The Unspoken Rules of Teaching

Last week I read a Buzzfeed article about life’s unwritten rules, which got me to thinking about the unspoken rules of teaching. Some of these rules are no-brainers, things every professional should be doing on the daily. However, some unspoken rules are dangerous, irresponsible, and every teacher should be breaking them!

4 Unspoken Rules to Follow

1. Use Office Etiquette: As anyone who works in an office knows, there are some unspoken rules about office etiquette. These rules apply to education, too!

  • The Copy Machine: If the machine jams on you, fix it or contact the person in charge of fixing it. Similarly, if the machine runs out of paper or tone or staples, refill them or contact the person who is in charge of these items. Additionally, if you do not know who to contact or how to change the toner, please, please, please ask. Other teachers will respect you more for admitting you don’t know something!
  • The Coffee Pot: The same rules apply here. If you drink the last pot of coffee, make a fresh pot. Be a human being.

2. Prepare for Absences: This is an unspoken rule specific to education. Being absent from school is stressful, but your absence should only be stressful for you. Students and co-workers should not suffer because you are absent. Of course, a substitute cannot replace a trained teacher, but sub plans should be detailed enough to keep students focused and on task. Similarly, sub plans should help the sub anticipate issues before they arise. To help in this pursuit, I have a free sub plans cover sheet to make leaving plans simple and efficient! Additionally, if you know you are going to be absent, it is your responsibility to print your sub plans and ready your sub tub. Please do not email co-workers at the last minute asking them to print plans and handouts. Unless an absence is unexpected, you should be handling all of this ahead of time.

3. Support Other Teachers: Not every teacher has the same procedures, policies, and expectations. However, students often time do not understand differences in teachers’ styles. For this reason, students may ask questions about another teacher’s practices or may try to vent about another teacher’s choices. Even if you disagree with another teacher, it is an unspoken rule that you should not discuss those beliefs with students. Listen to students, but then ask them some cognitive questions like “Why do you think Ms. Smith makes that choice?” or “How could you explain your concerns to Mr. Johnson?” Usually these questions prompt positive responses from students and allow them to practice empathy or to take positive steps forward. However, if those steps do not work, it is okay to simply say, “This is not an appropriate conversation. Let’s talk about something different.”

4. Celebrate Support Staff: Even if you disregard every other unspoken rule on this list, please remember to celebrate building support staff. Education is a field of unsung heroes: cafeteria works, custodians, administrative assistants, paraprofessionals, librarians, crossing guards, and bus drivers. Without support staff, schools would not function, so make sure to regularly thank support staff. Let them know how much you appreciate everything they do!

4 Unspoken Rules to Break

1. Tracking Students: An unspoken rule seems to be that students who have trouble sitting still in class must be struggling learners. Similarly, students who sit quietly in class and behave well must be honors students. These kinds of misunderstandings come from not developing meaningful relationships with students. Making decisions about students’ academic skills based on their behavior is not appropriate and is actually one aspect of education that scares me. So break this rule! Find behavior interventions that work for your students. Use data to make decisions about student placements.

2. Making Modifications: A spoken (like legally binding) rule in education is that teachers make modifications based on IEPs and 504s. However, there seems to be an unspoken rule that if a student does not have an IEP or 504, teachers do not need to make modifications. That’s nonsense! Break this rule! Differentiate for all students based on their needs. We do this when we make recommendations about free reading books. Teachers do this when we select guided reading groups. We do this when we design seating charts. Keep giving students the individual treatment they deserve!

3. Teaching with the Door Closed: Another unspoken rule in education seems to be that if the building is in chaos or is going a direction with which you don’t agree, you can simply close your door and teach. I mean…I suppose this is true. You can ignore the building happening around you, but that is not the best way to advocate for your students. Instead of closing the door and teaching, invite administrators and instructional coaches in to your classroom so they can see your concerns and your best practices in action. Instructional coaches and peers are great tools. Your door does not literally have to be open, but you cannot simply ignore the building around you. Choosing ignorance is never the right choice. Here’s an article from Cult of Pedagogy in the same vein. Break this rule, and open your door!

4. Avoiding the Teacher’s Lounge: Another unspoken rule in education is that teachers should avoid the lounge because it is a negative space full of gossip and petty behavior. While you should avoid negative behaviors, venturing in to the teacher’s lounge can also be an opportunity to connect with other teachers. Teaching can be isolating, so seek out other educators to help you grow. Focus the conversation on classroom victories, advice seeking, and positive common ground. The lounge becomes a negative place when we allow it, so take back the lounge!

What other unspoken rules should teachers follow? Which ones should we break? Let us know in the comments!

Kristi from Moore English #moore-english @moore-english.com

Remember to subscribe for new posts every Tuesday.  Follow along and keep in touch with Moore English on InstagramPinterest, and Twitter.

The Unspoken Rules of Teaching: 4 Rules to Follow and 4 to Break @moore-english.com #mooreenglish

Photo by Elisa Michelet and by Krishnam Moosaddee on Unsplash

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Get the Most of Your School Library

I teach in an old building. Because of its age, the building is actually undergoing massive construction. Most of my English department is teaching in mobile units, and the nearest bathroom is a porta potty.

Despite the building’s age, our library is well maintained. Due to the construction, many of the books are in boxes, but I recognize how privileged my students are to have access to a good library. A quality school library is a great resource, and today I wanted to share some ideas for making the library a meaningful part of your ELA instruction.

Choice Reading

The most obvious way to get the most out of your school library is to use its offerings to support choice reading programs. Right now my students are reading a choice book during sustained silent reading at the start of each class. Throughout the semester, I use comprehension interviews to assess specific skills and fluency. At the end of the semester, students will make a formal presentation about their choice books.

