The Author

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I am a high school English teacher, and mother of two charming little ones of my own. I teach in a high poverty urban charter school, while I live in a typical American suburb that has frequently been rated one of the safest cities in the country. It is a paradox I struggle with constantly, but it is my life.

Monday, September 6, 2010


Friday, I wrote an entry called "discouraged" about the downsides to my job... struggles with administration. (Don't get me wrong- I have some excellent administrators that are truly supportive of me, but at a big school, there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen and it tends to spoil the broth). In my credential program, I once had a professor explain that there are three elements to any teacher's success- administration, faculty, and students. In any teaching position, if you feel like you are supported by and have a good relationship with at least 2 out of 3, then you have a situation you can sustain without getting too burned out or wanting to quit. If you have only 1, you will only be able to keep going for so long before you completely burn out. You know what... she was right.

Despite the occasional administrative frustrations, I've got some awesome co-workers, and more than that, I've got some awesome kids.

I was reminded today of why I moved my narrative unit to the beginning of the year. For one, it is one of the easier styles of writing to master, but more than that, it is the unit I most enjoy, and I thought it would be a good way to start the year (and I totally didn't want to pass it off to a sub this year- the narrative unit is mine). One student actually wrote his narrative about an activity I did in class. It was a fortune cookie game, adapted from Erin Gruwell's Peanut Game, and I used it to technically teach sensory detail, but my master plan involved them working with a partner they wouldn't normally choose to work with one-on-one too, in hopes of building relationships and breaking down walls in our classroom family as well. Apparently, it really worked. This student, we will call him Jack, writes about how, through the process of working on the fortune cookie game, he got to talking to his partner, a girl he obviously felt friendly with before but apparently wasn't a good friend, whom we will call Sarah. Somehow through the atmosphere of that activity, Jack felt safe talking to Sarah and revealed a secret he had been dying to get off his chest. This is exactly the kind of thing that I was hoping would happen in that game. Even if Jack was the only one who created new bonds in that game, it was completely worth all the planning and the $30 spent on fortune cookies.

Another little detail of his story made me really happy too. Jack is one of my established drama students; he was in the program last year and has grown as an actor much over the last year. Sarah, whom he was paired with for the fortune cookie activity, is a new drama student. She is one who sort of got randomly placed in the program because of lack of space in other classes. Well.... that's what Sarah thinks anyway. The truth is, I sort of handpicked those kids. See, the week before school started, I was told that there wouldn't be as many sections of environmental science this year, and since it was just a college prep elective, they would need to just place sophomores who didn't fit in another college prep elective or something else. Basically, the only other approved courses on campus this year are my drama class and the music teacher's chorus class, but they told me I could pick which sophomores I wanted in drama before they went through and tried to fit as many as possible into science and other courses. Seeing this as a golden opportunity to get some kids who might really enjoy theater but might not pick it on their own, I went to last year's freshman English teachers, and I asked them to list students who they saw as artistically minded who might enjoy my drama class. Sarah was one of those names who got listed. So... it wasn't exactly random.

Anyhow,  so in Jack's story, he mentions that Sarah commented that she wished she wasn't in drama, because she didn't want to act. Funny thing is, no one HAS to act in drama if they don't want to. There are a lot of crew positions available, but someone must have talked Sarah into auditioning, because she did, and she did a fantastic job. I gave her probably the biggest, strongest female role in the play. Although I could tell she didn't have any experience, it was just a good fit. The beautiful thing is, she is GREAT. Sure she doesn't have all the terms down and learning blocking is new to her, but she is a good student and a quick learner, and she has a ton of natural ability. We will have to do some work on diction and volume, but she is owning the character and is definitely one of the strongest actors in the play.  Who knew?  I think I have a certain 9th grade Honors English teacher to thank for that one.

I love my job... at least right now anyway. I am going to try to hold on to this feeling all week.

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