I mentioned on Twitter tonight that I have some mixed feelings about these kinds of awards. I think often this particular awards competition turns into a popularity contest. As far as I know, this is the first time I’ve ever been shortlisted for any sort of Edublog award, but I see a lot of the same names appear on these award shortlists over and over. Also, I don’t know about a Lifetime Achievement Award. Education blogging has only been around about ten years or so, and Lifetime Achievement doesn’t seem like the best language to use. I also don’t really think these awards are necessarily about good or helpful writing or tweeting.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m honored that any readers enjoyed this blog enough to feel it deserved to be nominated for the award. As far as I’m concerned, if I was that helpful to anyone, then I won.
I think Edublogs does good work, and I think it’s nice that they recognize the hard work of other bloggers, even bloggers that don’t use their service, but I also don’t like the idea of “competition” for this sort of thing. I like to see blogging, tweeting, and wikis as collaborative, as conversations. I like to reflect here, to share resources. If there were any awards for blogging when I started doing it five and a half years ago, then I didn’t know about them. I would hate to think anyone was motivated by these awards (and I actually don’t believe that). Who knows? Maybe it bothers me that this blog has never been recognized until now—I fully admit my ambivalent feelings about blog awards could be tied to the fact that I haven’t won one. If I had, perhaps I might value them more highly.
I think this kind of thing is different from teaching awards, such as teacher of the year. The process for selection is so different. As far as I know, the process is blind in that judges evaluate the parts of a TOY application without knowing the nominees or perhaps even knowing the names of the nominees. The application package I submitted included a description of a typical day in my classroom, two letters of recommendation (one from a student and one from my headmaster), my philosophy of education, and descriptions of two sample lessons. I have no idea how many people were in the running for the award. I can tell you that I tied for GCTE’s Secondary Teacher of the Year. The reason GCTE selected me for the NCTE Secondary Section Teacher of Excellent Award is that they could not recognize both of their winners for the ToE award, so they took a revote, and I was selected. That award means a lot to me because I was selected by other English teachers—my peers.
While Edublogs awards work in a similar fashion, I think it is dominated (and understandably so) by “tech” folks—instructional technologists, technology educators, and ISTE folks. They would, after all, be the most comfortable with blogging, at least early on. Older blogs have an edge in this competition, and most of those older blogs are owned by tech folks. But tech folks aren’t the only ones with great ideas and knowledge to share, and I think in recognizing these same people over and over, we are missing out on some great new voices or even some older voices who for whatever reason are not nominated.
One of the reasons this blog has a high page rank in Google is that it’s been around for five years, so lots of people have linked to it (and thank you!). If I’m honest with myself, I’m not sure it is the best teacher’s blog out there, or even the best English teacher’s blog—it is, however, one of the oldest. I’ve been very absent from writing here as I attended graduate school. I have felt uninspired with regards to this blog, too. As a result, I haven’t posted a whole lot on this blog in the last year or two. I do feel that may have changed in the last week, but the year as a whole has not been a stellar blogging year for me, at least not here (my book blog is quite another story, and frankly, I think the nomination and shortlisting process for Book Blogger Appreciation Week is much more sound and thorough—and no, that blog wasn’t nominated for a Book Blogger Award because I didn’t submit my blog for one). Actually, I think Silvia Tolisano’s Langwitches blog has probably been the most influential teacher’s blog I’ve read in the last year. Plus the witches are extremely cute. It has a great design and great writing. And she updates frequently.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for nominating me.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge once said “Shakespeare knew the human mind, and its most minute and intimate workings, and he never introduces a word, or a thought, in vain or out of place; if we do not understand him, it is our own fault.” Harold Bloom credits Shakespeare with inventing humanity. Certainly there is no writer I enjoy teaching more than Shakespeare. Part of what makes Shakespeare special is the way that people from all walks of life can find themselves in his works and can connect their own lives to those of characters created hundreds of years ago. One of the more compelling stories I’ve heard regarding Shakespeare’s ability to impact lives is that of Prison Performing Arts, an organization I’ve discussed before. If you aren’t familiar with their work, please listen to this episode of This American Life and come back. I will wait. You must hear it.
Anyone who has ever listened to that program can never forget James Word, the man who played Laertes and credits Prison Performing Arts with helping him “see options” and to express himself. He says that “The delivery of the message, through Shakespeare and mythology, taught me life’s lessons.” I receive a newsletter from Prison Performing Arts as a supporter of their organization, and in the recent issue, Ann Haubrich has written an update on James Word. He has been released from prison and is attending college full time. He mentioned earning an A on his first English paper, which absolutely thrilled me to learn, and he discussed his desire to start a theater program for young people at his father’s church. As Word says, “If you can catch them while they’re young, before they get sent to prison, they can recognize their potential and be saved.”
