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TEACHER VOICES: Michele Godwin, #16

One month before graduation. “Now what?”

michele godwinfavicon Monday, 4/18 2:10 pm
Family meeting week, the last of my advisees’ high school careers. I meet with K’s mom for five minutes, just to let her know that K is on track to graduate May 28. K has all her credits, she’s passing her classes, and she’s in good shape for the senior exhibition. Go ahead and order the invitations for the graduation party! K’s already paid her deposit to CSU Stanislaus; she’s ready to go. It’s the easiest meeting I’ll have all week.

2:45 pm
D’s mom comes in to talk about D’s progress toward graduation. He’s currently failing two classes, and he owes over 30 academic hours. D swats it away like it’s nothing: “Yeah yeah. I’m taking care of it,” he says.

“What about your exhibition slides? I haven’t seen any of them, and all 15 are due Friday,” I tell him. “You have to pass the exhibition to graduate.”

“Yeah yeah,” he says again, yawning and looking at his phone.

D’s mother takes copious notes in the binder she keeps for tracking D’s school endeavors. She knows that D has absolutely zero wiggle room, that he cannot fail one more class or miss one more credit if he wants to graduate on time. She has experienced his Fs as well as his last-minute recoveries. She’s been on this roller coaster for a while.

I tell them both: D can either walk across the stage on May 28th or not. It’s all in his hands. He nods again, checking his phone and pushing back his chair to leave.

3:30 pm
I’m surprised to see N on campus still, school having let out over an hour ago. N has stopped staying at school until the end of the day, cutting out the last 30 minutes or so every day because he can’t handle being here, or so he says. He’s angry all the time he’s not stoned, and he’s hard to be around. It’s almost a relief when he cuts out early, even though it’s absolutely not OK for him to be skipping school.

I ask him what he’s doing.

“Working on AP Bio with Ms. P,” he tells me and keeps walking toward the science room.

I’m surprised. It’s typical of N to buckle down the last few weeks of school and scrape by in his classes. But we still have another couple weeks! It’s not quite last-minute yet!

I resolve to call his mother and tell her the same thing I told D’s mom: N may or may not walk the stage in a few weeks. But I’m betting he will.

Wednesday, 4/20 4 pm
K is worried I’m going to tell her mother bad news. She has a good reason to worry: K never showed her mother her report card from January. K’s failing three classes, and her mother is concerned that K is always out with her friends and never at home studying. K’s older brother dropped out of high school and sits around the house getting stoned all the time, so mother naturally worries that K is destined for the same fate. The mother works long hours, cleaning people’s houses to make enough money to barely get by. She brought her children to this country to give them a better life, to give them opportunities she didn’t have.

K has to translate the bad news to her mother, and then translate her mother’s reaction. It’s too much for her, and she refuses to translate when it comes time to tell her mother she may or may not graduate, depending on whether or not she can bring up her Spanish grade. She cries instead of telling her mother she won’t be able to go to college if she doesn’t bring up her grades. Her mother can tell I’ve given some bad news—she sees her daughter crying—but she doesn’t know what I’ve said, and K refuses to say what she needs to say. I finally have to use Google translate. Her mother listens carefully to the robotic voice tell her that her daughter’s future is in limbo, that she may have to rescind her college acceptance and the scholarship and the work study and all the assistance she’s been offered if she doesn’t buckle down and get her work done. I’m embarrassed, listening to that horrible voice read this woman’s future to her. I wish I had found another teacher to translate, a human being to convey the scary news.

Again, I didn’t think it through. I didn’t put myself in this mother’s place and imagine a robot telling me my child’s future. What have I done?

4:45 pm
I talk to M’s mother on the phone. Her son has all As and Bs, has completed all his community service and academic hours, and is in excellent shape for graduation. She knows all this, of course, because she keeps a very close eye on her boy. She calls regularly, to ask about deadlines and upcoming events and homework assignments. She checks his emails and recently told me she’d found her son a date to prom but she needed to find one for his brother. Did I have any suggestions? I didn’t.

Friday, 4/22 3:30 pm
C’s dad calls for our family meeting. He’s a contractor and has had to take a lot of time off to deal with his younger son, C’s brother, who skips school all the time and is failing all his classes. C is the oldest, the exceptional child and very much a typical child of alcoholic parents: straight As, self-centered, over-achieving. He’s applied to schools all over the country, top-tier schools with excellent engineering programs, as well as UC Berkeley and UCLA. His number one choice is MIT.

His father and I spend a few minutes talking about what C needs to do to graduate in May: keep doing what he’s doing, and work on his senior exhibition. We spend more time lamenting that C hasn’t been accepted into any of the schools he applied to. How can that be? He’s a straight-A student, played soccer all four years of high school, first generation to go to college, qualifies for free and reduced lunch, Mexican American. What’s the problem? I don’t understand it, and I tell his father as much. I wish C had applied to some CSUs, but he brushed those aside. He was so confident. Now what? favicon

Ed. note: Michele Godwin is in her 15th 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 12th grade adviser. These are her musings from the past few weeks. Please donate so Michele can buy more books!

