Teaching New Genres: The PSA in ELA Class

by Jessica S. Early

I was filled with anxiety and hesitation before attending this year’s NCTE annual conference. After living through a global pandemic and growing increasingly familiar with Zoom meetings, I was nervous about gathering with so many people again. NCTE had not convened in person for two years and, like many English language arts teachers and teacher educators from around the country, I didn’t know what to expect. But what we found was a renewed sense of connectivity and inspiration.

Thousands of English teachers traveled from throughout the United States and beyond to learn from one another and from poets, authors, and scholars. We were gathered in the convention center in Anaheim, California, to do what we have always done as a profession: celebrate and grow in our work. However, what felt unique about this gathering was that we were also there to heal after experiencing the shared trauma of living and teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as a time of heightened social and political unrest.

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Pandemic Reflections: Sealing the Cracks 

by Kyleen Gray

I have heard many people speak of the silver linings of the COVID-19 pandemic. I understand that humans have a wonderful tendency to try to see the good in terrible experiences, but in reflecting on the pandemic I just can’t seem to find much good to mull over. What does come to mind are the cracks in our educational systems that the pandemic uncovered, revealing how fragile our carefully constructed systems really are. We must identify these cracks, acknowledge that they could reopen, and attempt to patch them before another crisis occurs. 

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Student Pieces from “Coming of Age in 2020”: How Teenagers Experienced the Pandemic

Dear Reader,

The start of this school year has brought with it a mix of feelings for educators and students alike. Perhaps the strongest has been relief—even joy—at returning to physical classrooms and the company of peers, resuming sports practices and other much-missed afterschool activities, and leaving behind the experience of learning or teaching in front of a computer screen with only virtual interactions to sustain engagement. But it has also been accompanied by record rates of depression and anxiety, as everyone carries with them to school the pandemic legacy of stress and isolation, grief, and fear.

I’m proud to say that Norton Books in Education has just this week published Coming of Age in 2020: Teenagers on the Year that Changed Everything in which teenagers from across the country show what it was like to be trapped inside and missing—or reinventing—milestones like graduations and championship games while the coronavirus pandemic raged, an economic collapse threatened, the 2020 election loomed and the Black Lives Matter movement galvanized millions. The 161 pieces chosen for the book—diary entries, comics, photos, poems, paintings, texts, lists, charts, songs, Lego sculptures, recipes and rants—come from over 5500 entries to a contest that The New York Times Learning Network ran in the fall of 2020, inviting students to share their experiences during a time that will define their generation. We think it’s an extraordinary collection from ordinary teenagers that is, as Jim Burke says, “a testimony to the strength and resilience of young people.” For despite the stressful events these students were experiencing, their creative pieces often sound a note of hope, growth, and inner resolve. This seems like an opportune time to look back at where we all were two years ago and think with students about the changes that have occurred.

Today on K-12Talk we’re sharing a small selection of these student pieces, with their accompanying artist’s statements, and we encourage you to visit The Learning Network site for exciting ideas about how to teach with these materials: How to Teach With the Art and Artifacts in Our New Book,‘Coming of Age in 2020’

Carol Collins, Education Editor

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In Defense of Teaching Troubled Texts in Troubling Times

by Deborah Appleman

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”
—James Baldwin

As the summer wanes, we teachers slowly turn our focus to the beginning of school. For teachers of literature, that often means a trip to the dusty bookroom to decide what texts teachers and students should read together throughout the year. This is, or should be, a complicated decision, a thoughtful calibration of text and context, of who our students are and what kind of reading would serve them best as we encourage their personal and intellectual development.  After the obligatory quick count of paperback and perma-bound copies of literary texts, we consider factors of readability, literary merit, and relevance. We re-read state standards and confer with our fellow teachers about our school’s curriculum. This fall, however, there are even more factors to consider as we attempt to make our best pedagogical decisions about what to teach and why.

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Advice from Veterans for New Teachers

by Christine Boatman

New teachers everywhere: welcome to the education profession! I and all your colleagues are so glad you are here to be a part of our team raising the next generation of students. We see your enthusiasm and excitement. Your passion and zeal bring joy to our schools and rejuvenates all of us. We are excited to hear your new ideas.

While there is so much anticipation and excitement with being a new teacher, it can be hard! Just remember that all veteran teachers were once first year teachers; with that in mind, I have gathered below some advice for your first year in the classroom, both from my own experience and from the advice that was given to me by my colleagues when I was a new teacher.

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A Fresh Start: Tips for Teachers and School Leaders in the New School Year

by Kevin Scott

If you ask any educator how last school year went, you’ll likely get an exasperated sigh in response. From new teachers to those with decades of experience, from those teaching pre-k music through the most advanced high school physics class, the 2021-2022 school year was unusually challenging. At the beginning of the year, we just wanted to get back to full classrooms for the first time in over a year. But as I wrote in January 2022, by mid-school year things weren’t perfect by anyone’s assessment and the struggles students faced around “how to do” school in person again were both behavioral and academic. This stressed not only students but also their parents, teachers, and school administrators. So now that I’ve been off for a few weeks and I can sleep well (and longer) again, I’m starting to think about what educators can do next year to improve on what was a difficult “first year back.”

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Summer Reading Resolutions: Read Outside Your Field

By Geraldine Woods

Making New Year’s resolutions has never made sense to me. Exhausted by holiday celebrations and dismayed by the prospect of slogging through a Northeastern winter, on January 1st I barely have enough energy to turn a calendar page. But that first day of summer! That’s when my mind churns with possibilities that morph into resolutions: This summer I’ll learn to quilt, take up tennis, reorganize my linen closet and . . . well, if activities were food, let’s just say I plan a banquet.

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Lead Like a Teacher: The Best Way for Administrators to Show Teacher Appreciation

By Miriam Plotinsky

Summer may be on the horizon, but the difficult circumstances of this school year will long be in the minds and hearts of educators. As this third year of pandemic-era learning closes, it is so important to recognize the heroic efforts that both teachers and administrators have made each day to keep schools afloat. Teacher appreciation may only be formally celebrated for one week in May, but the expertise that teachers have demonstrated in maintaining connections with students and continuing to promote opportunities for learning in the face of significant challenge is nothing short of remarkable. To further celebrate teachers and their vast knowledge base, the following is a short preview excerpt from Lead Like a Teacher (publication forthcoming in 2023), a step-by-step guide that provides school leaders with the tools they need to elevate the teacher perspective as they build and maintain collaborative leadership structures.

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Teachers Can Leverage Their Value to Transform Schooling

By Patricia A. Jennings

Our school systems are completely outmoded and becoming so dysfunctional that students and school staff are being stretched to the breaking point. Teacher dissatisfaction is at an all-time high, discipline problems are rampant, and school staff are being subject to more aggressive and even violent outbursts from both students and parents. In my view, these are all symptoms of the intense pressures that our outdated education system places on students, teachers, and families—especially as this system struggles to return to its status quo following the Covid pandemic. Meanwhile, teachers are burned out and quitting in droves as the teacher shortage crisis deepens. How can we turn this around? First, we need to examine our education system itself.

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The Power of Students Teaching Students

He outlined his lesson plan, which called for a discussion of the short story he’d assigned for homework. With a smile, I assured him that he was more than ready to teach. He sat silently for a few seconds and then asked in a quavering voice, “What if they don’t do my homework? Then what will we talk about?” As a veteran educator and administrator, I’ve mentored many rookie teachers. The young man worrying about homework compliance was as rookie as it gets: a seventeen-year-old about to make his first presentation to my independent study seminar.

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