The librarians were great in helping my students select choice books. Two years ago, our librarians decided to organize the fiction by genre, and that has helped point students to books they might enjoy. Additionally, our librarians put on countless reading programs, book tastings, and reading clubs to promote literacy. Each of these events offers students a chance to “try on” different books and styles.

Inviting your librarians in to your classroom can be a great way to start choice reading in your classroom. Who better to make recommendations to your students than the librarians?

Research Support

Another valuable resource your library probably provides is research support. After all, librarians study library science. When my students start a research paper or presentation, we always spend at least one day in the library. Here are some ways the librarians can support research:

1. Generating meaningful research questions. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.7-8 both require students to generate research questions before conducting the research to answer their questions. Writing high-level questions can be challenging. But as the keepers of research, librarians have plenty of experience generating, modeling, and refining inquiry.

2. Introducing research resources. Since CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.8 requires students to gather credible, relevant research, librarians can help students explore their research resources. Undoubtedly, each school has unique resources, but librarians are the perfect candidates to introduce research databases, reference books, and card catalogues. Because students must be able to work with a variety of sources, I often require students to support their claims with at least one database and one book source. This way students work with a variety of resources and learn to cite them correctly.

3. Developing meaningful search terms. My juniors just finished a persuasive paper. One of the prompts asked students to determine whether safety or freedom is more valuable. Every year I have a student type into a database: “Is freedom more important than safety?” Needless to say, this search returns less than desirable results. This is where librarians can help students transform their research questions into meaningful search terms. Our librarians do a great job modeling the process of brainstorming search terms.

4. Determining source credibility. In addition to conducting meaningful research, students must also determine the credibility and relevance of each source (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.2). While students recognize that database and reference sources are usually credible, they struggle more when they begin to Google. Is History.com a credible source? What is The New Yorker? How do I determine if a source is for profit? Our librarians often expose students to multiple sources answering the same question and then ask students to talk through source reliability and bias. A great complement to this task is a Credibility Checklist and Bookmark.

5. Creating accurate citations. Few skills are more challenging for students than creating correct citations. Nevertheless, academic accountability is an important part of research and CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.8. Our librarians have worked hard to make sure students know how to access resources that will walk them through the steps for creating accurate citations. Most of the school databases give students considerable assistance, but there’s always a few tricks involved in citation. For this reason, our librarians have developed their own presentation for modeling citation skills, including formatting that tricky hanging indent! You can couple your librarians’ pointers with this MLA checklist!

Presentation Pointers

If my students are researching for a paper, they are probably eventually going to make a presentation. For this reason, I often rely on the librarians to help students prepare for and design effective presentations.

Per CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.2.A, students should use formatting, graphics, and multimedia to help readers and listeners better comprehend research findings. For this standard, librarians can be helpful in providing students with the tools to ethically access and cite images. In particular, librarians can provide a mini-lesson for students on the concepts of public domain, fair use, and copyright. While I don’t expect students to be experts on these concepts, students do have an obligation to be ethical researchers, and the librarians are the experts on these subjects.

Get the Most Out of Your School Library #mooreenglish @moore-english.com

Similarly, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.5 asks students to use digital media to enhance a presentation and engage an audience. While I enjoy using technology in the classroom, I am not a digital tools expert. For this reason, I often ask our librarians to make recommendations for students. Our librarians have introduced students to countless presentation tools: Canva, PowToon, Venngage, Biteable, Haiku Deck, Animoto, and Adobe Spark among others. In particular, the librarians are good at recommending a specific digital tool for a specific presentation need. For example, when my students were making Book Trailers earlier this year, Biteable proved to be a winner. But when my students were making handouts, Canva was the way to go.

Last Words

At the end of the day, inviting the librarians into your classroom helps students meet the library. Anything that encourages students to interact with literature and informational texts promotes literacy! Similarly, the more adults students meet in the academic setting, the more allies they find in the building, and the more resources they have for achieving success.

How do you bring the library into your classroom? Let us know your suggestions in the comments!

Kristi from Moore English #moore-english @moore-english.com

Remember to subscribe for new posts every Tuesday.  Follow along and keep in touch with Moore English on InstagramPinterest, and Twitter.

Get the Most Out of Your School Library #mooreenglish @moore-english.com

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Never Say Never: Education Edition

Recently, I wrote about the importance of maintaining perspective in education. At times, educators can get a little tunnel vision, especially during the long, cold stretch of the third quarter.

However, experience is the best way to gain perspective in education (or, really, in anything). Perspective reveals truth. In fact, perspective has a way of revealing mistakes, misunderstandings, and misconceptions. For me, some of my greatest teacher misconceptions were laid bare my first year of teaching. There were concepts, strategies, and ideas that I (an all-knowing new teacher) flatly rejected. Things I vowed never to do. Some teaching techniques I viewed as ludicrous and refused to touch. Let me be clear: this was a terrible attitude. I had no humility. I had never heard of growth mindset, and I barely understood my teacher truth. Such hubris! In an effort to grow from my mistakes, I put together a list of strategies I now regularly incorporate in my classroom because I have more experience. In other words, here’s what experience and perspective have brought into my classroom.

Never Say Never: Education Edition #mooreenglish @moore-english.com

Visualization

As a student, I hated brainstorming. My teacher would give me a graphic organizer, and I would feel limited. For this reason, as a new teacher, I vowed never to include brainstorming or any other visualizing hokey pokey in my teaching. Boy, that was nearsighted.