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TEACHER VOICES: Michele Godwin, #15

“I’m grateful for the education”

michele godwinfavicon Monday, 2/1 – 2:45 pm
They are falling off. Four of 15 advisees are out today. J is putting her mother into hospice care, but the others are just taking the day off, I guess. They likely feel they accomplished something huge by getting through their portfolio presentations, so they’ve given themselves a three-day weekend. They don’t realize that it only picks up from here. English, AP Bio, Advanced Leadership, senior exhibitions, student aid applications, scholarships: There’s still so much to do. It’s not time to celebrate just yet.

Monday, 2/8 – 8:45 am
J’s mother died Friday morning. Friday evening, J attended the orientation sleepover at the university she was accepted to and wants to attend. I know why she went: she wants to show the school how committed she is. She wants to make a good impression so they will give her the full ride she needs to attend the college of her dreams. She wants to think about her future and forget about her loss. She’s coping the only way she knows how.

Friday, 2/12 – 9:30 am
C isn’t here today. He hasn’t been here all week, and that’s not good. I talked to him Tuesday afternoon, when it became clear that he will receive an F for Psychology last semester, since he hasn’t finished his contract for the incomplete grade he received. Nonplussed is the word I would use to describe his response. Perhaps cavalier would work as well. He texts later, though, finally considering what an F might do to his 3.9 GPA and the college acceptances he’s counting on receiving. He’s in the penitent phase of the semester. We’ll see how long he stays there.

Monday, 2/22 1:45 pm
I drop off a care package of nine books to a sophomore girl who’s never been in the library. I subbed for one of her classes, where she walked in 25 minutes late with a full bag of McDonald’s, which she proceeded to eat as if she was in the cafeteria and English class was long over. I didn’t argue with her because SUBBING! I was nice and welcoming and made a joke that she appreciated. She asked me, “Aren’t you the library lady? Will you help me find a book?” I responded with a watered-down version of the back-handspring I usually do, and she agreed to meet me in the library at lunch, since she wasn’t hungry anyway. Perfect!

We didn’t have much time to meet, so she told me the kinds of books she is interested in: mysteries, high-school drama stuff, and stories of social injustice.

“Perfect! Those are the Three Pillars of The Leadership High School Library!” I told her.

I pick out some books and deliver them to her during the last 5 minutes of history, just as she is finishing dessert. She gushes her appreciation and pleasure at having an entire bag of books to look through.

Reading! It’s what’s for dinner!

Friday, 2/26 8:30 pm
I spent much of my day refining a letter of recommendation for one of my advisees. I had written one for him before, but his mother asked that I make some changes: “Please emphasize that my son is a Black boy and that he’s lived in poverty for most of his life.”

I am embarrassed. I’ve always prided myself on my letters of recommendation. I take my writing seriously, and I  think I am pretty good with turns of phrase and metaphors. I don’t lay it on too thick, but I challenge myself to come up with innovative ways of describing students’ gifts and personalities. Overall, I’m a pretty good writer.

This mother, though, has helped me see that this letter is not about my writing skills. It’s about getting her son the scholarship he needs. I can’t be futzing around with a thesaurus and patting myself on the back because I use a word like “plucky” for someone who really gets on my nerves. And I can’t shy away from describing students’ real-life situations. “T is intellectually curious and motivated” is fine for plenty of students—but not for T. He’s brilliant and autistic and easily unnerved and extremely literal and laser-focused and big and Black and poor and he’s grown up in a society that has normalized the homicide of young Black men—and he’s survived. And now he’s going to college and he needs help.

I didn’t want to call T poor or Black, and I didn’t want to name the violence that surrounds him. I wanted to write my little letter and hope he gets a scholarship and feel good about how I helped. T’s mom called me out, as she’s had to do with many people, I’m sure, and explain, yet again, what it is people of privilege can do to help. I’m sorry she had to be the one to explain it to me, but I’m grateful for the education. favicon

Ed. note: Michele Godwin is in her 15th 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 12th grade adviser. These are her musings from the past few weeks. Please donate so Michele can buy more books!

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TEACHER VOICES: Michele Godwin, #14

“You got some nerve! Hold on to that!”

michele godwinfavicon Monday, 1/4/16 – 3:15 pm
Back from the holidays. Everyone is excited that it is finally 2016, the year of their graduation. The end is getting nearer and nearer! We spend several minutes calculating how many more school days there are until graduation. Ninety two!

Wednesday, 1/13 – 12:05 pm
It’s portfolio season, and seniors are freaking out. If they had finished their four school-wide outcome (SWO) essays last semester, as they were supposed to, everything would be smooth and easy. But few of them finished all four, and many of them turned in drafts that need revision. Portfolio is a graduation requirement, and they have two more weeks to get their essays cleaned up, their slideshows prepared, their talking points memorized, and their acts together. Judging by the number of crying jags and temper flares, this is going to be a long couple of weeks.

