‘Friending’ Students

Social media is a very nearly unavoidable part of life for many of us. I keep in touch with family and friends via Facebook, and I’ve recently started using Twitter to connect with other teachers. Many teachers avoid connecting with students because they are worried about violating expectations for ethical professional behavior. However, the reasons to refuse students’ “friend” requests on social media are incredibly exaggerated. Involvement on social media should not be a concern for teachers who are otherwise capable of interacting with students in a professional manner.

Continue reading


Presentations – Do they have to be torture?

A question raised on Quora was “What do you do when a student refuses to present due to anxiety?”

Public speaking is the most common phobia among modern Americans. At Psychology Today, Dr. Glenn Croston surmises that this is because humans are social creatures, and performing in front of others carries with it not only the possibility of failure, but more importantly, of being rejected and ostracized.

As a result, teachers need to do what they can to provide an environment that encourages students to take risks and applaud each others’ attempts, regardless of success. This helps students see failure as an opportunity to learn, and lets them know that they will not be rejected for it.

Continue reading

Lasting Impressions

At the start of the school year, it’s easy to get caught up in setting up the class and starting the curriculum. Then, once you and your students have learned a little about each other and are working hard each day, you kind of get into a pattern – a hopefully-comfortable sort of rhythm to what you’re working on together. But there’s another learning partner that it’s important not to forget: the parents!

Establishing contact with parents and guardians at the start of any new term is absolutely vital.  Continue reading

Starting Strong

Even now, after almost a decade and a half of teaching, the first day of school is still exciting and more than a little nerve-wracking. But I’ve come up with some activities that help me set a tone that supports taking risks and working hard, which I feel are the core values needed for effective learning.

Students’ first assignment is a set of six questions that are on the dry erase board as they enter the room. There is a stack of scrap paper on the cart in front of the room. When I have one-sided photocopies that I ran incorrectly, I cut them into quarters and use them for passes and assignments like this one. This helps students realize that I’m looking for brief responses.

Continue reading

On Cheating

One of the writing prompts that I give my students asks, “Is cheating on homework the same as cheating on a test? Why or why not? Explain.” I always enjoy reading their reflections in general, but this prompt tends to get some particularly well-thought-out responses. Here’s mine:

Continue reading

The Examined Life

At his trial for corrupting youth and refusing to acknowledge the Athenian pantheon, Socrates supposedly said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” While that last bit – “not worth living” – is a little stronger than I agree with, I do believe that examining your life makes it more worthwhile. Thinking about the things that we experience, how those experiences shape us, and how we shape our experiences – all of that makes life more interesting and more meaningful. And that’s important.

The same principle has come to guide my teaching philosophy and strategies. I want to encourage my students to examine the things we study, to consider them curiously. I want them to be engaged and even passionate, but not to cling to any one idea too stubbornly. I want them to be open to the possibility of change, but also to be willing to seize that change and follow it through, to do something with it.

I’ve been teaching now for more than a decade. Some aspects of it have gotten smoother. I’m excellent at keeping up with my paperwork and at getting parents on my side. I know how to identify and guide the tone of a class. I can identify and redirect small infractions before they escalate, and I’ve gotten better at doing so without coming across as a drill sergeant.

There’s still a lot that’s difficult. Work/home balance always seems to be at the top of the list. No matter how much you do, it never seems to be enough. There is always more that you could be doing if you had better skills, or if you gave more time, or if you put in more effort, or if you had more resources. If, if, if. I know that you can’t be everything that your students need. I know that trying to do everything never results in success, and yet, deciding how much I should be satisfied with, how far short of the unattainable perfection I should set my goal… yeah, I can’t seem to figure that out.

So as I approach the end of another school year, I’m hoping to make some connections with others who are similarly reflective – whether or not they’re teachers. I’m hoping that we can learn from each other, and through this process, develop a deeper, more vivid life.