Actually, visualization is a great way for students to conceptualize content. Education World tells us that visualization is key to reading comprehension. And the National Writing Project points to the importance of visualization in writing. With a little more experience and perspective under my belt, I try to incorporate visualizing strategies regularly in my classroom. Here are some of my favorite ways to help students visualize:

  • Anchor Charts: As a secondary education major, my student teaching did little to teach me about using anchor charts. And my introduction to and adoption of anchor charts was slow, but now I use them all of the time. My classroom walls always have up at least two anchor charts. Creating anchor charts together as a class helps students visualize content and take ownership of that material. Find out some of my favorite anchor charts here.
  • Brainstorming: As I mentioned earlier, as a student, brainstorming was not my thing. What I didn’t understand is that I was brainstorming. I was making lists and drawing my ideas. However, because my teachers limited me to brainstorming with a specific graphic organizer or outline, I felt frustrated and constrained. For this reason, when my students are embarking on a task that requires brainstorming, I try not to limit their thinking. I ask students to help me generate a list of brainstorming tools and techniques we already know about (perhaps even making an anchor chart). Then, I explain to students that they can use any version or combination of brainstorming ideas to get their initial thoughts out. All I ask is that students provide me with evidence of brainstorming. I even put together a menu of different brainstorming tools students could use.
  • Student Goals: Another thing I hated as a student was goal setting. Setting goals felt purposeless because I knew we would set goals and never revisit them. For this reason, when I started incorporating these goal sheets (they’re FREE) in my classroom, I made sure that my students revisited their goals regularly. Additionally, I have also worked to help my students visualize their growth in meeting their grammar and writing goals. When students see how much they are growing, their intrinsic motivation increases.

Verbal Processing

As a new teacher, I also scoffed at verbal processing activities. I didn’t see the value of techniques like think-pair-share. In part, I didn’t value these strategies because my own teachers didn’t use them well enough or often enough for them to be meaningful. However, when students are able to process aloud and to hear other students processing aloud, they are able to work through content. In other words, students begin to crystallize their own understanding and to recognize where they need additional guidance. Here are my tips for facilitating meaningful verbal processing and my favorite strategies.

Facilitating Verbal Processing: One of the reasons I used to view verbal processing negatively was because my teachers did not use these strategies frequently. The first time students think-pair or turn to their elbow partners, it can be a weird experience. They’re feeling each other out. However, like most habits, the awkwardness disappears with experience. In other words, frequency is an important part of facilitating verbal processing.

Never Say Never: Education Edition #mooreenglish @moore-english.com

After I model a skill, strategy, or concept, I almost always ask students to generate a list of insights and uncertainties with an elbow partner. Similarly, established norms (like our list) help students understand what they should take away from a verbal processing session. Finally, accountability helps remind students that they are responsible for this part of their learning. However, accountability does not mean grading. I do not grade verbal processing. Instead, I make sure to be walking around and listening in on student exchanges, redirecting, prompting, and applauding as needed.

Verbal Processing Strategies: As you can probably tell, think-pair-share and elbow partners are some of my favorite and most frequently used verbal processing strategies. When it comes to verbal processing, teachers do not need to reinvent the wheel. But I do have two variations I like to use:

  • Notice and Note: Since my school is emphasizing close reading, our students are using a version of Beers and Probst’s Notice and Note. This gives students a common language across multiple contents. One variation of verbal processing is to have students walk through a text together. Give students one copy of a text but two writing utensils and ask students to read the text together, alternating who leaves a notice or a note in the margins. By the time students finish the passage, they have moved beyond Notice and Note and have started engaging in a dialogue about the text itself.
  • Questions Only: Toward the start of the semester, I do a mini-lesson on writing high-level questions. We then carry high-level questioning into every other unit of study. With this in mind, sometimes when my students process aloud, especially if the text has been particularly challenging, I ask them to focus their processing on generating questions about the text. With a challenging text, students usually end up with a handful of basic questions and loads of high-level questions. As a class, we honor our basic or comprehension questions because we know they are necessary components of understanding. Then, we tackle our high-level questions either through continued partner work or through a more formal discussion.

Honorable Mentions

Sometimes I have to chuckle about the different ideas I rejected as a new teacher. It’s my great hope that today’s new teachers are more open minded and humble than me. Here are a few other ideas I could have discussed today: teaching Shakespeare, incorporating choice and whole-class novels, and grading papers digitally.

What are your never say never teacher moments? Where has your thinking changed and evolved? Let us know in the comments.

Kristi from Moore English #moore-english @moore-english.com

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Teaching Deliberate Ambiguity

For several years, the second unit in my junior English class has been the American Enlightenment. When dealing with this unit, teachers could easily reduce our Puritan forefathers to the fire-and-brimstone of Jonathan Edwards’ famed “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” but that approach would skew students’ perception of early American literature. For this reason, I like to pair Jonathan Edwards’ work with Edward Taylor’s “The Ebb and Flow,” a poem about the speaker’s spiritual struggles. The reflective nature of the poem is a nice counterpoint to the fervor of the sermon.

During our study of these two works, students often struggle with a few elements. First, why must the authors have such similar names? Sigh. Then, students struggle with tone, which I address through close reading. Finally, students struggle with the poem’s ambiguity. Does the speaker’s relationship with God remain positive? Or does the speaker lapse back into doubt? Who is in control of the speaker’s relationship with God? Since I know my students struggle with deliberate ambiguity, I’ve put together some strategies and titles to help your students also work with this difficult concept.

Prime the Pump

Before diving into a text like “The Ebb and Flow” where ambiguity reigns supreme, choose a text that ends with resolution but not closure. For example, The Great Gatsby provides resolution but does not give readers a great sense of closure. During our close reading of The Great Gatsby’s famed conclusion, I introduce the concept of deliberate ambiguity. Introducing the concept early allows students to sit with the idea for a while. We discuss Fitzgerald’s choices in the conclusion. Maybe I’ll do an exit ticket, but we’re not ready for a summative assessment yet.

