and useful but quickly turned for the worse.  For example, “if you had twelve cookies to share with three friends how many would you each get?” That wasn’t enough for you because then you had to start timing me to see if I knew math facts at a certain speed.

After six years, you made me move to another one of you.  You told me how much better it was going to be and how much more fun I was going to have. I actually believed you for the whole summer but when I got there I soon realized you tricked me once again.  I had to come to you way earlier each day and once I walked in you would not let me out until you were done.  You kept me locked up like a prisoner with no fresh air or freedom.   You made your subjects full of useless information, added letters to math and made me memorize ridiculous formulas, you gave me tests upon tests, you had to grade every little thing and you took all my play and discovery away.  You gave me the worst three years of my life.

I still wanted to believe you when you told me this next move would be the best years of my life.  However, after two and a half years with you here, I cannot take any more of your lies. I’m done with you and I don’t believe you anymore.  I have to wake up at an ungodly hour to get to you and then you keep me locked inside for 8 hours.   But eight hours is not good enough for you anymore, you make me do work for you at home.  There is no way to get rid of you; you haunt me 24 hours a day.   After I am done with soccer, ski, or golf practice and want to go hang out with some friends or go relax you are in the back of my head saying “no, you can’t have fun, you have work for me to do”. On weekends, when I should be spending time with family and friends, you selfishly won’t let me do that, I have to be doing more work for you.  

I’m angry with you and I think it is best if we went our separate ways immediately. You have fooled me for practically my entire life and now I am 110% done with you.  All I wanted you to do is to teach me about things that really matter in life.  I wanted you to teach me about things that would really help me in my future.  Instead, you have squashed my creativity and love for learning.  Instead of giving me relevant information you have filled my head with useless knowledge. Instead of inspiring me, you have tested me and tested me and ultimately degraded me.   I can’t be my real self around you and I will never be good enough for you.  I wish I could say, “see you never” but as much as it pains me to say this I have no other choice but to say, “see you tomorrow”, I am trapped in your world.



Mourning a Friend I Never Met

It’s been more than a week since I learned of the passing of my Twitter friend, Joe Bower. In those days I have read many tributes to Joe that made me nod and smile, realizing that others had made the same connections with him that I had.

I hesitated to write a tribute of my own; after all, Joe and I had never met face-to-face. But this morning I came across a tweet from Chris Emdin (@chrisemdin) in my Timehop feed that made me change my mind.

Chris’ tweet read, “I have never met many of my mentors. Some of them don’t even know who I am…but I am watching, and I thank them for guiding me.”

Joe Bower was one of my many mentors.

I never met him face-to-face, but our conversations via Twitter were like conversations between old friends.

What started out as a Twitter follow of a fellow educator turned into great admiration for Joe’s work with students and his unwavering efforts to do what was best for kids not what was convenient for adults.

Our conversations most often focused on intrinsic motivation and punishing with rewards. I think we really connected over the topic of reading for points and the damaging effects of Accelerated Reader.

Posts with titles like Working with Children When They Are at Their Worst made me stop in my tracks. Joe made me think about consequences vs. punishment, restorative justice, and power and control.

Last fall I co-taught an Introduction to Education course, an elective for high school juniors and seniors interested in becoming teachers. One of the assignments was to read education blogs. Joe’s blog, For the Love of Learning, was on the list we gave the students.

I sent Joe a Twitter message that read: Teaching an Intro to Ed class to 11-12th graders this semester. Had them spend time reading education blogs – lots of great conversations from the ones who read yours. Your ideas resonate with them. Favorite comment so far from one of the girls – I cannot be defined by a number.

Joe’s response: So awesome to hear!! Please extend to your students an invitation to write a guest post on my blog.

We extended the invitation, and they wrote a post which Joe published, Education Students Ponder the Profession.

It was a huge moment for our students – an opportunity to not only reflect on their learning but to share it with a wider audience. I wish we would’ve bottled up the learning that happened as they grappled with exactly what they wanted the world to read.

I came across a second quote that reminded me of Joe, this one from Mother Teresa. “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

 I never met Joe face-to-face but considered him a friend.

His posts and tweets challenged me to think deeply about education.