Wednesday, 1/20 – 10 am
C. has left the school. She’s been talking about it for awhile. Actually, she’s been talking about not leaving the school, but wanting something to change. We looked at inpatient treatment centers and independent study, but neither of those are real options. We finally talked her into transferring to a continuation school, where she can come and go as she pleases, and ask for help when she needs it. It was a sad, sad day when we counseled her out of the school. She needs the LHS community; we know her as well as anyone knows her, and she knows that we love her completely. That’s why she comes to school every day! But she never stays in class long, her temper quick to flame and destroy any ounce of productivity in a classroom. Her boyfriend has gone back to jail, so she doesn’t have that distraction anymore, but it’s clear that she’s full of pain and rage, and there’s little more we can do to help her. When she came back from Winter Break, she was covered in fresh tattoos and cut marks.

We all miss her terribly.

Wednesday, 1/20 – 12:30 pm
A ninth grader, M., comes into the library, as he does every few weeks or so. He paces around the room, stopping every once in awhile to look at the manga section. I’ve ordered a few things for him before, and he’s been appreciative. Often, though, he comes in and asks strange questions about buying things.

“How much will you take for that picture?” he inquired once, pointing to a frame on the wall. Another time, he asked, “Was that printer expensive? Can I buy it off you?” I’ve told him several times that I’m not in the retail business, and that he should focus on checking out books. Or ordering books. That’s what I’m here for.

Today, I’ve ordered pizza for my advisory. M. comes in and asks if he can buy the large pepperoni. I roll my eyes, irritated with his repeated strangeness. Just as I start to launch into a lecture, T. laughs and claps M. on the back.

“You got some nerve!” T. tells him. “I like that. Hold on to that!”

M. smiles, shy but pleased by the attention from one of the coolest 12th grade boys in the school. He walks out of the room grinning, pizza forgotten.

Thursday, 1/28 – 3:30
Another Portfolio Day completed. Phew! The day went off without too many hitches, and everyone is glad it’s over. The seniors are proud and relieved, ready to change out of their job interview outfits and back into their everyday wear. Some of them didn’t get to present today, but they know they’ll get another chance and they’ll graduate with their friends. It’s a good reminder for them that they have to take care of their business or they’ll get left behind. They want to be able to celebrate too! favicon

Ed. note: Michele Godwin is in her 15th 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 12th grade adviser. These are her musings from the past few weeks. Please donate so Michele can buy more books!

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TEACHER VOICES: Dave Keller, #5

Chromebooks in Classrooms: What does the usage data show?

favicon This just came across my virtual desk and it seemed worth sharing.

Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 12.01.07 PM

The graph shows usage during a week (24 hrs a day) for the entire K-12 Piedmont Unified School District, which has about 2,600 students. First, some context: 2015-16 is the first year my high school and middle school have gone 100% 1:1. This means every 6-12 grade student has a Chromebook that they can take home.

Here is a little more data:

Snapshot in time – At 10:00 am Thursday December 3:

  • 390 student Chromebooks were in active use.  
  • 186 high school students, or roughly 22% of school population
  • 118 middle school students, or 18% of school population

The week of 12/8, students spent:

  • 3,806 hours on Google Docs,
  • 377 hours in Membean, a personalized/adaptive vocabulary service for 6th-12th grade students
  • 360 hours checking grades on Infinite Campus,
  • 305 hours on the Math textbooks piloted for 6th-12th graders
  • 109 hours on Newsela, with differentiated nonfiction current event articles for  3rd-6th graders
  • 96 hours using Desmos, an online graphing calculator
  • 87 hours listening to Pandora music
  • 45 hours using Kahoot, a fun classroom quiz game
  • 36 hours in Scratch coding

The week before Thanksgiving also showed the 187 high schoolers using their Chromebooks to apply for college: 173.7 hours were spent at admissions.universityofcalifornia.edu.

Dave Keller - TEACHER VOICES - IserotopeAs a result, our teachers, students, and families are trying to understand the benefits and problems associated with so much technology.

The reaction from faculty has been mixed so far, but one thing is for sure: These numbers are causing quite a stir. What strikes me is that 3,800 hours were spent using Google Docs. Almost a third of computer time is spent writing text or reading text curated by teachers. Of course, it is hard to tell how Docs is used. Some of my Docs activities are digital worksheets. If that is the predominant use, then Chromebooks are a modern version of the mimeograph (or “ditto machine” for those who remember the pungent, blue paper).

However, some of my digital activities teach students to evaluate each other’s writing (using Google Forms). I also use technology to quiz or review (using Socrative and Kahoot), to increase collaborative work (with Docs and Teacher Dashboard), and to promote research while evaluating sources. These uses of technology are showing good results.

Students report liking the computers that are now part of their academic toolbox. They say their organization is improving and collaboration is easier in many ways. For example, online flashcard decks are routinely shared, as are student-generated review sheets and research. When it comes to reading, students seem divided on which they like best: paper or digital. I use a digital textbook and many digital sources but can’t tell whether digital has improved students reading or learning.

Some faculty are alarmed by the amount of time spent on activities that are not directly related to classwork, claiming this data shows that over 50% of computer use is not related to academic work. For example, 11% of Chromebook time was spent on YouTube and 360 hours were spent checking grades.