Don’t Be Ambiguous

When you introduce the concept of deliberate ambiguity (whether with Gatsby or with a different title), be direct. While the concept you are teaching may deal with an author’s use of ambiguity, your instruction of the concept should be clear. This is a time for direct instruction. I write the term on the board and ask students to define both parts of the term “deliberate” and “ambiguity.” Then, I provide them with a definition of the entire term and point to some examples of deliberate ambiguity. For example, the last scenes of Inception leave viewers wondering if everything has been a dream. In terms of television, shows that end with cliffhangers provide viewers with a lack of resolution. (The series finale of Buffy and Angel are the first titles that come to mind.)

Usually, I offer my students one or two examples of movies or shows that end with deliberate ambiguity, and then I ask them to think-pair-share more examples. More often than not, they come up with better and more relevant examples than I ever could.

Spiral, Spiral, Spiral

As with most new ideas, students have the most success with deliberate ambiguity when they work with it regularly. Not every text you read has to be ambiguous, but even the absence of ambiguity (which would be clarity) is an authorial choice worthy of discussion. Any time you work with ambiguity in your instruction, you are helping students work toward CCSS.ELA.RL.11-12.1, which asks students to make inferences about where a text leaves matters unresolved.

As your semester or year progresses, occasionally return to the idea of deliberate ambiguity. This kind of recursive, spiral instruction and review will help students connect this idea to several other ideas. Ultimately, they will take the concept and make it a regular part of their literary lexicon, as familiar as “simile” and “metaphor.”

Throughout the year, introduce students to some of ambiguity’s frequent companions. In particular, rhetorical questions and ambiguity often go hand-in-hand. Similarly, the color symbolism for ambiguity is often different than the color imagery related to greed, hope, or fear. As you might expect, gray is often the color of the ambiguous, and a common symbolic representation if fog. Additionally, as with most poetry, directing students toward meaningful punctuation can help them confirm and discuss ambiguity.

Title Suggestions

Novels and Dramas: Apart from The Great Gatsby, other novels that include deliberate ambiguity include Things Fall Apart, Julius Caesar, and The Crucible. Interestingly, all of those titles end with death. And, apart from Gatsby, they all end with a suicide.

Poems: Here are some other poetry titles to consider.

Short Stories: When considering short works, some titles to consider include “Daisy Miller,” “A Worn Path,” and “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” (all titles that also work well with literary criticism). Another great title (and one that I wish I’d read in high school) for deliberate ambiguity is “A New England Nun.”

What titles should we add to our list? How do you teach deliberate ambiguity? Let us know below?

Kristi from Moore English #moore-english @moore-english.com

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Using Brackets for Student Engagement

In honor of March Madness, I thought I would share how I use brackets for student engagement! Using brackets is an easy way to engage students and encourage collaboration while also keeping the dialogue organized. Most importantly, brackets give me quick formative insights into student work. Here are my three suggestions for using brackets and my three favorite bracket activities.

Bracket Use Suggestions

Plan Ahead: As always, a lesson is always best when you plan ahead. First, know how and why you are going to use a bracket. Then, have the template you want ready to go. Next, make sure you know how you will facilitate the competition. Are you going to give a prize, or is winning itself the prize? I usually make this choice based on the group of students I have. Some are truly incentivized by a prize, but some classes cannot handle an additional incentive or are not interested.

Work Short And Sweet: Put a word/space and time limit on the responses you get. Give students a sticky note to write on. This will limit the amount of space they can use and will stick neatly to the bracket. Additionally, I usually put my students on a 2-5 minute “shot clock.” This keeps students focused, invested, and producing genuine work without resorting to Google. A shorter time frame also limits opportunities for trash talk. Overall, keeping this activity brief makes it a formative experience rather than the totality of a lesson.  

Collaborate: Because brackets have limited space and because I usually give students a short time in which to work, I almost always ask them to compete in partners. This encourages students to collaborate and bounce ideas off one another, refining their knowledge and skill along the way.

Bracket Activities

Collaborative Definitions: In my World Literature class, one of the first things the class needs to do is develop a definition of “world literature.” After doing a short reading (get the freebie here), students break in to partners and write their own definition of “world literature.” Then, we post the definitions on the board and compete head to head. As the class eliminates some options and advances others, they discuss which elements of a definition they valued, which seemed illogical, and which just needed some redefinition.

In the end, we usually have a definition that is parts of several different definitions. In particular, this activity gives the class a common language. Therefore, any time we’re discussing “world literature,” we’re using our classroom definition. This strategy could be adapted to any situation in which students need to build a classroom definition, including words like “discussion”, “democracy”, “rhetoric”, or “literature.”

Concise Summary: Part of the ELA CCSS 9-10/11-12 RL.1 standard is producing objective summary. In particular, my students struggle to create a concise summary. For this reason, after doing a reading, students will break into partners. Next, I’ll give each partnership a sticky note. Then, I will ask them to provide a summary of the reading as if it were a tweet.

Oftentimes, we started with new twitter rules and 240 characters. Then, I challenge them to go even more concise with 120 characters. Students LOVE this activity. Then, we bracket the summaries and put them head to head until with have one summary to rule them all. As we go through the summaries, we discuss what choices their peers made in terms of concision. Where could we be more concise? And where do we actually needed more information? To elaborate on this activity or bump it to the next level, I ask students to produce concise and objective summaries. This is a great tool for formative assessment!

