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TEACHER VOICES | Michele Godwin, #1

“My rump was in the air.”

Michele GodwinEd. note: Michele Godwin is beginning her 14th year of teaching high school. She’s back at Leadership High School, where she taught from 2001 to 2008. An English teacher by training and experience, Michele has changed her focus to build a library for Leadership. In addition to her fundraising and library organizing, she is an 11th grade adviser. These are her musings from the first few weeks back at work.

favicon Monday, 8/4 – 8:46 am
Back to work already! When did summer end in July? I can’t complain much, though: my summer lasted three years. But August 4? Really?

Tuesday, 8/5 – 10:08 am
Over my resentment about the short summer, and excited to be someplace that feels so much like home, even with all the new faces. It’s a bit of a shock to be one of the oldest people in the room, however. It didn’t used to be that way!

Wednesday, 8/6 – 3:47 pm
Another day of excellent professional development. I’m reminded how fortunate I am to work in a place that takes the education of its staff so seriously. I’ve learned more about how to recognize my privilege and better serve my students in LHS PD meetings than anywhere else.

Friday, 8/8 – 9:10 am
A day of work/rest. Don’t have to put a classroom together or plan a lot of curriculum, so I focus on rest. Off to Tahoe for a camping trip with friends, a good way to remind myself the importance of maintaining balance in my life, especially as the school year kicks in. Only working 80% while I finish up my Master’s degree this year – AND I’ve got to keep being a mom and a partner for my family. MUST MAINTAIN BALANCE!

Friday, 8/8 – 5:37 pm
Finally make it DL Bliss State Park after a long drive. Enjoying a drink with friends when I witness my 8-year-old do an end-over the top of his bike a mere 15 feet away from me. When I try to run to him, I trip on a tent wire and go flying, landing on the ground with my rump in the air. Wearing a skirt.

Saturday, 8/9 – 3:32 pm
A day at the beach. Jumping off rocks into Lake Tahoe from a 12-foot-cliff, and I can’t help but make the experience into a metaphor as I watch my little boy agonize over the decision whether or not to jump, actively working to overcome his fear, having seen all his camping friends take the plunge already. He has lots of support, with everyone assuring him of his safety and encouraging him to take the risk; his father waits in the water below, arms ready. He finally jumps and is met with shouts of praise, like something out of Rudy. I am reminded of how privileged he is, to be in this beautiful place and to have a whole network of people around him to help him take this risk. I want the same thing for my advisees.

Wednesday, 8/13 – 4:15 pm
First day of three days of retreats with advisories. My group is 15 or so juniors, several of whom have had multiple advisers in their time at LHS. The first day does not go well. They are angry, and I am rusty. They need me to be strict but not rigid, to know their stories but to make no assumptions about them, to be committed to them and to not allow them to push me away. I almost cry after they leave, I am so stressed out. Almost, but not quite.

Thursday, 8/14 – 3:48 pm
Field trip to Berkeley with three of the four junior advisories. The adults are unorganized and unprepared, and it comes through: the kids don’t understand the point of the trip and complain. A lot. They want to leave campus to buy lunch, even though they’ve been told they won’t be allowed to. Lots of pushback and argument. Two of my girls fuss and fuss, and then change their approach to calmly and rationally explain why they need to buy lunch from the pizza place down the street. I am angry and hot, and ready to dig in my heels, when I call my principal for some advice. Do I let them go, and send the message they can do whatever they want? Or do I stick to my guns and watch them get hangrier and hangrier? My principal talks me down. I take the girls to the pizza place down the road, and they tell me their life stories. Turns out, they have every right to be angry.