It may sound idealistic, but it obviously works. Prison Performing Arts works with people that most of society has given up on, and it’s encouraging to read about their successes. I came home to find this letter in my mailbox after a great day teaching Shakespeare. My students have finished Act 1 of Macbeth, and I gave them a quiz over Act 1 from Shakespeare Set Free Volume 1. I read an article in the September 2010 issue of English Journal by Timothy Quinn and Todd Eckerson about collaborative reading quizzes. I applied this strategy to this quiz over Act 1. The students talked about each of the quotes and came to a consensus about who said the lines, to whom the speaker was speaking, and what the context of the quote was. Both of my classes earned perfect scores on the quiz. Obviously, it means that the methods in the Shakespeare Set Free unit work for helping students remember the language and learn the story. If you could have been a fly on the wall listening to my students talking about the play, I think you’d have enjoyed their discussion. It was especially interesting to hear them figure out when they were initially mistaken about a quote and discuss it. I never said a word. They conducted the discussion and reached the answers on their own.
I felt incredibly lucky to be able to teach Shakespeare to my students. Shakespeare belongs to everybody, from prison inmates to Jewish high school students. As Ben Jonson observed, “He was not of an age, but for all time.” His ability to teach us about ourselves, and the richness of his language and his themes never grow old. To paraphrase Domitius Enobarbus in Antony and Cleopatra, “Age cannot wither [him], nor custom stale / [His] infinite variety.”
Turning in my portfolio was the last thing I needed to do to complete my degree. If it’s accepted, I’ll have a master’s degree. I am happy to be finished, and I feel the portfolio was a great way to show what I’d learned. I do wish that my program had worked in opportunities to build the portfolio throughout the coursework rather than just at the end, but in the end, I think I did learn from the program, particularly during the last three semesters when I took Multimedia Authoring, Project and Report, and Portfolio Evaluation. I had a truly great learning experience in Multimedia Authoring. I learned how to use Flash and built a little grammar game. My instructor for that course was the best instructor I had in the program. Project and Report was great because I was able to create my own project, and I learned a great deal about manipulating digital audio and video and the Fair Use doctrine of copyright law. Assembling the portfolio allowed me to reflect on my learning. I have already begun using some of what I’ve learned at my school as a member of the Technology Committee.
On an unrelated note, I have been meaning to share a former student’s new blog with you for some time. Jake was an absolute pleasure to teach, and I enjoy seeing what he’s up to as he makes his way in college and the world. I was really pleased that Jake not only felt comfortable sharing the blog with me, but also with my sharing it with you. Jake’s an amazing photographer, and I’m very proud of him. Hope you enjoy it!
Failure is weird. Everyone experiences it, but when it happens, we feel embarrassed and alone. I have been writing this blog post in my head for years, but I haven’t posted it because I have been afraid. I decided after this weekend that it was the right time to share it.
I taught 8th grade language arts in the 2002-2003 school year. Our principal left in cloud of scandal, and we had a new principal. I was on maternity leave when she came in, but she didn’t have a good first impression of me, I’m sure, because I had a little bit of trouble adjusting to teaching that grade level. My test scores were great. Only one student on our middle school team of over 100 students failed the state’s writing test. By the measure that higher ups usually care about, I was a success. But before he left, my principal expressed concerns over the high rate of failure among my students and suggested my team leader was influencing me to be too exacting in my standards, and that perhaps I needed to lower them.
I left work one day and went into labor the next morning. I wasn’t due for a couple of weeks, and I hadn’t expected to be out the next day. I had some ungraded student work. While I was on maternity leave, I received a phone message from the assistant principal insisting that I needed to get the work graded, so I finally managed to do so, but I expected a little more sympathy, to be honest. I had a newborn at home.
The county let me know in no uncertain terms that my contract would be terminated if I didn’t return to work six weeks to the day after my leave ended. That day was the last day of post-planning, by the way. So I came back to discover my long-term sub had allowed the students to destroy some of my personal belongings and had done none of the things we were supposed to do to wrap up the year—filling out information in student files being the most onerous task. No one offered to help me. I had to take frequent breaks to nurse my son. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to leave school that day, but I finally was able to obtain the necessary signatures that said I had finished my work.