His passing leaves a hole in my PLN that will be next to impossible to fill.

I will miss the conversations.

I will miss reading about his continual growth as a teacher.

But I know that he cast a stone across the waters of education and created many ripples.

Celebrating Rough Edges

I’m not really a fan of resolutions, but I’ve come to love the One Word movement. If you’re not familiar, you can check it out here.

I picked my first word in 2013 – present. My goal was to be present in the here and now rather than worry about what else needed to be done. It was hard: remembering to not check my phone all the time, listening with my eyes (one of my favorite phrases from C when he was little), and not being three steps ahead in my thoughts. But having this one word as my focus really made a difference.

In 2014, I chose the word intentional. As the kids’ sports schedules increased and my dissertation proposal and research loomed, I needed to focus on being intentional with my time. Too often I had felt like the guy at the circus who spins plates. By choosing the word intentional, I planned to let some of the lesser plates; to be intentional in which ones kept spinning.

2015, my word was determined.  When went back to school, my goal was to graduate as S finished middle school. I knew that her schedule in high school would add to our family chaos, so I began 2015 determined to complete my dissertation in time to defend it in April (which I did 🙂 ).

These three words have stuck with me: reminded me of what was important, what I wanted to accomplish, what I was willing to work for.

My word for 2016 is a little different. It is, in a way, a reflection of what I have learned from the other three words. My 2016 word is enough.

This word comes to mind because so often I see and hear the word ‘too’ attached to descriptions of my students, my kids, myself. When I hear it attached to me, well, it makes me feel like I am not enough, and if it makes me feel that way, what does it do to my kids (my personal ones and my school ones)?

So, here’s to this year’s word, enough.

Here’s to recognizing that I am.

Here’s to making sure I tell those around me that they are, as well.

Here’s to embracing my inner Stuart Smalley.

Here’s to celebrating the rough edges that make us unique.

Here’s to being enough.



Speaking In Absolutes


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How can I tell the new school year is about to start?  My social media feed – it is filled with posts aimed at new teachers, veteran teachers, administrators, new parents, parents of high school students, and, of course, students.

These posts are filled with absolutes.

~10 (or 15 or 20) things to NEVER  do the first day of school.

~10 (or 15 or 20) things to ALWAYS do the first day of school.

~MUST do learning space arrangements

~NEVER do learning space arrangements

~5 (or 10 or 50) MUST use technology apps for teachers

~The latest MUST have back to school fashions

~This year’s MUST have school supplies

~10 (or  20 or 100) MUST pack lunches for your child

~Things you MUST have on your college application (or in your essay)

~Words you should NEVER use when writing your college application (or in your essay)

You get the idea.

Advice written in stone.

Advice that comes across as fact rather than opinion.

Advice that cannot be ignored because if you do you must be a bad teacher (administrator, parent, student).

I’ll admit I read through them – some because I’m looking for ideas, others because I can’t believe someone can be so presumptuous.

I think it’s great to offer advice on what we have experienced or see as successful, but I think we have to be cautious in how we project that.

If we assume that there is an all or nothing approach to the first day of school, the perfect packed lunch, or the Holy Grail of college applications then we lose sight of the big picture in education: meeting the needs of students.

I believe that when we speak in absolutes we lose credibility.

We come across as a “my way or the highway” kind of person, and I don’t think that’s what most of us want.

Do I think teachers should smile before Christmas? Yes!

But it shouldn’t be forced or fake. Kids can see right through that.

Do I think the first day of school should be about more than rules? Yes!

But I know there are big picture thinkers who really NEED to know what you expect.

Do I think kids should have healthy lunches? Yes!

But I know that just because you pack it doesn’t mean they’ll eat it.

Do I think time and effort needs to be put into college applications? Yes!

But when my 11 year old states he should stay in 4-H (something he did not enjoy) because it would look good on his college application, we have a problem.

This will be year 28 for me. No two have been exactly alike.

I learn.

I grow.

I change.

Most of all, I get to know the group I have and go from there.

I may have curriculum to follow and standards to meet, but I know that students are not standard.

They come in all shapes and sizes and abilities.

And I do them (and myself) a disservice if I only work in absolutes.