Class Contests: In our Enlightenment Era unit, my juniors read about Benjamin Franklin’s use of aphorisms in anticipation of reading an excerpt from “The Crisis No. 1”, in which Thomas Paine uses aphorisms to argue in favor of the American Revolution. Over time, I’ve found that if students do not have some time to play around with their own aphorisms, they struggle to identify how Paine uses them. For this reason, I give students half of a sentence strip and ask them to compose their own aphorisms.

Once we bracket the aphorisms, students have a chance to discuss the strengths of each one and the weaknesses of others. This kind of contest strategy could be used for any skill or concept students need to practice. For younger students, a contest practicing writing similes or using imagery would work, too. As with the summary activity, this is a formative check for me.

Do you use brackets in your classroom? Let us know your best strategies and ideas in the comments!

Kristi from Moore English #moore-english @moore-english.com


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The Recipe for a Great Teacher Interview

February is a tough month for teaching, but it is also a time of great excitement because February also marks the beginning of Interview Season. This is the time of the year when veteran teachers announce their retirements, districts offer incentives for teachers to give early notice, and the HR department begins to post job opportunities. As department chair, I’ve had the chance to participate in countless interviews. Each interview and applicant is different, but the great ones have some characteristics (or ingredients) in common. And because there are great teachers everywhere, I wanted to share a recipe for a great teacher interview.

Preparing to Cook

First, make sure your application (probably online) is through, accurate, and detailed. While your application does not tell the entire story, it gives interviewers a taste of who you are as a teacher and individual. In the English world, red flags include misspellings or individuals too lazy to capitalize their street address. However, I get really excited about applicants who have continually worked to grow themselves as teachers and life-long learners.

Then, bring your best face to your interview. Look professional and polished, and arrive on time. Sometimes teacher interviews happen at the end of the day, so factor dismissal and the bus line into your travel itinerary.

Interview Ingredients

During your interview, consider these key ingredients:

Enthusiasm: Cooking is scary, so it’s normal to be anxious. But try to show your interviewers that you are excited about the possibility of joining their school and working with their students. Don’t be afraid to share your passion for your content and your students!

Honesty: Perfection is a pernicious myth, so no one is expecting you to have a perfect track record. In fact, your interviewers are probably going to ask about times when you were not perfect because they are interested in how you respond to challenges and adversity. A teacher who admits her weaknesses and has a plan for building on those skills is far more powerful than a teacher who ignores or hides struggles.

The Recipe for a Great Teacher Interview #mooreenglish @moore-english.com

Willingness: As teachers, we all have an “ideal” school in mind, and my hope is that you do eventually find your forever school. However, there’s a good chance that you will interview at a school that has some unfamiliar policies or procedures. In these situations, a teacher willing to try out a new policy or willing to attempt a new teacher is compelling. Teachers must be life-long learners, so a teacher invested in growing herself and in growing her students is powerful! In other words, communicate your willingness to try new approaches.

Integrity: However, while teachers interested in trying new approaches are important, integrity is also a valuable interview ingredient. Don’t feel like you have to sacrifice any of your pedagogical or professional beliefs in order to earn a job. In fact, if a school expects you to change everything you believe as a teacher (your #teachertruth), then that school may not be the right fit for you. Sure, interviewers are looking for applicants who bring the right ingredients, but applicants also have to be looking for schools that provide the ideal environment for “cooking.”

Expertise: At one point or another, every teacher you admire walked into a job interview as a novice. So in terms of expertise, a new teacher may not have the experience of a veteran. Nevertheless, in an interview situation, show off your content and instructional knowledge. Even if you have limited teaching experience, you should stay up-to-date with the latest in best practices. In the “kitchen,” a mind at work is a valuable ingredient, so don’t be afraid to show off how carefully you think through professional and instructional decisions.

Curiosity: At the end of an interview, the interviewer will likely give you a chance to ask some questions. Ask something! For example, if you have experience with running a writing lab, ask about the possibility of such a project. If you want to coach volleyball, ask about the program and available opportunities. If you value classroom technology, ask some questions about the building’s technology initiative. This is an opportunity for you to make sure that this is the right building for you. In other words, make sure you and the building have matching or complementary recipes in mind.

Bonus Ingredients

Of course, when you are cooking, there are often opportunities to include bonus ingredients. These seasonings and spices can often elevate a dish. The same is also true during a teacher interview. Bonus ingredients are unique to each applicant, so it’s hard to predict what special item each applicant will offer. Sometimes teachers have a particularly noteworthy experience such as teaching abroad or serving in the armed forces. Other times teachers have achieved high honors such as winning grants or publishing their work. Still other teachers have an aptitude with technology or library science. Whatever special ingredients you carry, share them during your interview. These can be the details that separate you from another candidate!

What other ingredients would you bring for a great interview? Let us know in the comments!

Kristi from Moore English #moore-english @moore-english.com

Remember to subscribe for new posts every Tuesday.  Follow along and keep in touch with Moore English on InstagramPinterest, and Twitter.

The Recipe for a Great Teacher Interview #mooreenglish @moore-english.com

Images from Ivory Mix.

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English Classroom Controversies

Earlier this week, I read two posts that really got me thinking about ~controversies~ in the secondary English classroom. First, I read Room 213’s post about “Theme: is it one word or a statement?“. Then, I read Lauren Randazzo’s post about “Consistency in the English Department.” Each of these articles sparked an instant, visceral reaction from me. And I imagine other teachers had similarly strong reactions. I started to think about what other controversies we deal with in ELA.

English Classroom Controversies #mooreenglish @moore-english.com

Let me preface this by saying that some decisions are governed by department, building, or district policies (for more on that tension, see Lauren’s article). However, if these decisions belong to you and your team, here are some factors to consider:

Timeline: When it comes to retesting and extra credit, these are matters of procedure and policy, which most secondary teachers set out in their syllabus. For most teachers, this is a Day One document. This means that you have to make decisions about your retesting, extra credit, and homework policies before school begins.

