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Teaching is Not a Normal Job (Guest Post)

By Barry Lane

I met this guy at the Newark airport years ago. I remember feeling both puzzled and offended by his tee-shirt. Puzzled, because I have never really understood the purpose of retirement and offended, because he appeared to know and was taunting me. I approached him and asked for a photo of his shirt and then I confided in him my bewilderment.

“I don’t really understand what it means to be retired,” I asked with great earnestness.

“What do you do when you are retired?”

He paused a moment and then looked me right in the eye and said,

“I do whatever I want to do, don’t I?”

Yes, of course, that’s it. That’s retirement, and by this definition I have been retired for years now, along with the thousands of dedicated teachers I have met over the years at reading association meetings, like KSRA. There is no other place they want to be, but in the classroom. These are not normal people who work a boring job and relax on the weekends with their family. They are not extrinsically motivated by money or vacations or golden parachutes, (though all bets are off when free picture books are in the equation) . Many work in a profession for far less material reward then they could be getting in other less meaningful jobs. But they have this spark in their eyes and a passion for learning and children that is undeniable. To say they love their job would be an understatement. They don’t even see it as a job. They see it a calling. They see it as a life.

Barry Lane 1

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From the Classroom: Toughest to Teach

By Brian Kelley

In preparation for a guest appearance in a Classroom Management course at Temple University, adjunct professor―and PAWLP co-director―Jolene Borgese asked her college students to email questions to me.

One question gnaws at me. For several days I have felt the need to write about it: Which students are toughest for you to teach? How do you address those students?

If I answered this question twenty years ago, I would have said the resistant students. My answer is different today. Yes, even after 20 years, I still find some students tough to teach. And I think I always will.

The toughest students for me are the students whom I do not know.

This one, my friends, is squarely on me. Not on the students.  Read more

From the Classroom: The Perfect High School Read-Aloud

By Christine Soring

I was thrilled when asked to write for the PAWLP blog and immediately knew that I wanted to write about my new passion: children’s books. It wasn’t until I participated in grad school and the Writing Institute that I discovered a new love for children’s books. Why didn’t I think of this before? The versatility of these books is so powerful and something that I have been regretting not using before. My new goal this year: use children’s books as mentor texts for all aspects of writing.  Read more

Tools of the Trade: Word Up!

By Bob Zakrzewski

Quick quiz: What unites and excludes, is personal and public, judges and is judged, and constantly changes into something new despite relentless efforts to keep it the same?

Answer: Language.

A love of literature led me into the high school English classroom, but, as is usually true with any long-term relationship, I’ve uncovered many layers to my feelings for my profession since walking into my first class, frightened but optimistic, in August 1999.

My teaching career had a bumpy start. I quickly found the writers I loved would not be embraced by my students simply because I loved them. Among everything those early years taught me, the biggest lesson may have been that I wasn’t teaching younger versions of myself.

As I honed my craft under the gaze of No Child Left Behind, incorporating adaptations and accommodations and catering to Individualized Educational Plans, I couldn’t ignore how most of my lessons left more than a few students on the outside looking in, wondering what the big deal was. My classes’ mixed enthusiasm and varied engagement kept me unsure of my ability and unable to feel satisfied with my work. To many of my students, Holden Caulfield was a whiny and entitled rich kid, Jay Gatsby a gullible and obsessive fool, and Romeo and Juliet naïve and impulsive children. Dismissal of characters nurtured disinterested reading, leading to disinterested writing (creating a stack of disinterested grading). Even when things went pretty well, something always wasn’t quite right. Read more

Teacher to Teacher: Independent Reading – What should I read next?

By Lynne R. Dorfman

Students in all grade levels are always asking, “What should I read next?’ It’s an important question because you want your students to continue to find books that they can read independently inside and outside of school. In Readicide author Kelly Gallagher talks about McQuillan’s study of reluctant readers (2001). It that showed a statistically significant gain in reading and writing fluency and writing complexity with students who had had a negative attitude towards reading at the beginning of the year, but at the semester’s end had improved significantly after having finished several books on their own. How did this happen? The students were given time to read books of their choosing in school without having to complete a book report, track points, or fill in a worksheet.

Csikszentmihalyi (1990) talked about reading flow – where students can get lost in the pages of a book and achieve true pleasure in the act of reading for reading’s sake without the promise of extrinsic rewards or grades. If we want our students to achieve this state of reading flow, then we have to help them find books that are interesting and inviting to them. We must provide the time and space for them to read in school before we can hope that they will read outside of school. Often, we find our busy schedules do not allow much time to consider the question, “What shall I read next?’ We find that even during a library special, we hurry from the room lined with inviting books just waiting for a recommendation (“Pick me! You’ll find adventure here!) to use the prep period to record reading, math, and writing data on the schoolwide system or respond to a parent’s phone call or e-mail. There is always so much to do, and yet….

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Parent-Teacher Conferences

By Linda Kerschner

November brings cooler temperatures, fluttering leaves, early sunsets, Thanksgiving feasts, and parent-teacher conferences. Of course, you may have already met with parents, by their request or your invitation, but the November school calendar includes a specific day when you will spend a day (or maybe several days) meeting with parents.

English teachers are in great demand on this day. English teachers of juniors are particularly popular. My allotted 15 slots generally filled in record time, at least according to the administrative assistant who took parent calls to schedule this event. Parents don’t always realize that they can schedule an appointment with us on another day, perhaps a time that is even more convenient for them. 

Obviously, parents take these days seriously, and for good reason. They want to find out, from the horse’s mouth, how their children are doing, above and beyond the numbers they can see on tests, quizzes, and papers. They want to hear that their children are wonderful and that they will be recruited by the colleges of their choice on full scholarships. More importantly, they want to hear that we, the teachers, recognize and appreciate their children’s special talents.

What can we do to make sure that the conferences live up to the parents’ expectations? More importantly, what can we do to make sure that these conferences benefit our students?  Read more