Friday, November 29, 2013


Since its the season where the American-dominated English-speaking internet seems to be tending toward enumerating blessings, and since I have to write a blog on this vacation weekend or else break my streak, here are some English teacher-y things I am thankful for:

Balance--One period, when I came to the epiphanic moment of my lecture, a student clapped her hand over her mouth and gasped. The next period, at the same moment, a student burst into giggles.

Absorption--A student who doesn’t fit the bookworm profile seen after the end-of-class bell packing his backpack one-handed while reading the book in his other hand, strolling out the door still reading.

Colleagues--A group I’m meeting with monthly this fall about collaborative professional assessment and growth. I told them my goal was to compile a professional portfolio comprised of this weekly blog and getting my English 10 class Moodle unit descriptions all complete. That’s added motivation for keeping up with the blogging--which is nice--but even more for the unit descriptions, which was a goal I failed at last year. 
A principal who’s such a learner she can truly participate as a teacher in the department meetings I run. An elementary teacher who invited input on what gaps or misunderstandings students are coming into middle school with. All my department colleagues who are willing to share their successes and failures so we can encourage, celebrate, and learn from each other. A curriculum coordinator several years ago who in my first year as a department chair got all the department chairs reading Understanding by Design--which has changed me, my department, and the school.

Learning (mine)--Some of it scary--like debate--scary, stretching, exciting, and did I say scary? Some just plain fun (not very many jobs out there where you can claim reading the latest Nobel Prize for literature winner--or just the latest YA sensation--is professional development!). Some of it social and motivating--see above, but also, one of my favorite learning tools is book discussions with colleagues--next week we’ll be finishing one I’m participating in on Crucial Accountability: Tools for Resolving Violated Expectations, Broken Commitments, and Bad Behavior, and I’m beginning to make plans to facilitate one on  The Vocabulary Book: Learning & Instruction in January.

Learning (students')--Questions during a recent unit that targeted the reading strategy of making inferences: “Are we supposed to be able to infer whose tear it was?” “How can you infer that?”
Overheard at student peer writing conferences: “You have really good points.” “Your thesis doesn’t quite address the prompt.” (Also: “You didn’t write anything on my paper!” “It was perfect.” “That doesn’t help me any.”)
Connections made: “Is it okay if I refer to shalom [a core concept from the previous unit] in the human dignity paper? Because it seems like they connect.”
Connections sometimes at the level of moments of epiphany--such as this one while a class was discussing disregard of human dignity that is milder than genocide, but not evidencing respect and love for the image of God within...
  • Student 1: “Gossip.” 
  • Me: “Spreading or listening to gossip.” 
  • Student 1: “Spreading.” 
  • Me: “Is listening to gossip disregarding human dignity?” 
  • Student 1: “No.” 
  • (Almost simultaneously) Student 2: “YES! That’s being a bystander! [concept from previous unit] That’s supporting the perpetrator and ignoring the victim!” [reference to Elie Wiesel’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech which we read this unit after reading Night].

Humor--intentional and otherwise, such as this interchange at the conclusion of a recent book talk with a student about outside reading...
  • Me: “So what was a theme of the book you finished?” 
  • Student: “It might seem kind of trite, but I think it was ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’” 
  • Me: “Why did you choose this book to read next?” 
  • Student: “I liked the cover.”
Thankfulness--My entire teaching career has been at an international Christian school established for missionary kids in Japan, so maybe this is unique to Asia, but every day 15-year-old students leave my classroom with a chorus of thank-yous.” A cultural formality? Could be. But every day ends just a little brighter than it would otherwise, and thats something to be thankful for. 

Happy Thanksgiving weekend. May it find you thankful for many, many things.

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