Consistency and Sustainability: Regardless of what policy you choose, make sure your decision is something you can maintain. For example, my late work policy used to distinguish between low-point and high-point assignments, but that became too much for me to manage, so it was unsustainable. You should be able to explain your retest policy in one breath. And you should be able to explain that policy in terms students, parents, and other teachers or administrators can understand. Similarly, whatever policy you choose should be something you can maintain. In other words, you have to be able to live with your choices. What will work for both you and your students?

Supportive: As you decide, focus on how your policies will support student learning. For example, punitive homework policies can undermine student learning. For this reason, when you are developing your homework policy, consider your learners. What are your students’ strengths? What kind of resources (Internet access, time, etc.) do they have at home?

Similarly, when developing a retesting policy, consider how retesting can support student learning. A generous retesting policy can signal to students that you support them. But a retesting policy should not put all the work squarely on your shoulders. This article from ASCD suggests that students request to retest. In the English classroom, projects and process papers often better lend themselves to revision rather than a true retest. In these cases, requiring students to visit a writing lab, come in before/after school, or to do an additional round of peer editing can be positive ways to encourage students to grow without requiring you to regrade an entire essay. The same principles also apply to extra credit policies.

English Classroom Controversies #mooreenglish @moore-english.com

I have a confession: I use (or have used) Wikipedia and Sparknotes. I also use Crash Course, and I still have some of those good old yellow and black Cliff Notes pamphlets.

And sometimes I also encourage my students to use these resources.

But the key word here is “resource.” Each of these tools can be a starting place for inquiry, but none of them should be the final part of academic exploration. For example, when my students are researching, Wikipedia can provide a quick brief on a topic. This gives them the information they need to craft meaningful search terms. Sometimes the links at the bottom also can point students to credible, reliable sources. However, Wikipedia is not a credible source for research, and that’s something I emphasize with my students.

Similarly, Sparknotes and Cliff Notes can help students with plot and character details. But these sources often lack the depth students need to succeed in the classroom. For this reason, write high-level questions that push students beyond recall or comprehension. Better yet, have students write the questions themselves!

Finally, there’s EasyBib and Citation Machine. Sometimes these websites get the citations right, but sometimes, they get something wrong. In fact, even our library’s databases sometimes miss part of a citation. In this case, the important thing for teachers and students to remember is that citation is a skill that focuses on such small details that students have to practice regularly. For this reason, when my students write, the first thing they submit is a rough draft Works Cited or annotated bibliography. This means students don’t have much of a chance to dig into EasyBib. And it means that I can catch their citation errors early on. Like Wikipedia, these can be places to begin the process of citation, but they have to be double checked–either by the teacher or against a credible style guide.

English Classroom Controversies #mooreenglish @moore-english.com

In my department, one of our most-frequent controversies is the discussion about the value of a class novel study vs. the value of literature circles or individual student choice novels. As with most things, this issue comes down to knowing your students, your content, and how to balance the needs of each.

Knowing Your Students: When it comes to determining whether to read as a class or whether each student reads individually, knowing your students is essential. This allows you to make meaningful book recommendations and to differentiate for students. It also allows you to know when you have a class that can’t handle independent reading time.

As a new teacher, my classroom management was not stellar, so I could not get my students into a routine that allowed us to all read independently. You know what? Six years later, I have the classroom management in place to create an environment in which students can successfully read independently. Learning how to make curricular decisions that achieve your classroom’s desired results and standards while also allowing you to meet the needs of your students is a skill teachers work on for their entire careers. Determining how and what students will read is part of that process.

Knowing Your Content: In addition to knowing your students, you must also know your content. Some texts lend themselves to particular standards. To Kill a Mockingbird is a great text for point of view, characterization, historical context, and structure. For this reason, I teach this as a whole-class novel. Similarly, whole-class novels can be great opportunities for working on discussion skills and building classroom relationships. I know my content, so I know when and where to make the decision to use a whole-class novel vs. when to choose independent, choice reading. For example, when it comes time to work on formal presentation skills, doing a Book Talk about choice novels is a great way for students to show off their individual reading while also working on speaking skills.

Knowing Balance: This is a difficult thing to learn. But it’s essential that we balance the needs of our learners against the demands of our curriculum. That’s the nature of education. So as you dig through these ~controversial~ issues, keep that in mind. Your goal is to teach students and to help them grow. Make choices that support that goal. Sometimes those choices will be seen as “safe” and “quaint.” Other times they will be “bold” and “innovative.” And there is no shame in each set of choices. Trust that you know the needs of your learners, and trust that even if you try something and it doesn’t go off perfectly, then you still know that you made an attempt to create a better learning environment for your students. Like your students, you are continually growing and improving, and making pedagogical choices is part of that process.

What other controversies would you like Moore English to discuss? Let us know in the comments below.

Kristi from Moore English #moore-english @moore-english.com

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English Classroom Controversies #mooreenglish @moore-english.com

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The Truth About Teaching in February

One of my past students has graduated from high school, completed her degree, and started teaching fourth grade in my district. Yes, I feel old.

Recently, she reached out to check in and, in the process, let me know that her first year has been *HARD* (her emphasis). She’s spent some long nights, weekends, and days off in her classroom. More than anything, I sympathize with her and want to help out because she has no idea what’s coming.

To my mind, there are few months in education more brutal than February (March is a close runner up). You feel like you’re past the halfway point, but the end is nowhere in sight. The weather is frigid, the testing buzz begins, and the only break is Presidents’ Day. In other words, winter has come, looked around, settled in, and shows no signs of offering a security deposit or regular rent check.