Monday, 8/18 – 2:47 pm
First day of school. Two kids who didn’t come to retreats join us, and it’s nice to finally see their faces. The group is worked up and restless, after a full day of classes, and they just want to get through this last hour twenty and go home. I tell them we are going to talk about what is going on in Ferguson, and they loudly exclaim that they’ve been hearing about that all day, that it has nothing to do with them, that it just makes them angry and sad and scared. I understand. But we forge on, and it feels like I’m swimming upstream, as they talk over me, talk to each other, talk about who didn’t show up today, talk about who’s getting her eyebrows done after school. I send them out into the hallway to come back in and start all over. One never comes back. At the end of the day, though, we have a short list on the board: WAYS WE CAN DO SOMETHING TO EMPOWER OURSELVES. It’s a short list, but it’s a start. favicon

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TEACHER VOICES | Marni Spitz, #1

Tears of a tiger, tears of a teacher

ms. spitz 4Ed. note: Marni Spitz teaches U.S. History and Reading Lab at City Arts and Technology High School in San Francisco. This is her first post for TEACHER VOICES.

favicon There’s a lot that can be said about today’s teenagers. Yes, they love selfies. True, they really want more followers on Instagram. And I know, What’s with keeping stickers on their hats and texting in three-letter abbreviations?

Most of what we read and hear about today’s teenagers (we being the non-teenagers, and dare I say, “adult” members of the population) has very little to do with their love of reading. Some might argue that this is because kids these days just aren’t reading as much. With so much technology and so many distractions, young adult readers just aren’t what they used to be.

Yet as someone who has the distinct privilege of working with teenagers every day, I feel a responsibility to tell a story that highlights just the opposite. Teenagers ARE reading. And guess what? They’re actually loving it too! Although our world has changed quite remarkably, the power of a good book has not.

I’d like to tell you about a student, who like other teenagers loved selfies, Instagram, and kept stickers on his hat. Let’s call him Alex. This past school year was Alex’s second time in the ninth grade, and his second year in my class (lucky him!) :). Alex failed every single one of his classes the previous year. Alex was charming and popular, and clearly very bright. Yet here he was again, not doing a darn thing in my class, and completely fine with that.

Although an Independent Reading Program was, is, and always will be a cornerstone of my class, Alex had not finished one book in the 12 months he had sat in my classroom. In fact, Alex had never finished a book in his entire life. His reading level was at an 8.6 grade level, making him one of the better readers in the ninth grade. So how was it that a strong reader like Alex wasn’t finishing a book?

I would give Alex a book, which he would take, leave in class, and never take home. Little progress would be made on the book despite 15 minutes of Sustained Silent Reading every day, and eventually, I got sick of it. Alex was failing the ninth grade again, and on top of that, he wasn’t reading, AGAIN. As his teacher and advisor, I felt hopeless. I of course didn’t want to give up on Alex, but I had run out of options. I had conferenced with him countless times, given him countless book recommendations, given incentives (pizza party if you finish your book!), but up until about February, nothing seemed to work.

Alex remained respectful and charming but insisted that he just didn’t like reading. That is, until everything changed. EVERYTHING. I like to think that it was book destiny that landed a copy of Tears of a Tiger in my classroom library that fateful February day. A book like that was guaranteed to always be checked out. But…a student had just finished it, and like the students before her, she was raving about it and begging for the sequel. I told her to tell Alex how awesome it was (which she did), and then I figured I’d give one last teacher attempt to convince Alex to check out this book and challenge him to finish it by June. (Squeaky wheel gets the grease, right?) By this time of the year, we were doing a grade-wide competition to see which advisory could read the most books. I told Alex that our entire advisory was counting on him to finish his book. He smiled and said, “Okay, Ms. Spitz, I got you,” and when he walked away with it that first day, I sensed something was different.

The next day during SSR, I gave Alex his book and he READ IT. HE READ IT THE ENTIRE FIFTEEN MINUTES. Usually, Alex requested to leave his book with me at the end of class because he insisted that he would never read it at home and thus feared it would be lost. That first day, however, Alex asked if he could take his book with him! Excuse me?? You want to read MORE OF IT?!

As the days went on, I noticed that Alex was moving through his book at an incredible pace, and I made sure the rest of our class knew it. Alex reveled in this public praise, and within six weeks, he had finished his book. He FINISHED HIS BOOK. This was a big deal. Arguably, the biggest deal ever. The entire class cheered, and clapped, and laughed, and chanted “Alex” when he turned to that last page. I truly wish everyone in the world could have been in my classroom that day because it really did make you feel so grateful to be a person.

I had promised Alex that if he finished his book, I would make him a cake. He must’ve thought I was kidding, because when I came to school the day after he finished with a personalized cake (with images of his book cover toothpicked into the center), you would’ve thought I was giving him a check for a billion dollars.