Like much of the data gathered by Google, these stats are interesting, colorful and fun—but might not tell us much about student learning. However, I am excited to see what future conversations about this information will reveal about our students’ lives at school.

If you have an observation or question about the data, please leave your thoughts in the comments section. Thank you! favicon

Dave Keller (@dkeller101) has been teaching Social Studies for 17 years, consistently looking for new curriculum and methods of instruction. While experimenting with technology in education, Dave focuses on teaching the reading and writing skills required for studying our social universe. He has taught classes throughout the Social Studies discipline in a variety of high schools, including a large comprehensive inner-city school, a charter school, and a competitive independent school. He currently lives in Oakland and teaches at Piedmont High.

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TEACHER VOICES: Marni Spitz, #8

Please. No need to feel sorry for me.

ms. spitz 4favicon The other day, I went to the doctor. I didn’t mean to, but I showed up a few minutes late. In my sincere but rambling apology, I mentioned to the clerk how grateful I was that they had a 4:30 appointment because being a teacher, it’s impossible for me to make it to anything before then. She then looked up and cheerfully asked, “You’re a teacher? That’s so wonderful! What grade do you teach?”

I responded with a glowing smile. “High school. The big kids.” And then, as so often happens, she replied, “Oh, really? I’m sorry.” I giggled half-heartedly and told her not to be sorry, that I love teenagers and that they make me laugh.

If I could get a penny for every time someone told me they were sorry for what I do and who I teach, I’d have a lot of money. Like, a lot.  

I’ve tested out different responses, and while I’m fairly used to it by now, I still don’t get it. Why would anyone feel sorry for what I do? Aside from the fact that it’s plain rude, it also just makes no sense. No one is making me do this, guys. I’m neither an idiot nor a saint. Bias aside, if my nine years in the classroom have taught me anything, it is that the kind of people who go into teaching are the kind of people who could’ve done anything they wanted. And they chose to do this. So please, cool it with your apologies.

Now I realize there’s a lot out there around how hard teachers work, how little we get paid, how under-appreciated we are, and how short our lunches are. And that is all true. But the other truth is: I love it and it’s a great job.

The whole teacher-as-martyr narrative is annoying. We don’t need you to feel sorry for us, or tell us how terrible it sounds or assume that we do this because we’re “saints” or “taking one for the team.” A simple “So cool!” or “I loved my high school teacher!” would do.

In fact, if we’re going to play that game, there are so many reasons being a high school teacher is better than your job.  

+ At my job, I get to wear pajamas on Pajama Day. Do you get to wear pajamas to work?? I didn’t think so.

+ I got to dance to Thriller at work the other day. That was fun.

+ At my job, I get to rap about history. (Check baby, check baby, checks and balances!) Do you get to rap about history at work? Yeah. That’s what  I thought.

+ At my job, I get to read amazing books alongside brilliant minds. The last time I checked, most people have to wait till they get home to open up their books.

+ I get to write letters of recommendation for students who will be the  first in their families to attend college. And then they’re off, and I get to see that.

+ I get to receive emails from graduates when Nelson Mandela died because even years later, they remember that “unit we did on South Africa.”

+ I get to laugh at work. I laugh so much. Teenagers are hilarious. I laugh at least 10 times a day. Good, hardy, in-your-gut laughs. Do you laugh at work?

+ I get to be around young people. Their dreams, their ambitions, their energy. If you ever want to feel energized, might I suggest the same.

+ I get greeted with smiles in the hallway. “Hi Ms. Spitz! Happy Hanukkah Ms. Spitz! What’s good Ms. Spitz!”

+ I am up to date on all the teenage slang and lingo. I’m like, so cool. I knew that hotline was blinging before Drake did.

+ I receive letters thanking me for my love and support—often from students I didn’t even realize cared or noticed.

+ I meet with parents and guardians who tell me how grateful they are that their student is safe, loved, and encouraged.

My job is predictably unpredictable. I am NEVER bored. And I get to learn every. single. day. Are there days I wake up and think, “I am so tired. I don’t want to go.”? Sure. But regardless of how tired I am, I never doubt my purpose for showing up to work. It matters if I’m not there. When I’m not there, 120 plus young people notice.

Now if that is not the recipe for an amazing, fulfilling, rewarding, and incredible job, then I don’t know what is. So please, no need to feel sorry for me. favicon

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TEACHER VOICES: Michele Godwin, #12

“Did you get the books yet?”

Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 6.51.05 PMfavicon Friday, 10/9 – 11:35 am
C explodes into the library, as she does every lunch period.

“Did you get the books yet?” she asks, loudly, despite the fact that I’m in the middle of a conversation with another student. I ignore her, and she keeps on walking toward my desk where I’m sitting. Having a conversation. With another student.

“Did you?” she asks again, as she begins to dig through a pile of books that are reserved and that have a big sign over them that says, “RESERVED.”

My other student, a senior, looks at C and rolls her eyes. She doesn’t know C, but she knows she’s a ninth grader and hasn’t yet learned her manners. I worry the senior will go off on C; I’ve seen her go off for much smaller things. Thankfully she tells me goodbye, and thank you, and walks out.