So what’s a teacher to do? How do you prepare for an unavoidable and almost cosmic alignment of rough days?

Acknowledge the Challenge

First, recognize that this stretch during the school year is an absolute bear. Don’t go in blind (ignorantly or willfully). Don’t try to be a hero. Don’t try to wander through the Yukon when it’s forty below. Pride will leave you cold, so give this month its due and at least acknowledge the challenge.

Prepare Accordingly

Acknowledging the challenge is one thing, but if you recognize but don’t prepare, you haven’t made any progress. Knowing that February can be challenging gives you time to prepare.

Plan ahead: Since February can be a dark time with long stretches without a break, plan ahead. In the past, I’ve spoken about the importance of running weeklies and dailies ahead of time. This advice is even more important now: instead of leaving copying until the morning of, make those copies in advance. If possible, recruit a copy parent to help out with these kinds of grinding, thankless tasks.

Similarly, if you know you’re going to be hosting a Valentine’s Party, don’t leave the planning until the 13th. That will only create more stress. If you don’t have a head room parent, now is the time to elect one. Figure out what expectations your school has for this kind of celebration and plan ahead. This may take some time now, but when it gets to February 13, you will be ready. This is also true for February Parent-Teacher Conferences. Don’t wait until the night before to begin collecting data. Start collecting and organizing student data, work samples, and course recommendations now so when parent-teacher conferences arrive, you are not scrambling.

Additionally, with winter in the air, there’s a good chance your building will be hit with the plague or other student-carried illness. Be proactive in planning for absences by generating some generic sub plans ahead of time. Get your sub tub ready. This free Sub Plan Cover Sheet is a life saver!

Be consistent: If there’s one advantage to February, it’s that the calendar is pretty stable. There’s few early releases or late starts, no prolonged breaks, and only one four-day week. This means that you have an opportunity to really focus on consistency in the classroom. February’s charms a probably hitting your students, too, so they will need consistent expectations more than ever. Really lean into those expectations, procedures, and consistent routines so you can fall back on them when times get tough.

Respond…Responsibly

What many new teachers (like my past student) don’t know is that February is unforgiving. However, if you are a seasoned teacher, you do know what’s coming, so you have acknowledged the challenge and prepared accordingly. Now, it’s time to make sure that when challenges arise, you respond in the best way possible. We use best practices in our classroom, and that has to be true here, too.

Stay Together: When February digs in, it can be easy to take out our frustrations in petty ways. We may begin infighting with other teachers, lashing out at loved ones, or beating up on ourselves. Some of those reactions are unavoidable, but other times, we can catch ourselves and readjust. Instead of taking out your February frustrations on your co-workers, find a way to stick together. As High School Musical taught us, “we’re all in this together.” So find your teacher tribe. Bring them your concerns and frustrations and let them help you. Chances are they will need your support, too. Hold each other accountable for positive behaviors and attitudes, but also create a safe space amongst yourselves for vulnerable moments. Yes, February will reveal countless vulnerabilities, but vulnerability is an opportunity for growth.

Stay Healthy: Germs are part of education. Keeping your classroom healthy is hard work. However, your classroom also belongs to your students, so they should be able to take on some responsibility for keeping the germs at bay. Invite students into this process by discussing good habits, including those habits that happen outside of the classroom like hand washing and getting enough sleep. Just as importantly, teachers also have to follow that advice, too. We also have to stay healthy by sleeping enough, practicing self care, and maintaining healthy habits even when February is at her most vicious. This means setting limits on work time, taking your sick days, and being reasonable with personal and professional goals.

Stay Grateful

February is a petty, vindictive, selfish monster, but don’t let her ruin you. Don’t let her take away your joy of teaching. My word for 2019 is grateful, so it’s important for me to find ways to stay grateful even when teaching is its most difficult. Model gratitude for your students. Even when you don’t feel particularly #blessed, using grateful language with students can help you begin to believe it yourself. Gratitude isn’t blind, remorseless positivity but the recognition that, as teachers, we are privileged. The classroom can be a Pandora’s Box of sorts, and gratitude recognizes the awesome power that comes from opening that box.

Share your best advice for surviving February in the comments section!

Kristi from Moore English #moore-english @moore-english.com

Remember to subscribe for new posts every Tuesday.  Follow along and keep in touch with Moore English on InstagramPinterest, and Twitter.

The Truth About Teaching in February #mooreenglish @moore-english.com

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5 Things That Scare Me In Education, and 5 That Give Me Hope

On my way to work yesterday, I heard a clip from NPR’s 10 Things That Scare Me. In this particular episode, Samin Nosrat, the author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat shared her fears. As I was listening, I began to wonder what aspects of teaching frighten me.

Things That Scare Me

School Shootings: This was my first thought. Instantly. Immediately. Thoughts and prayers are not enough. I am also concerned about the systems and conditions (in politics, health care, economics, and society) that allow mass shootings to happen with such regularity continue to persist.

Single Stories: As an English teacher, I find value in stories and storytelling. However, reading and watching Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story” helped me better understand the way narratives can also be insidious. Yes, stories can help use make sense of the world, but they can also bias or prejudice our understanding of the world and, therefore, how we interact with the world. In education, some narratives are deeply entrenched, especially those related to black, male students. The ways in which single stories could be (and are currently) shaping actions, policies, and the lives of our students is of great concern. If you don’t believe single stories exist and have tangible effects, check out these articles from the New York Times, Vox, US News and World Report, USA Today, and Education Week.