Here’s Alex with his cake:


The entire advisory cheered for our new reader and the crowd went exceptionally wild when Alex got to place his “book post-it” on our advisory’s Finished Books Thermometer.

We cut the cake together as a class, and Alex shared why he liked his book so much. When asked why today was a big day, Alex replied: “I finished a book. I’ve never done that before.” When asked why he finished that specific book, he replied: “I like reading now.” In the middle of his second piece of cake, he asked for the sequel. A reader had been born in front of my very eyes. I’ve seen some pretty amazing things in my life, but this, dare I say, takes the (reading) cake. :)

Here’s a quick video of the celebration:

After this reading celebration, I noticed that Alex was making waves in his classes as well. His grades were improving, he was turning in homework, completing projects, and before long, was passing all of his classes (and even getting some Bs). He was emailing teachers for help, staying during lunch for tutoring, and in the midst of all this, Alex was READING.

That one book changed everything for Alex. At one point, the school was considering alternative options for Alex because it seemed he would fail the ninth grade for the second time. However, by the time June rolled around, Alex had not only passed all of his classes, he saw himself as a reader. He asked me what books he should read over the summer. He wrote me a letter explaining how finishing a book made him believe in himself and enjoy school more. He is now entering the tenth grade more motivated than ever, and while he loves his selfies, his Instagram, and his stickers on his hats, he is a reader. While I have countless copies of Tears of a Tiger, in thinking about Alex, I also have countless copies of tears of a teacher. :) favicon

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Please say hello and get ready for magic: Teacher Extraordinaire Marni Spitz

ms. spitz 4favicon People are talking (really, they are!) about TEACHER VOICES, the new feature on Iserotope set to launch this week. The excitement is palpable.

That’s why I’m so excited to introduce you to Marni Spitz, who is going to start things off with a bang.

Marni is an extraordinary social studies teacher at City Arts and Technology High School in San Francisco. This year, she’ll teach U.S. History.

That’s pretty great, right? Well, it gets even better: Marni will also teach a section of Reading Lab, a new class for ninth graders who don’t know (yet) that they love reading (and might even say, in a moment of weakness, that it’s boring). (The students have no idea what’s coming!)

There are so many reasons that I think Marni is great, but I don’t want to give away too many secrets, because, after all, maybe she’ll want to be a consistent contributor to TEACHER VOICES, and it’ll be best for you, dear Iserotope readers, to learn about those secrets directly from Marni.

But I can’t stand myself, so here are a few:

1. Marni believes unapologetically that reading is the thing.
This means that Marni has built a robust classroom library; instituted an independent reading program with her partner English teacher; conducted regular one-on-one conferences with her students to track their reading interests, progress, and goals; and launched an Instagram campaign, #catsterscaughtreading, to encourage reading outside school. There’s a lot more, of course, but I wanted to give you a little teaser.

2. Marni is strongly loved by students and colleagues.
Sometimes, this whole teaching thing gets tough. But there’s no reason to be Dour Debbie Downer. Marni understands that teaching is a marathon, not a sprint, and that personal relationships with students and colleagues matter markedly. Her smile is infectious, her wit wonderful, her humor hilarious. Even when times get rough, Marni remains optimistic and looking for “miracles.”

3. I’m lucky because I get to work with Marni every week.
Yep, she’s one of her school’s instructional leaders, which means I get to visit her every week, observe her teach, takes notes about all the great things she’s doing, and meet with her to plan her next steps. Plus, Marni lets me collaborate with her on her projects, which from time to time leads to some significant fame. Like when we were on the student-run newscast last Spring. Please enjoy:

I can’t wait for you to get to know Marni, listen to her stories, and bask in her successes. Plus, no pressure, but you’ll likely laugh a lot. Please enjoy!

If you’re advanced, write a little note to Marni to introduce yourself! (Or, if you’re shy, wait until her first post, which comes out next week.) favicon

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Recommended Reading: “School Librarian Fights Summer Slide with School Bus-Turned-Bookmobile”

favicon A school librarian in Washington understands that her work is not done at the end of the school year. In “School Librarian Fights Summer Slide with School Bus-Turned-Bookmobile,” we learn about Jenny Granger’s “Book Cafe,” a bookmobile that swings by neighborhoods where students would otherwise not go to the public library.