C is sorting through the books, repeating, “Did the books come in yet? Did you get the books? Are the books here?” She won’t stop.

Somedays I am more patient than other days. Today I am patient, because I am able to remind myself that a) C really is super excited about these books, and b) C considers me one of her very few friends. Many of the other kids find her annoying and overbearing, even though she has a big, loving heart. She can be hard to be around, though, for sure.

Because I am more patient today, I’m able to step toward her, touch her arm, and turn her to me.

“Hi,” I say quietly. “Yes, the books are here. Why don’t you have a seat while I get them ready for you?” I gently move her toward a chair, where she sits down and finally stops talking. I get her books for her, and she takes a deep breath before she dives in.

Wednesday, 10/14 – 12:30 pm
A former student comes to visit me. He hasn’t been in this school since 2005, when it was still condemned and looked like an abandoned elementary school: pre-library, pre-cafeteria, pre-cleanliness. He marvels at the changes, and compliments me on the library.

We catch up. He’s a father now, to a one-year-old girl. He shows me pictures, and I confirm what he doesn’t need confirming: she’s the most adorable child in the world. He stays home with her full time, while her mother works nights. I admire his strength; I could never be a full-time caretaker. I’m not nearly strong enough. He likes it, though he finds himself longing for a break at least a few times a day. He’s excited to be visiting me because it means he’s not running after his newly mobile child. I ask him what he’ll do when they move to daycare or preschool.

“I want to write,” he tells me.

This comes as a complete shock to me, his 9th grade English teacher.

He wants to write. He only realized it recently, but he feels in intensely.

He regrets not having read more, not having written more, not having paid attention in class. He wishes he could go back and do it all over again, knowing what he knows now.

I tell him he can start now. He’s home all day—use that time! (as if I don’t remember what it’s like to have a one-year-old). He seems excited, though, and we talk about next steps.

Both of us feel inspired by his visit, and I go online to find books about writing. He’ll come back in a few weeks, and we’ll inspire each other again.

Monday, 10/19 – 12:35 pm
A busy day in the library: C is here, along with two other ninth graders who come with her. New friends! Each of them turn in multiple books and check out multiple others. Then they hang out and look at what’s on the shelves. They’ve been here every lunch the past few weeks. I think it’s their safe space.

K has come in to work on her college application. I sit next to her and guide her through it. It’s confusing, and I don’t want her to feel overwhelmed. Meanwhile, another student is across the room, on a different computer, working on a scholarship application. Two junior girls are sitting at a table, exchanging gossip quietly, oblivious to the books around them.

A sophomore comes in looking for new books in the LGBTQ section. He has come out recently, and he is going through books faster than I can keep up with him. He’s told me about some of the stories he’s read, and he talks about the characters as if they are his friends.

A group of four sophomore boys come in once a week or so to look at the graphic novels/manga section. They don’t check things out, but they take books off the shelves and talk about them enthusiastically. I’ve learned not to approach them, as they scare easily. Maybe one day one of them will want to check out a book. When that happens, I’ll be ready.

Friday, 10/23 – 10:25 am
A few times a week, one of the resource specialists brings a small group of kids into the library. The students have individual learning plans (IEPs) and do well with some extra help. I like it when they visit, because sometimes I get lonely in my little library. I like to listen to the resource specialist, an amazing young woman I had the pleasure of teaching back when she was a high school student at LHS. Her patience and skill are astounding, and I am reminded of how lucky I am to have played a tiny role in this woman’s education.

The group finishes their review with a couple minutes left before class. A couple of them hover near the door, but some of them start looking through the shelves. One asks, “Do you have any books about hair and makeup?” I don’t, I tell her, but I will by Wednesday.

Ed. note: Michele Godwin is in her 15th 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 12th grade adviser. These are her musings from the past few weeks. Please donate so Michele can buy more booksfavicon

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TEACHER VOICES: Marni Spitz, #7

“I’ve changed my mind about Kindles.”

ms. spitz 4favicon I’ve changed my mind about Kindles. (I’ve also changed my mind about which Janet Jackson album is my favorite, but that is blog post for another time.)

Back to the Kindles: It’s not that I never liked them, it’s just that I was always on the side of real, tangible, physical books. You know—books. Turning the pages! Judging the covers! (You know you do.) Bookshelves! Oh, the bookshelves! And of course, that incomparable feeling that happens when you close your book on that final page, look up, and relish in its completion. When it came to books (and my taste in pajamas), I was traditional and old-fashioned. But now, I am all aboard the Kindle Train. Toot! Toot! (But I still love me a matching flannel set of PJs.)

What caused this radical transformation, you may ask? It wasn’t my own Kindle-reading experience, but rather it was witnessing the incredible happiness and reading-frenzy that Kindles have sparked in my kiddos.


Here’s what happened: I got 20 Kindles to loan out to my young readers (thank you, Kindle Classroom Project!) and started dealing them out like crazy in my Reading Lab classes. Before you knew it, I was the Stringer Bell of Kindles! I was the Lucious Lyon of a Kindle Empire! And with each day, the Kindle following spread like a Taylor Swift song. Kids who weren’t even in my Reading Lab were requesting Kindles. In fact, kids who weren’t even my students were requesting Kindles. I simply did not have enough to meet the demand.

