I was going to try and thread some tweets about this topic, but I chickened out and came back to my blog. Tonight’s thoughts were inspired by this episode of Code Switch, which should be required listening for every teacher.

Tomorrow is the first day of school. I will meet the freshmen and new students, and Friday I will meet all of my students, I hope. When I start class, I introduce myself as follows:

“Hi! My name is Ms. Rowse. Not Mrs. Rowse. Mrs. Rowse is my mother, and while she is a perfectly kind and delightful woman, she is not your teacher. Ms. Rowse is.”

Why the emphasis on the title? Because my name with that title is part of my identity not only as a teacher but also as a single woman. To mistakenly use “Mrs.” is to assign me an identity I do not possess. I get a bit cheeky about it once I know my students; invariably a student will call me “Mrs. Rowse” and I’ll respond:

“She’s at home right now, but if you’d like to give her a call I’m sure she’d love to have a chat with you!”

My identity, my self-worth, my entire life is tied up in my name. I know the history of how Rowses came to the United States in the mid-1800s, I know the jobs they had and their migration patterns. I have been a Rowse for so long that I’m fairly certain if, by some biblical miracle, I ever marry, I will probably keep my last name as Rowse.

What does this have to do with meeting my students?

I need to learn their names. And I need to learn how those names are pronounced.

If it’s true that the relationships in a classroom can determine a student’s success, not taking the time to learn how my students’ names are pronounced immediately sets that relationship on edge. I can’t just know how to spell their names; I have to know how to say their names.

And for my students who go by nicknames, I need to learn those as well. My sister is Jennie. Always has been. It’s not her given name, though, and the quickest ways to annoy her are to 1) call her Jennifer and 2) spell her name Jenny. She’s neither of those. She’s Jennie. And for my transgender students, I will have a discreet conversation with them to determine what name I should use in class.

Names matter.

Take a listen to the podcast linked in the intro. Listen to the people who called in to the podcast and shared all the ways people have messed up their names. As teachers, our classrooms should be safe spaces for our students, and what student feels truly safe if his name is constantly mispronounced?

Learn names. It’s such an important part of our students’ lives and identities.



Ten Years of Facebook.

Ten years ago, just around this same time of year, I joined Facebook.

At the time, Facebook was only open to students with an email address from a college. I had been accepted to grad school at Bowling Green State, so I had the required email address. I was nervous about joining Facebook because so many of my former students were on it, and ten years ago society still had pretty strict perceived boundaries between what was acceptable online interaction between teachers and alums. Facebook greyed that boundary.

But as soon as the seniors who graduated in 2006 got their college email addresses, they became Facebook Official, and knowing I had a college email address, they nagged me to join.

So I did.

Those students who nagged me to join Facebook were students I’d taught for four years in the speech program at the high school. It was the first time in my teaching career that I was losing students I’d come to think of as a school-year family, and the thought of walking into my classroom without them was devastatingly sad.

Uprooting my life and moving to Bowling Green was terrifying, and friends lauded my bravery for stepping into the unknown.

In hindsight, the braver act for me would’ve been to stay teaching instead of going to grad school–braver because after four years I was burned out on coaching speech and wasn’t sure I could continue, braver because those kids had been the glue in that program and I would’ve had to figure out how on earth I’d replace them. They all went to college as I was going to college, so the break felt easier–I scattered to the winds just as they did. I didn’t have to face trying to teach without them.

This ten-year Facebook anniversary hit me last week, when I saw students (on Facebook, of course) responding to an invite for the Class of 2006’s reunion, and I realized that ten years ago I left teaching and moved to Ohio. I didn’t blog about teaching back then, so I never blogged about how special that group of students were to me.

I’ve been lucky in my teaching career to have pockets of students I adored and missed terribly once they left, but I think the reason I’ve felt so fond of the class of 2006 is because as they stepped into their unknown worlds of college, so did I. And their hard work and optimism inspired me.

Many of those students have since graduated from college. Some are married, some have children. They are working in a variety of fields, and every time I see a Facebook status update where they share a victory, I am so, so happy and proud; when they share a defeat, I am so, so sad.

Ten years ago, we all went off to college. And as I clicked on the 2006 posts in my timeline, I read post after post from those people–checking in, sharing television I should watch and music I should listen to, wishing me luck on midterms and finals, requesting lunch dates when our breaks overlapped and we were all back in Omaha.

When I see one of those Facebook-driven videos that announce “Suzy and Jane, you’ve been friends for 7 years!” my initial reaction is to roll my eyes and wonder out loud when the robot uprising will happen.

But then I step back and realize how lucky I’ve been to have the Facebook friends I’ve had since the beginning.



Reasons and Resilience.

For the month of April, I am participating in the Blog A Day Challenge for educators. All prompts are provided by Meredith Towne (@BklynMeredith), an educator from New York.

I missed yesterday, but the prompt is apt for the past two days (and the next three), so I’m writing about this: What makes you resilient? Why are you still teaching today?

I spent the past two days at an ed tech conference. I heard keynote addresses that inspired me to take time to notice more good things in my life and classroom, seek for ways to implement diversity, and my favorite: reevaluate my current “benevolent fascism” approach to teaching and classroom management. I learned about BreakoutEDU and Canva, and my head buzzed for two days about how I can reimagine my classes.

This is what makes me resilient: I learn from others. And I want to keep learning. Just when I feel I’m at my wits end, I look for something to learn, something to inspire me. Sometimes it’s a TED talk, sometimes it’s figuring out a new trick in InDesign or reading an 11-page article about the film Casablanca.

Why am I still teaching today? Two reasons: first, because I tried not teaching and it didn’t sit well. Second, because of my students. Yesterday three of my editors went to the ed tech conference with me. They looked for stories, set up interviews, took photos. Today, two of the editors spent the day at the conference. Tomorrow, I will take two students to a luncheon in which they will be recognized for winning a state-level competition. Sunday, I will take four students to Norfolk where they will compete at a different state-level journalism contest.

The kids are why I’m still teaching.

One of the keynote speakers challenged us to tell the stories of the kids who succeed, the kids who do good things. He reminded us that 95% of our students are kids who want to learn, kids who make us laugh, kids who improve. But we don’t tell their stories. We tell the stories of the kid (notice the singular) who tried our patience, who stormed out of class, who mouthed off, and sometimes we let that one kid define our day, our class, our entire year.

So I’m telling you this story: I spent yesterday and today with kids, and I’ll spend the next three days with them too. And though I’m exhausted, they’re the reason I’m willing to push through that exhaustion.



My second class of the morning is a class of 21 students.

It’s a Journalistic Writing class, comprised of all four grades. And 21 students often means 21 different writing styles and habits–not the easiest of things to manage.

They are all writing feature stories right now. 21 different feature stories, from personality profiles to human interest stories to behind-the-scenes features.

Today, for almost 40 solid minutes, most of those 21 students wrote and wrote and wrote. They transcribed interviews, they rearranged quotes, they developed transitions and created leads.

While they wrote, I peeked in on their progress, since they are all required to write in Google Docs, and I held mini-conferences and left comments for them, or just spoke to them from across the room what needed to change and what I liked about their writing so far.

They made great progress today, and I am excited to read their final drafts next week.

I’m grateful that I get to teach writers. Even the students who don’t think they are writers–they proved today that they are.