“The dreaded summer slide—when kids lose valuable reading skills over the three months they’re away from school—is feared by librarians and teachers alike.”

Source: http://j.mp/1oBvyEX (via Pocket). You can also find this article at Iserotope Extras, a curated list of my favorite articles about teaching, reading, and technology. favicon

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Exciting new feature: TEACHER VOICES

I think this is hilarious and should be the logo of TEACHER VOICES. :)

favicon Hi everyone. I’m very excited today to announce a major new feature on Iserotope: TEACHER VOICES.

If you’re a founding reader of the blog, you’ll remember that I used to write quick reflections back when I was an English teacher. The posts described my successes and failures, my roller-coaster emotions, my incessant attempts to figure things out, and, from time to time, my minor epiphanies.

Several of those posts were very popular, and many of you wrote comments to cheer me on, push my thinking, and engage each other in dialogue. I liked very much the community these posts helped build. Yes, I do like comments!

The reason those posts were popular, I think, is that teacher voice is essential and illuminating. Teacher voice cuts deeply through the educational debate rhetoric mumbo-jumbo that too often obfuscates what’s really happening in our classrooms.

Ever since I became an instructional coach two years ago, that critical part of Iserotope — real stories by real teachers — has been missing.

Until now.

This year, I’m inviting a few of my colleagues to tell their stories on Iserotope. Some will post just once; others may, I hope, become consistent contributors to the blog. Though many of them share my passion for reading, they’ll write about whatever they like.

I encourage you, my dear Iserotope readers, to get to know these teachers, to listen to their stories, and to engage in conversation by leaving brilliant insights. Everyone is welcome: You don’t have to be a teacher to leave a comment. And please, tell your friends — the more, the merrier!

Please let me know your thoughts! Do you like this? What kinds of stories would you like to read? favicon

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All of these books = Student Requests.

I’m proud of the work Envision Academy in Oakland has done to build a culture of reading. In the Spring, they had a book faire, which included the option for students to request new books. Here they are!

This photo comes via Instagram: http://j.mp/1uo9GCp.

Go ahead, follow Iserotope on Instagram! favicon

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Milestone: 50 projects on DonorsChoose!

RFF Logo(1) (1)favicon I like milestones.

Today one was reached: My 50th project on DonorsChoose.org was completed, thanks to the Rogers Family Foundation and a few anonymous donors.

When I found out late this afternoon, on an otherwise tough Monday, I was overjoyed. The Rogers Foundation is extremely respected, especially in Oakland, and its work to promote literacy is inspirational.

Plus, it’s my 50th project!

Over the years, generous friends and strangers have contributed generously to my projects. Now I focus on physical books, but folks in the past have supported a huge variety of classroom supplies, including computers, printers, tablets, document cameras, field trips, Kindles, and e-books.

I haven’t calculated how much all the 50 projects add up to, but it’s easily more than $15,000.

That’s why I firmly believe that if you’re a teacher, you should always have a project up on DonorsChoose.org.

Make the project very small — usually around $100. Books are best because they’re funded fast. Make a small donation, around $5-$10, to get things started. To get your project out there, feel free to connect DonorsChoose.org with Facebook, but don’t ask your friends too often for money. Instead, let strangers take care of things. If you’re patient, they will. My projects typically take about two weeks to fund.

Here are two secrets, especially for overworked teachers: I use the same exact project description, over and over again, and just change the materials I’m requesting. And I always have another project ready, so that there isn’t too much of a gap between finishing one project and starting another.

Sure, DonorsChoose.org is not perfect for everyone. You don’t want to do big projects on it, and some people will be turned off by the large fees. But for things like books, DonorsChoose.org is perfect. With a nice template, you can easily have 15 books delivered every month to your classroom.

Go ahead and take a look at my DonorsChoose.org page and browse the 50 projects that generous donors have funded. Thank you, donors! favicon

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Go ahead, follow me on Twitter! Or contribute to the Kindle Classroom Project! favicon