So I did what any successful Kindle dealer would do—channeled my inner Stringer Bell and widened my turf: I got more! Twenty more! I now have half my Reading Labbers hooked on their Kindles, including a few of those sassy pants who at the beginning of the year unabashedly told me there was nothing I could do to help them like reading. Look at you now, sassy pants! You can’t get enough of your Kindle! (Cue told-you-so smirk and giggle.) Kindles have been nothing less than magic for my young readers in a way I never could have imagined.

One huge Kindle Classroom perk that I have observed from Kindle-dealing is the infinite access to books. While I absolutely love my classroom library (bookshelves!) and love the value on reading it communicates, it can be limiting. At most, I have five copies of a certain book. But with their Kindles, my students have an endless library at their fingertips. They really have the whole world in their hands! No more, “Oh I’m sorry, Honey! Perfect Chemistry is all checked out!” or “I’m sorry, Sweetie! I don’t have the third book in the Maze Runner series!” or the saddest of all: “ I’m sorry, Darling! We don’t have that one.”

When those conversations happened, my students would would have to wait forever to get the book they wanted. And when that happens, when you can’t put a book that a kid requested in their hands, that is just heartbreaking. But Kindles mean they can read any book they want, when they want, how they want. (Like Hulu, but for books! And completely free for my kiddos! Free Hulu for everyone!)


It’s absolutely awesome. When a student like Starr, who has received almost more referrals than any other freshman but loves Reading Lab because she has a Kindle, that is awesome. When a student like Damaria, an 11th grader who loves reading so so much but lives far from the nearest library gets to have a Kindle and read to his heart’s content, that is awesome. When a student like Elaine, who always showed up to First Period late starts coming to First Period on time (and even early) so she can maximize the SSR time on her Kindle, that is awesome.

In simple terms, Kindles make reading easy and limitless. There are no hurdles, no hoops to jump through. And for students who have experienced reading in their lives as something filled with countless hurdles and hoops, a hurdle-free experience is just what they deserve and just what they need to find their inner-reader. The Kindle says: “We want you to be able to read any book you want, free of hassle.” favicon

Ed. note: Marni Spitz teaches U.S. History and Reading Lab at City Arts and Technology High School in San Francisco. Donate to Marni’s classroom!

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TEACHER VOICES: Michele Godwin, #10

“They need lots of extra love this year.”

Michele Godwinfavicon Friday, 8/14 – 4:15 pm
Second day of student retreats. It’s so good to see these lovelies! It’s only been a couple of months, but they all look just a little bit older and wiser, somehow.

Yesterday, we focused on fun and reconnecting, with the warning, “There’s lots and lots of hard work ahead. Let’s relax a little bit before we dig in.” We played pub trivia and had a 12th grade Olympics at the park. Today, we split off into three different community service events. I took a wonderful group to the SF Food Bank. We had to take one train and one bus to get there, and many of them insisted on going into McDonald’s instead of taking the first bus. We arrived late and harried, but they let us box up melons and weigh out bags of pasta. We laughed together and wore hair nets. It was a fantastic way to start off the new school year.

Monday, 8/17 – 4 pm
First day of classes and we jumped right in. I assigned the first part of their UC statement, and I got a lot of pushback. T. loudly proclaims, “I’m not going to college!” N. says, “I’ve already done this. I’m not doing it again.” M. and S. tell me they’re not applying to UCs because their grades aren’t high enough.

I tell them in my calm voice, “All of you are writing a personal statement. All of you are shooting high, and all of you are applying to college because all of you have what it takes to get a college degree.”

Lots of grumbling.

I explain to T. that he can decide not to go to college at the end of the year, but I want him to be in a position to decide. I suspect he is scared of going, and that he can’t quite wrap his head around it; he’d be the first person in his family to go beyond high school. I’ll have to work hard to show him the possibilities.

I can see the fear in their faces: fear of rejection, fear of responsibility and hard work, fear of adulthood. It’s very real now, and they don’t know how to handle it.

They need lots of extra love this year.

Wednesday, 8/26 – 2:30
I see a former advisee, O., in the office. We ended on a bad note last year, when she moved out of my class because she was tired of me asking her to put her phone away. We’ve been avoiding each other ever since, which is why I’m surprised when she addresses me in the office.

“My mom’s cancer spread,” O. tells me. “She’s having surgery next week, but the doctors don’t think she has much longer.”

She says this with an expression I used to think of as a smirk. I’ve since learned that her half-smile is a defense mechanism, as is her belligerence and sharp remarks.

I sit down next to her and ask some follow-up questions. Her dad is sick with diabetes and terrible habits, her toddler nephew has moved in while his dad is in jail, and her little sister is having a hard time. O. acknowledges that she will likely become the primary caregiver for her nephew when her mother dies. Her expression never changes.

A couple of things come to my mind. One: how much tragedy this 17-year-old girl has experienced already in her life, with more on the way. At the same moment she loses her own mother, she will become one to her nephew, as well as her little sister and, in a way, to her ailing father. And all she can do is sit back and wait for the other shoe to drop.

