I didn’t want to like him, let alone agree with him.

There I sat yesterday morning, in a high school auditorium on my last day of summer vacation, listening to Rick Wormeli spout his radical, subversive, unconventional approach to grading.

I teach Rhetoric, so I went to the presentation armed with my best Rhetoric weapons: looking for logical fallacies, paying close attention to connotative language, trying to poke holes in his argument.

Two problems I didn’t expect to encounter. First, he was an engaging presenter. Second, he made some sense.

I still have questions–the most pressing is if we move to standards-based grading, will it translate to effectively preparing our students for college? Which just leads to more questions, like…what does it mean to prepare our students for college? My idea of that started to shift today.

But here’s what I’m starting to learn about myself: I like to try things to prove they don’t work. For example, this summer I embarked on two major endeavors. I set a goal to run/walk 100 miles, and then I decided to give up diet Coke. I figured if I didn’t feel better, or if my body otherwise revolted through injury or mental insanity, I had my evidence: running bad, diet Coke good.

Well, I’m 15 miles away from 100 miles, and I’ve converted to the gospel of sparkling water. My body has not revolted–no shin splints, no ankle or knee pain–in fact my body is stronger, can run longer and faster. Plus I’ve experienced all those other health benefits like lowered blood pressure (not that mine was high to begin with), lowered blood sugar (again–never a danger), more restful sleep, blah blah blah.

I’m not a convert by any means, and like I said, I still have many questions. But perhaps I should at least give some of Wormeli’s ideas a try. You know, to prove they don’t work.

But if my summer health experiment is any indication, I’ll probably just end up proving they do.



Back to School.

I’ve started this post a dozen times. I have been trying to write a “Huzzah-It’s-Back-To-School-Time” kind of post, but it’s just not happening.

I participate in tweet-chats, I’ve read some professional development books, I’ve built a new class website. I have some ideas on how to be better. But I also have a lot of fear.

Fear that my new ideas won’t catch on with my students. Fear that any enthusiasm I have right now will be replaced by cynicism. Fear that instead of feeling burn-out in April, this year I will feel it in September.

I’m walking into this year with several unknowns. Our district is rededicating efforts to Response to Intervention. And while I agree with a lot of it, in some ways my educational philosophy will be challenged. On Friday I will listen to Rick Wormeli talk about grading–another area where I lean a little more old-school.

This year I will also wrap up work on revising the Pop Culture Studies curriculum, and there is a possibility that I will have the chance to weigh in on the English curriculum, which means immersing myself in Common Core.

I have this rather forboding feeling about this school year. It’s pretty clear that everything I know about how I teach will be challenged in some way. That’s not a bad thing, but it is scary. And on top of all of this, I still get to teach four classes that I really do love quite a bit.

So some days, just to survive, I think I’ll go old-school. Shut my door and teach. Tell the goofy stories I’ve been telling for 12 years. Use a method or two I’ve been using for 12 years. Show my students how much I absolutely love the content I teach and how much I absolutely love teaching.

I just hope all that love doesn’t get swept away in the Bermuda Triangle of RtI, Standards-Based Grading, and Common Core.

Resetting the Goals.

Either I don’t give myself enough credit as to how well I play the piano, or what I tell my students actually works: when you slow down and take a song measure by measure, you can learn it faster. My piano goal for the summer was to learn the 1st page of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” My trills aren’t perfect at all, and it’s a little slower than I’d like. But here’s the audio (untouched at all by Garageband) of the 1st page. Audio starts 14 seconds in.

Listen on Posterous

New goal: learn the 2nd page. And learn how to not have 14 seconds of dead air when I record.


The Joke I Cannot Tolerate

“What are the three most important words to a teacher?”

“June, July, and August.”

I despise this joke. It adds to the rhetoric that teachers do not care about their students, that teachers are lazy ne’er-do-wells who couldn’t figure out anything better to do with their lives.

And it implies that once the school year ends, teachers don’t give their students–or their pedagogy–a single thought.

It’s not true.

Today is the first day of summer break, and what have I done? Finished reading “The Book Whisperer” by Donalyn Miller, and thought about how I can implement her approach to growing readers in my own classroom. Checked in on Twitter occasionally, and read some articles about how to be a better teacher. Built up my GoodReads to-read list so I have recommendations for students next year. Thought about how I can make my teaching life a little more manageable next year.

I haven’t been out of school for 24 hours, and I’m already trying to figure out how to do it better next year. This is not new–this is what the first few days of summer break look like for me.

That’s not to say I don’t have some fun things planned for the summer…mostly just relaxing and hanging out with my family. Trips will likely not happen this summer, as I’m saving for a trip to Japan for next summer. That plan is worth the sacrifice of laying low for the next several weeks.

And I do have some lofty goals, as well. Run (but let’s be real…mostly walk) 100 miles before August 14. Read 24 books. Write a textbook for a class I teach, because no textbook exists for it. Revise the memoir I wrote in November. Learn the 1st page of Rhapsody in Blue (it’s a crazy hard song, and I have tiny hands, so that may not happen).

I’m not just sitting around, doing nothing all summer. Sure, right now it’s 11 AM and I’m still in my PJs, books strewn all over my bed and my home is a bit of a mess. I’m giving myself some lazy time for the next few days. And since a Redbox code just popped up on my phone, I think today might be the day I finally see Captain America.

But next week? It’s back to work.

Thirty Days.

I dread this point of the summer.

I look at the list of tasks I wanted to accomplish that I created the day after school got out, and very few of them are crossed off. That’s not to say my summer has been a disappointment–it’s been everything a summer should be, I guess. I took a couple of trips, relaxed with friends and family, saw a couple of movies, read a couple of books.

But at this point, I start to panic. I’m certain one of the reasons I’ve grown to hate my birthday so much is because once that day hits near the end of July, I know school starts soon, and I know I will never feel I have done enough preparation in the summer to be ready for what’s to come.

One of the most difficult things for me to accept in this career is knowing that I will never be 100% ready. Yes, I have great passion for my content areas, and yes, I have plenty of lesson plans and assessments to keep me afloat. But I also know how much I need to improve, and how much I can change what I do to best reach a new crop of students. That all requires research and writing–two time consuming activities that I love, but don’t always prioritize as I should.

My sister and her family leave tomorrow to spend three years in Japan, and all the work I should have done the past three weeks while she’s been here weighs on me. But I don’t regret the late nights or the afternoon shopping trips or the family dinners. Besides, the Spartan schedule I envisioned for myself back in May isn’t really my style. I’ll finish what I can in the next thirty days (or 28, or 26), and be as ready as I can be.