Standardized Testing: The stress caused by high-stakes testing is detrimental to the learning process and to our learners. A one-size fits all approach is not right for instruction, so it should not be the approach for assessment. While I am not a fan of such practices, I still feel pressured to prepare my students for our End-of-Course exam and for the ACT. Are such practices harmful to our students and their thinking?

Burnout: We have all felt the end-of-the-semester crunch, and every teacher needs occasional moments of perspective. Nevertheless, I am scared that I will burnout. I am scared that the stress of my fears (of standardized testing, the harms of educational trends, etc.) will cause me to burn out. Even more worrying is the continually high attrition rate of new teachers. For this reason, finding ways to stay inspired has become even more important! Moore-Englis.com is a testament to the importance of continuing to stay engaged and excited about education!

The speed with which I developed this list! I heard NPR’s podcast yesterday morning on my way to work. By the time I was in the parking lot, I had so many things that scared me that I had to stop and jot some down. Needless to say, the frequency of the fear surprised me and, of course, scared me. It continues to scare me. The items I included here are only a fraction of the ones I jotted down: some I found too tender to confront, too personal for the Internet, or too difficult to articulate.

However, as I was listing, I also began to develop responses to my own fears. And these responses give me hope.

Things that Give Me Hope

First, I can confront many of my fears. I can make sure to act more from intention and joy in my classroom. And I can make sure that I do not let fear dictate my actions. I can resist the conditions that lead to fear. This reminds me of a graphic that’s been going around teacher social media: things I can control and things I cannot. For example, I cannot control school shooters, but I can control my reactions in the face of such conditions. The fear belongs to me, so I own it. If I own it, I can know it, and if I know the fear, then it loses its power. This gives me hope.

Second, I know that my commitment to professional growth is more powerful than any fear. I love learning. Inaction is one of fear’s greatest weapons, so continually engaging in professional development that makes me a more competent professional is a means of fighting fear. These opportunities to grow also give me hope.

Similarly, I am not afraid that teaching will cease to challenge me. I am afraid of complacency but not in my professional life. Each class and each student brings new challenges: new questions, ideas, and inspiration! The passion that these challenges ignites in me represents hope.

My students also give me hope. Our students face tremendous pressure, but they continually rise up. Their triumphs capture the imagination, and their struggles encourage me to try new approaches to education. The students have a willingness to learn and their curiosity about the world suggest that soon, very soon, they will be ready to step up as leaders. Their ability to use technology fluidly and fluently reveals that their leadership will cross boundaries and borders. More and more often, I find myself worrying less about them and more and more often worrying for them.

Lastly, you give me hope. Since starting Moore English, I have connected with countless motivated educators. I see the detail they put into building their classrooms, hear the dedication they voice, and know that their concerns are my concerns. Some of our fears are the same, but we keep teaching because we have the ability to improve this world. Thank you for everything you do for your students.

Kristi from Moore English #moore-english @moore-english.com

Remember to subscribe for new posts every Tuesday.  Follow along and keep in touch with Moore English on InstagramPinterest, and Twitter.

5 Things in Education that Scare Me, and 5 That Give Me Hope #mooreenglish @moore-english.com #teachertruth

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Getting the Most out of Google Classroom

With this week’s update to Google Classroom, it seemed like the perfect time to talk about how to get the most out of this great learning management system.

Managing Absent Work

Developing and consistently implementing a system for absent work is an essential classroom procedure. Google Classroom is a great place to post your daily agenda. As you can see in this image, I post an announcement in the Class Stream each month and update that announcement every day. Placing the most-recent work increases efficiency. As much as possible, I attach class materials to the monthly agendas so students are always looking in this one place.

Get the Most out of Google Classroom #mooreenglish #moore-english.com @moore-english.com

When students are absent, they know to check the Google Classroom agenda for the work they missed. Only after they check the Google Classroom should they come to me with questions. At the start of a new month, I create a new announcement and start again. I’ve been using this system for three years now, and it’s helped my students manage their homework and absent work. Making choices to empower students is an advantage of using Google Classroom.

Organizing Class Work

With the update to Google Classroom, teachers can now drag-and-drop to organize the Class Work tab. However, managing large projects or assignments that span the course of several class periods can still be a challenge to organize. For this reason, when I post a major project, I use one post and continually update that post. For example, when my students were writing the literary analysis over The Great Gatsby, I posted one assignment and students added to that assignment every day, writing their paper piece by piece. This is also where I uploaded exemplar papers, rubrics, and due dates. With this system, students are able to focus on the assignment rather than focusing on where to find materials.

Get the Most out of Google Classroom #mooreenglish #moore-english.com @moore-english.com

Emphasizing Revision

Get the Most out of Google Classroom #mooreenglish #moore-english.com @moore-english.com

In the English classroom, the writing process is a major and continual subject. In particular, we work on visualizing and revising throughout the year. In addition to using a single assignment throughout the course of a paper, I also have specific expectations for my students during revision.

As I read through and comment on rough drafts, I specifically tie each comment to an aspect of the rubric. Additionally, as students revise their papers, they respond the comments to justify their choices. This helps them think through their work. It also helps me know exactly where I should re-read and re-grade the final copy.

In the most-recent update to Google Classroom, Google has also made it easier to comment on student work. The comment bank has been around since the start of this school year, but now you can more easily access your saved comments. I’ve been using this trick for about a week now, and it is so efficient!

Get the Most out of Google Classroom #mooreenglish #moore-english.com @moore-english.com

What other tips and tricks should we know for getting the most out of Google Classroom? Let us know in the comments!

Kristi from Moore English #moore-english @moore-english.com

Remember to subscribe for new posts every Tuesday.  Follow along and keep in touch with Moore English on InstagramPinterest, and Twitter.

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