WFTY 2023: Priorities

Like many English teachers, I love words.

Last weekend, someone walked past me wearing a baseball cap with the logo of the University of Virginia. Their athletic teams are known as the Cavaliers, and the logo’s use of the crossed sabers below the “V” of course reminded me of the etymological connection to the French word chevalier, meaning knight, which naturally is reflected in the UVA mascot “CavMan,” who, without a suit of armor, looks less like what we might picture as a knight, and more like a Musketeer, with his shiny sword and classy cape and floofy feather. Hon hon hon!

And that’s not even one of the words on the “Fun Words” bulletin board that I have behind my desk in my classroom!

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“Communities of Discomfort”: Empowering LGBTQ+ Ally Work in a Southeastern Rural Community – A Response

The April edition of the English Education journal was focused entirely on topics relevant to rural schools. The article “Communities of Discomfort,” by University of Alabama professor Stephanie Anne Shelton, gave a case study of a pre-service teacher in her final placement. “Persephone” had attended a rural school and had requested to do her student teaching at a rural school.

According to the article, the University of Alabama requires its teacher candidates to teach certain units during their practicum, including one that has something to do with social justice issues. That was something I hadn’t expected; I remember having worked more with my mentor teacher to determine what I would teach. This requirement seems to have put a fair amount of pressure on Persephone, as the classroom teacher she was working with flatly refused to allow her to fulfill those requirements. In an interview with Shelton, Persephone states, “when I talk to my mentor teacher, he’s like, ‘Nope! Can’t do that here! You’re not in the city anymore!’”

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This Too Shall Pass

One of the concepts that has really helped me (both as a teacher and through life in general) is the concept of impermanence.

I don’t enjoy exercise, but setting a clear end goal definitely helps me keep going. While I’m exercising, I’m often out of breath, tired, and aching. So counting down to my last set or my last few minutes reminds me that those feelings won’t last.


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Learning Loss

At the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, the COVID-19 pandemic had been in full force for a year and a half. Vaccine rates were up and both new cases and death rates were down. And everyone was tired of closures and social distancing and, you know, the effects of an international plague. People wanted to “get back to normal.” 

My school, and many others, opened up fully in-person. But as cases started increasing again, teachers, parents, administrators, and pretty much everyone started noticing that something else wasn’t “normal.” Students didn’t enter their new courses with the same level of academic knowledge and skill that previous cohorts had. Their behavior was different. And their attitudes were different as well. 

The phrase “learning loss” had been trickling through educational discourse all through the previous school year, particularly with regard to the disparity between students from wealthier families, who were more likely to have better access to resources for effective remote instruction and better support, and students from poorer families, who were less likely to have access to those same resources. Educational achievement has always correlated closely with wealth (or the lack of it), and think tanks and pundits were warning that the pandemic was likely to widen that gap.

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I started getting involved in community theater around 2014 or so. I almost missed out on my first play; the audition form said that some people would be cast without needing to be called back, so be sure to check the cast list even if you didn’t get a callback. Well, I just figured that was them trying to soothe the fractured egos of those who got rejected, so when I didn’t get called back for any of the roles, I figured, meh, they picked somebody who was a better fit. 

Well then a day or two after the cast list went up, I got a call from the stage manager who asked if I was still interested in the role. Apparently, it wasn’t just them being nice, and they really DID cast me without calling me back; that’s actually a thing that does happen.

Unfortunately, it happens the other way around, too. Back in the summer of 2018, I auditioned for a local production of Mamma Mia. I really, really wanted the part of Tanya; it’s the role played by Christine Baranski in the movie. And I got called back. But of course, when you get called back, that means other people get called back, too. And they’re the ones who are in serious running for the part.

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Cyrano de Bergerac, the Supreme Court of the United States, Representation, and Donuts

I was thinking about women on the Supreme Court as I got ready for school one morning in late February. I think this was mostly because I had dreamed about a new appointment that night. 

That dream was probably influenced by one of the books I was currently reading, which talked about the effects of explicit gender bias, and how that without deliberate countermeasures, lead to non-gendered situations having a lingering implicit bias as a result. So I had been thinking a lot about representation, and culture, and society, and the interconnections between them.

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The Myth of “Balance” as a Teacher

So, before I get started, I want to give a short message to any teachers who happen to be watching this. And that message is, “You can skip most of this, because you already know it, because you’ve lived it.” So, fellow teachers, thank you for your service, and you can scroll down to ‘What Can Help‘ for some practical ideas for how to juggle all of the expectations that are placed on us. 

Students are often surprised when I tell them that I don’t expect English class to be their top priority. To me, this just seems like basic rationality. Demanding that MY CLASS be the most important thing in anyone else’s life would demonstrate levels of arrogance and entitlement that are at the very least, unhealthy.

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On Standardized Testing During a Global Pandemic

This blog post is an adaptation of a video I created, available here.

Back in February of 2021, the news broke that the Department of Education announced it would NOT be setting aside the “accountability requirements” as required by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

This shot my blood pressure through the roof, so let’s take a step back and breathe for a moment. No, I’m not abandoning this topic. It’s just a moment. And, be honest. Chances are pretty good that you need this moment as much as I do. (And I really need a moment.)

So. Quit slouching. Move your spine. Remember the cervical and sacral areas, too. Shoulders play an important part. Hold yourself more open. Straighten. Release. Empower.

Remember that what we do matters. And that is not just a statement of responsibility, but of opportunity.

Breathe in slowly. Deeply, but without creating tightness. Pause. Release, just as evenly.

We can do this.

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What Does It Mean to Be Special?

Did ‘Fox and Friends’ Call Fred Rogers an ‘Evil, Evil Man’?

Okay, so first of all, yes, they did, and yes, it’s so incredibly wrong and horrid and shameful. Let’s get THAT out of the way first.

However, in addition, I have a fair number of thoughts on the opposing mindsets shown. Buckle up, friends; I have some general idea of where I’m headed but I’m not sure how I’m getting there, so this may be a long, meandering ride.

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