Should I Stay or Should I Go?

It’s hard to admit in a group of teachers that you’re thinking of bailing.  You worry about becoming one of the huge (now disputed) percent who leave the profession as soon as they can.  No one wants to be seen as a quitter, and among teachers, there has grown up a culture of martyrdom that rewards long, uncompensated hours and emotional investment to the point of exhaustion.  Everyone admires the hard-working 20- or 30-year veteran who lugs home boxes of work every weekend and attends every variety show and ice cream social.  This Virtuous Workaholic I-Do-It-For-The-Kids persona, attractive as it is in the profession, lost its luster for me early on. Continue reading

Empathy Before Education: Working with Parents


We talk all the time in education about how kids are the easy part.  It’s the adults who make teaching hard.  Colleagues, parents, administrators, all have the potential to enrich or complicate the teacher/student relationship.  Parents in particular can make the difference between a smooth, happy, productive year and the year that drives a committed educator screaming from the profession.

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How Much Is This Kid Worth?

img_2154A colleague and fellow blogger recently drove past this billboard in Oakland, CA and stopped short.  Safely, I assume.  He posted about it here, and asked what other teachers thought of its approach.  This oversimplified schools-or-prisons saw has been popular for ages.  Its latest incarnation on these billboards is brought to you by The California Endowment in an effort to “raise awareness about our current spending priorities, and ask whether they add up for a healthier and more successful California.”  In other words, they want us to examine whether we are getting what we pay for when we dutifully send our tax check to the state.  Should we educate or incarcerate people to get the most bang for our buck?  While the math seems simple, and the education-is-better conclusion clear, I still recoil at the billboard.  Its seemingly simple message carries all sorts of cultural baggage that I believe undermines the laudable message that we should work to keep kids in school rather than relinquish them to a life of poverty and crime.  Continue reading

The One-Woman PTA

Many_hatsI’ve been the one-woman-PTA.  That is, a parent and a teacher at the same time at the same school. The multiple identity can be wonderful.  I’ve glanced out my window and caught my child in mid-belly laugh, turning a jump rope with her friends.  I’ve heard from teachers the clever, funny, or touching thing my kid said just minutes ago, the kind of things that often don’t make it home in a note because we’re all so busy, but if you happen to be in the staff room right after it happened, you get to hear about these little moments.  The convenience of everyone going one place in the morning can’t be overstated, nor the comfort of knowing your little one can sleep behind your desk, wrapped in your sweater rather than on that scratchy blue cot in the office, until daddy comes to pick her up when she’s coming down with something. Continue reading

The Four Seasons

2237670413_62db15c402_bThe school year has its seasons, and each has its particular patterns and characteristics, endearing and frustrating.  First there’s the Getting-to-Know-You season that lasts until Halloween.  It also goes by the name of Planting season.  It is characterized by high hopes, best intentions, and sustained periods of frenzy.  It’s about learning names, trying not to call Marco Marcus or Christina Christie, not to mention the Js:  Jacob, Jason Jared, Joshua, Jonathan. Continue reading

things we learn at bad professional development that can make us good teachers: a list

slow down

imagesspeed up


check for understanding in a meaningful way


don’t use jargon

check for background knowledge before you plan the lesson

gauge interest before you plan the lesson

know students’ motivation for being there (if none, consider tap dancing)

don’t take inattention personally (address it, but don’t take it personally)

give plenty of opportunities to voice confusion and save face


move around the room

show multiple methods

give lots of chances to practice

take breaks

don’t read your power point


check your tech early and often

provide good snacks

give designated time for off-topic conversation and networking

provide comfortable chairs and places to stand

provide power strips

have screen-up/screen down time

know your stuff

like your stuff

address the issues on the “parking lot”

don’t ever read your power point


Religious Missions or Space Missions?

mission modelWhen I tell people who grew up in California that I teach fourth grade, I can almost guarantee the conversation will quickly turn to “their mission.”  It’s the one they built with plaster of paris, or out of a shoebox, with kidney beans as the terra cotta roof and elbow macaroni for a pathway.  They sound so nostalgic as they recall the road trip their families made to some number of the missions using the Sunset Magazine guide one summer when they were 9.  I get it.  It was hands-on, it was about a thing you’d actually seen, it captured your imagination. Continue reading

Identity Crisis: I’m an Ex-extrovert

It’s starting to dawn on me that I’m not an extrovert anymore.  I’ve taken the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment twice over the last 30 years.  The first time, I was  22  and trying to figure out what to do with a Humanities Field Major wherein I co-mingled the triple threat of employability: poetry, philosophy, and history.  I took the test again many years later as I emerged from that other professional queen-maker — full-time parenting.  These forays into career counseling told me the same thing decades apart:  I’m an extrovert, and I should be a teacher.  Until recently, I’ve assumed there was a causal link there.  I’m an extrovert, therefore, I’m a teacher. Continue reading

My Favorite Mistake: Writing about Math

IMG_1223Early in the year, I introduce my 4th graders to the word “metacognition,” and define it simply as “thinking about thinking.” It’s a useful concept for these 9-ish year-olds as they begin to grow into less concrete, more abstract thinkers. We use it all year as a way to talk about error analysis, particularly in math. One of the first homework routines they learn in my class, and one many of them think is odd, is that we re-do and write about at least one math problem every night. We call it, “My Favorite Mistake.” It’s a way of getting them to see the growth potential in mistakes, but it also means they have to do something most have never done before: write about math. I start them with the deep metacognitive question, “What the heck was I thinking when I did that?” I originally got this idea from this video on The Teaching Channel, wherein a middle school teacher chooses a mistake from the daily warm-up, then has the class analyze it, finding strengths first, then, constructively correct the misunderstandings.
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