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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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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A Reflection on the 2021-2022 School Year, So Far

By Kevin Scott

Last year I wrote about my return to the classroom in a wild year and discussed many of the challenges I faced as a 7th grade U.S. history teacher after more than a decade away from teaching. While some facets of teaching—and attending—middle school have returned to ‘normal,’ so many things have not. For example, while all my students are back in the school building they don’t have lockers because our locker pods would pack them too closely together. So they carry everything with them everywhere they go throughout the day. This doesn’t sound too bad until I think about what it would have been like in my former office life, if I had not had a cubicle—if I had had to carry my lunch, my laptop, and any notes or notebooks to every meeting I attended every day, with no place to call my own. My students are now twelve-year-old nomads who are really, really good at leaving stuff behind.

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Diversifying Your ELA Curriculum in 2022

By Sharon Kunde

In addition to resting and recharging, the weeks leading up to the New Year are a perfect time for reflecting on our practices as educators. This year, I encourage ELA teachers to consider the diversity of the authors and works represented in their syllabi. Teachers who seek greater diversity when planning an English Language Arts syllabus may face a number of hurdles, including lack of time in an already jam-packed curriculum, difficulty in choosing between an abundance of options, or a lack of knowledge of what options there may be. Below, I explore a list of eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth century poems by African American authors that can easily be included in existing secondary classroom syllabi, or that could form the backbone of a more involved unit-long or semester-long course of study.

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Schools survived the worst of the pandemic, but will they survive the aftermath?

By David Nurenberg

Across the nation, students and teachers are back in classrooms for the 2021-22 school year. Remote instruction is largely a thing of the past, and the pandemic, while hardly over, has become a familiar, normative part of daily life. With teachers and all but the youngest of students eligible for vaccination, COVID-19 has, for many schools, become more of an inconvenience than an object of dread. But teachers are reporting higher rates of burnout, experiencing less job satisfaction, and resigning in greater numbers now than during the worst times of last year. Studies by the Rand Corporation, the National Education Association, the Brookings Institute and others show record teacher shortages that are only predicted to rise. The Rand report concludes that teachers are “more likely to report experiencing frequent job-related stress and symptoms of depression than the general population.” Why, when things are looking up, are somewhere between a quarter to a third of all teachers looking to leave?

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How to Partner With Your Local Library

By Jonna Kuskey

Our high school, like many across the nation, has eliminated its library. To fill this void, our English department has worked intensely over the past several years to obtain books for our classroom libraries by applying for grants, writing numerous Donors Choose projects, asking teachers and friends to donate books, and scouring the bookshelves of secondhand stores. Still, we have a fraction of the books that our old school library housed, so we put our heads together to brainstorm solutions to this problem. We realized we were ignoring the most obvious solution, one that was free, easy, and right under our noses: our local public library.

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