When I came back the next year, I was no longer teaching language arts but a journalism course instead. My new principal made it clear it was, in her eyes, a demotion. After her first visit to my classroom, she put me on a professional development plan for classroom management. I can’t even remember anymore all the tasks she had me complete. I know one of them was that I had to receive an observation with all satisfactory scores. She made sure that wouldn’t happen. She observed a perfect class but gave me a needs improvement because I had chosen to read a short article to my students instead of having a student volunteer read it. Suffice it to say that I was unable to meet the demands of my professional development plan and she elected not to renew my contract. The district must have wanted to make sure they were getting rid of a bad teacher for real because they made her observe me yet again. If I had been wise, I’d have tried to find out if I could have had a different administrator do the observation, but I’m not sure it would have made a difference.
I remember very clearly what my principal said. She felt I would never be a good teacher. She felt that I had been in the classroom too long at that point—six years—for anyone to expect I would improve. I am sure she felt that she was doing the right thing by removing a failure from the ranks of educators.
But then my current principal took a chance. I had been honest about the fact that my previous principal would not have good things to say about me, and I know my current principal did call the former one to find out what my issues were. She also talked to a former department chair of mine and another assistant principal who told a slightly different story. She thought about it and took a chance. To this day I’m not sure why she took a chance on me because a lot of people wouldn’t. I am grateful.
In my current setting I have been encouraged to grow. I have not, interestingly enough, had classroom management problems. You can’t insist it’s because I’m in a private school because I know private school teachers who cannot manage a classroom.
By any measure including my own, I was a failure as a teacher. But I learned that with the right support, it didn’t have to be that way. I could not only be a successful teacher but a really good teacher if I were given the assistance I needed from my administration.
I know a lot of folks like to blame others for their failures, but I really have to wonder what my former principal would think if she were able to see what I am up to now. In my case, I really think that I could have been a better middle school teacher if my administrators had given me the support to make it happen. Failure was probably one of the best things to happen to me because it put me on the path I’m walking now, but it stung. It hurt for a few years. I’d like to think I bounced back from it pretty well in the end, though. My former principal would have been completely gobsmacked if she had seen me walk across the room at the Secondary Section Luncheon on Saturday to receive a Secondary Section Teacher of Excellence Award from NCTE.
I am presenting at NCTE tomorrow morning at 9:30 at the Yacht and Beach Club in Grand Harbour Ballroom South. You can download and/or view all my session materials here.
Note: I think if you visit the presentation on SlideShare and download it, you can get the notes.
Here is my handout for my Macbeth performance task that I discuss as an alternative to a performance.
Here is a graphic organizer for my comparative video exercise for Act I Scene 1. I use the filmed versions of Macbeth directed by Jack Gold, Roman Polanski, and Geoffrey Wright for this activity.
Here is a Wordle made from the text of Macbeth that I use to introduce students to themes in the play.
Chris Shamburg’s radio play of the “Double, Double, Toil and Trouble” scene.
If you want to explore the UbD Educators wiki (Understanding by Design, ® ASCD) for a variety of resources, feel free to check it out. You don’t have to join to lurk; you have to join to contribute your own work.
Links to my previous work aligning Folger methods with backward design:
- Romeo and Juliet unit plan
- Macbeth unit plan
- Taming of the Shrew unit plan
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream unit plan
- Much Ado About Nothing unit plan
Blog posts about Folger/teaching Shakespeare:
- Shakespearean Insults
- Proof Folger Methods Work: Week in Reflection, 1/20-1/23
- I Noticed: Week in Reflection, January 12-16
- Taming of the Shrew
- Folger Shakespeare Mini-Institute
- Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet
- Teaching Romeo and Juliet: Part One
- Teaching Romeo and Juliet: Part Two
- Teaching Romeo and Juliet: Part Three
- Teaching Romeo and Juliet: Part Four
- Who Killed Romeo and Juliet?
- Julius Caesar
Links to other helpful resources:
- Folger Group on NCTE Ning
- Folger website
- Making a Scene: Folger blog
- NY Times Blog’s resources for teaching Shakespeare
- Folger Teaching Shakespeare Institute Wiki
- Donors Choose
If you would like to see the Shakespeare Made Easy activity I mentioned, please visit and join A Way to Teach. You’ll find a lot of great resources there.
If I can think of more stuff to add later, I will, so bookmark this post if you’d like to access it more easily.
In a couple of days, I’ll be Orlando-bound. I’m presenting on authentic assessment in Shakespeare with the Folger Shakespeare group. I do feel like a part of a family with those folks. If you want to check it out in person, come see the presentation on Saturday at 9:30 in the Yacht and Beach Club/Grand Harbor Ballroom, Salon South. It’s session G.46.
Some time soon, I will be posting my presentation and any accompanying handouts, etc. here and at the NCTE Ning.