Two: While she’s practicing being the adult of the house, she’s reaching out to me, despite our difficult break last year. She’s doing what I should have done long ago to mend our relationship.

I’m embarrassed and grateful.

I hug her and tell her how sorry I am about what’s happening to her and her family, and I apologize for how we ended things last year. She hugs me back and tells me we’re cool. And then she walks away.

Friday, 8/28 – 12:30 pm
D. comes into the room and asks for the assignment sheet from Wednesday. He’s lost his and he wants to work on it this weekend. He’s leaving early with his dad.

D.’s dad is one of the only parents I’ve not yet met, so I follow him into the hallway to introduce myself. His father could pass for his brother, he’s so young looking. I tell him who I am and how honored I am to work with D.

His dad thanks me and proceeds to gush.

“I couldn’t be more proud of him. He impresses me every single day,” he says, D. standing patiently waiting, expressionless. “He’ll always be my baby,” the dad continues, and then he leans his face toward D., who immediately kisses him on the cheek. “See!” the dad says. It’s such a sweet and wonderful gesture to witness, I can’t help but well up.

I’m often overwhelmed by my love for my students. Now their parents too?

Friday, 9/4 – 10:45 am
Fridays are my real work days. I don’t have advisory, so I spend the whole day in the library, catching up on all the paperwork, unboxing books, organizing. Every once in awhile I step out for some air, but I try to stay focused and productive.

Today, though, when I take a break, I see a former student. T. (barely) graduated in 2006. He was funny and charismatic, short and skinny, with an enormous presence. He caused me a lot of frustration and grief, but plenty of joy and laughter as well. I think about him often, and wonder how he’s doing. When I see him walking down the hall, I shriek with happiness. It’s such a pleasure to see him, taller and wiser, but just as wonderful.

We catch up. He’s adjusting to being a new father. He says he’s the best dad in the world, which is wonderful to hear. He’s working on his music still, about to have a release party on a yacht.

“Wow!” I say.

“You gotta spend money to make money,” he tells me, and I agree. That’s what the tech companies do, right? He’s also working construction, to pay the bills. He tells me he had a rough couple years, but he’s got his head on straight and he’s doing well for himself and his daughter. He talks about the school wide outcomes and how he still refers to them (“Every job interview I’ve been to, I talk about social responsibility, personal responsibility, critical thinking, and communication. It works every time!”).

Again, I feel my eyes welling up. There’s nothing like seeing former students come back and visit. It’s one of the most gratifying experiences of my life.

I tell him goodbye and get back to unloading boxes and writing emails, reminded, once again, of how much I love my job. favicon

Ed. note: Michele Godwin is in 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 past few weeks. Please donate so Michele can buy more books!

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TEACHER VOICES: Dave Keller, #3

Despite the disappointments, I love the start of school

Dave Keller - TEACHER VOICES - Iserotopefavicon Today is the first day of the new school year. I love beginnings. The start of the year is so much fun. I’ve got dreams for my students and my classroom.

This year, new technology is coming to students. New content obtained over the summer from three weeks of professional development and two online classes is also on the way. Then there is the energy from students excited about the start of a new year. Even the new superintendent gives an inspirational speech, which gets a curtain call.

Trying to get to sleep last night was tough. It was hot, and I was nervous about the first day of staff meetings. But when the alarm went off at 6:00am, I still bounced out of bed. As I drove up to the school, there’s an earthquake. Moving earth is always exciting and seemed to be a good sign. But it is almost as if the earth sets events on an irreversibly negative trajectory. My new electronic key not only opens the school door, it sets off the building alarm, which was just repaired.

Thirty minutes later, I get to my classroom and find a peculiarly strong odor greeting me at the doorstep. I ask random people for the use of their noses. What is that smell? Ignoring the putrid odor, I turn to the blank wall in my room where new art will hang. It is so dirty; tape and heavy duty 3M products won’t stick. I’ve brought a mop to clean it, and soon there is a bucket of dirty water and a wet, muddy wall. I leave the wall cleaning for the first department meeting of the year, which is dominated by complaints. The details are pedantic. The positive comments can be counted on one hand.

The complaints follow me out into the rest of the campus. Complaining is everywhere. Teacher complaints are dominated by two topics: 1) our 1.5% raise is looking more and more anemic given the ballooning administrative staff and the arrival of new state money, and 2) many class sizes are bigger than they have been in years. The phone rings. It is the auto shop telling me I won’t have my car fixed for three days. Attacking the phone, I dial the auto insurance company only to discover they won’t return my calls. The phone rings again with a call from my real estate agent who informs me that yet another bid on another house is a loser. I finally go home depressed and dejected.

Some days as a teacher are disappointing. In this profession, it helps to have extraordinary optimism and cheerfulness so that the disappointing times don’t define the work. While I’m neither optimistic nor cheerful, I’ve found that the difficult days are usually the ones dominated by adults, and true to form, the start of this year is no different.

As soon as the students show up, I’m back to loving the beginning of school. There is the big smile and authentic “How are you?” from Sydney. The joyful reconnections with Megan and Tyler and Sutter and Kevin. How Nikitha and Clair stop by before going off to college just to say goodbye. Three students begging to be my T.A. Four students asking for letters of recommendation. A new World History curriculum focused on climate change that inspires. “I’m really looking forward to your class” from more students than I can count. New first-day activities where students are actually getting to know each other. “Thank you” from countless young people as their first class with me ends and they pile out of the newly decorated room. Oh, how I love the start of school, despite the disappointments. favicon

Dave Keller (@dkeller101) has been teaching Social Studies for 17 years, consistently looking for new curriculum and methods of instruction. While experimenting with technology in education, Dave focuses on teaching the reading and writing skills required for studying our social universe. He has taught classes throughout the Social Studies discipline in a variety of high schools, including a large comprehensive inner-city school, a charter school, and a competitive independent school. He currently lives in Oakland and teaches at Piedmont Highfavicon

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TEACHER VOICES: Michele Godwin, #9

“It’s been a good year. And we’re ready for what’s next.”

Michele Godwinfavicon Friday, 4/1 3:35 pm
It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to work on library stuff. I’ve run out of fundraising steam, for the time being. My friends are tired of me asking them for money!

So we sit at the $20,000 mark. Students still request titles. I just bought some science-related books, thanks to a recommendation from one of our regular substitute teachers: Charles Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle, and The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age, by Nathan Wolfe. There’s money in the bank, and the requests are slowing down. I should be happy with what we’ve got, right?


The library is just over half full. And many of the books are left over from the crusty donated books that have been with us for so many years. We have at least three copies of all of Shakespeare’s popular plays, and seemingly thousands of copies of Winter’s Tale. Great! But our kids aren’t reading those books.

I have to decide: Leave the shelves half-filled, but with high-interest books? Or put the old, crusty books in there so the shelves don’t look quite so empty and forlorn?

I leave them empty. Because too many bad books is way worse than barely-enough good books.

Bad books are a turn-off. In my experience, it is only book lovers who get excited to comb through shelves and shelves of titles, excited to find the next good story. Reticent readers look at those shelves and see more books about boring people they can’t relate to. They see lots of big words and meaningless characters, and they confirm what they’ve always known: books have nothing to offer them.

I’ve got to get off my butt and get back to work. Those shelves aren’t going to fill themselves!

Friday, 5/1 2:30 pm
C. tells me, “That thing happened yesterday!”

I don’t know what she means.

She looks at me meaningfully and says, “That thing. Remember? I told you about it? I told you I was nervous. Remember?” She waits for me.

I think and think. When did we talk last? She’s not one to share much with me, so I struggle.

And then it comes to me.

“Yes! How did it go? Everything ok?” I ask.

She looks relieved.

“I had to stand up and talk to the judge. I was so nervous!”

“How brave! That must have been so scary,” I tell her.

“I cried,” she says. “I wasn’t strong. But I’m glad I did it.”

“I am too. And so is your dad, I’m sure. What was the verdict?” I ask, afraid of the answer.

“Five years. But I thought it would be 15, so I’m happy!”

I smile at her. How could I forget her dad’s hearing? She mentioned it when I met with her and her mother, in passing, like she wanted me to know, but not really.

“Five years, and then he’s deported back to Mexico,” she says, and puts her earbuds in. The bell has rung, and she’s done sharing.

Monday, 5/4 3:35 pm
A. has stopped coming to school. When I met with him and his mother a few weeks ago, it was clear that he wouldn’t be able to graduate with his classmates next spring. He’s failed too many classes, and he’s currently failing Algebra.

He translated the news to his mother. The counselor then told A. about a college to career program at City, where students can finish up their high school classes and get college credit. He got excited and translated for his mother, who asked some questions and looked doubtful.

Ever since, he has been to school only a couple times.

I miss him.

Wednesday, 5/13 – 10:15 am
Independent reading time. Every student in the room is silent, reading something he or she is interested in. Time and National Geographic cover stories about weed are a big draw. One student is reading Beloved, and I must resist the urge to try to make her love that book as much as I do. Someone’s reading The Oral History of Hip Hop, someone else The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I only had to ask them to be quiet a few times before they settled in and started reading. I don’t know what’s going on with them, but it sure does make me happy. And it reminds me: must get more books.

Thursday, 5/28 – 2:20 pm
They’re gone. We’ve had our last Advisory of the year, and now they’re gone. They’ve left their cookie crumbs and empty soda cups, as well as an entire, unopened bag of carrots (the Funyons and Doritos got eaten, though), and now they’re gone for the summer.

We said goodbye to A., who will go to City next year. I had to beg him to come today, and had to contain my excitement when he walked in the room. He promised to keep me posted about his life. I hope he does.

The others I’ll see in just a few short months, and we’ll do it all over again. But it’ll be different next year, as graduation becomes more and more real, and they have to make hard decisions about their life. All of us are looking forward to the summer break, but I think we all agree: It’s been a good year. And we’re ready for what’s next. favicon

Ed. note: Michele Godwin is in 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 past few weeks. Please donate so Michele can buy more books!