Tag Archives: Teaching Life

Things ESPN Has Taught Me about Teaching and Coaching: Dean Smith Edition

While I am not a sports fanatic by any stretch of the imagination, ESPN seems to find its way onto our television quite regularly.  Okay, daily. Increasingly, I have found myself overhearing little tid bits of news or commentary that I find incredibly relevant to my classroom.  Many of you likely know by now that UNC’s storied coach Dean Smith passed away this weekend, and Sunday evening I cooked dinner to the tune of a great Smith tribute.  As I cooked, I found myself pausing more than once to jot down a quick note that related to my work as English teacher and lacrosse coach. So, here we go.  Things ESPN taught me about teaching and coaching this weekend.

Lessons from Dean Smith (Really, I can’t come close to doing the man justice, but here are the items I am bringing up with my students and players this week):

  • He helped to integrate a restaurant and neighborhood in Chapel Hill.
  • He took players to a prison each year to scrimmage for the inmates and to illustrate for his players that the world was bigger than the one they normally occupied and the importance of valuing all humans.
  • When coaching Michael Jordan, he told him that if he didn’t pass, he wouldn’t play because teamwork is The Carolina Way.
  • More than 95% of his players earned their degrees.
  • Even the legendary Coach Wooden said of Smith that he was the best basketball teacher he had ever seen.
  • A nice tribute online: Grantland

Education Applications: Any discussions about social justice, the civil rights movement, or teamwork can benefit from the good Coach’s legacy.

I would highly recommend you check out the short (three-four minute) video clip from ESPN here:  “Dean Smith: Lasting Impact On, Off Court”.

(ESPN provides an embed code for the video, but I can’t seem to get it to work with WordPress.  If you have advice on how to embed the video into the post, I’d be happy to hear it!)

And Then, Sometimes, They Get It.

There have been moments where I have told my students that they cannot silently out-stare me.  “When I ask a question,” I say, “you cannot stare me down to the point that I feel awkward, give in, and spill the beans on the answer.”  They try any way.  Among our students there seems to be a growing pattern of passivity.  They would rather be told than find out; they would rather get than build.  On a recent survey of my students, one in particular complained about the fact that I don’t just tell them answers but instead make them look it up and discuss possibilities with their peers.  The tone was negative, but I smiled slightly at the comment.  It meant I was doing something right.

As teachers however, we do not only want students to learn how to learn and think critically.  We also want students to learn to enjoy the process and make it a habit for how they approach and interact with the world around them – even if it’s hard.  As middle school students, the ideas and suggestions of adults are often dead-on-arrival.  What do grown-ups know anyway?  Still, we are planting seeds and hope that students will recognize the value of these days in the days to come.

Every now and again, though, they get it in real-time.  Some will share there revelation with you; others will try to hide it, but I bet you catch it anyway.  For my classroom, these moments most often come during my Romeo and Juliet unit.  There is much digging in of the heels and protesting at the start. “He wrote in Old English!” they cry.  “False,” I calmly reply. “Stomp your feet all you want. It’s okay. We will agree in a few weeks.”  Then, I get to catch them having fun.  It is the best kind of I-told-you-so.  Last week, I had a student verbalize this moment for the class.  We had spent several days writing our own sonnets.  On Friday, students were given the opportunity to share their sonnets if they wish, and a surprising number of students signed up.  Towards the end of one class period, one student shared with the class that she had been frustrated for most of the writing process and didn’t really understand why we had to do it.  “Today, though,” She said. “I’m so glad that we did!” Yes!  I wanted to plant her in each of my classes so they could hear her, as well.

Feel free to share your own “They get it!” moments in the comments.

All About Transitions – Middle Schoolers and Me

When I was getting my education degree, I was pretty sure I would end up teaching High School English.  I loved student teaching in a 10th grade classroom and assumed that something similar would follow.  Surprisingly, the job I ended up taking was in a middle school classroom teaching one section each of 6th through 8th grade English, among other subjects, as well.  Like a meet-cute in a movie, I remember meeting my first homeroom of 7th grade students as a first year teacher and realizing that I love middle school.  Before, when I was still in college, I would tell people that I planned on teaching high school English, and they would say, “High School? But, you look like you’re in high school yourself!”  Now, when I explain that I am a middle school teacher, I get funny facial expressions, comments on what a “unique” age group that is, “well some one’s gotta do it” sentiments, and (because I’m in the south) that slightly condescending endearment, “Well, bless your heart!”

Image from Flikr User AwesomeJoolie

Middle school students are a unique group, for sure, but my heart also does feel blessed to be working with them.  What I’ve learned most about working with this age is that, to put it as simply as possible, it seems to be all about transitions on the part of the students and all about flexibility on the part of the teachers.  For middle school students so much, even the familiar things, are new.  Having a locker and a class schedule without spending the whole day with the same twenty-five kids is enough to send some sixth grade students straight to the floor in the middle of the hallway surrounded by a confusing shower of papers.  Then there’s the fact that your friends, especially those of the opposite sex, are suddenly different and so your friendship now has to be different, even if you were perfectly happy riding your bikes all over the neighborhood and running through sprinklers two summers ago. To add to the chaos, there’s also this strange phenomenon where all of a sudden friends have broken themselves up into little groups and each group seems to have its own social expectations and code.  Whew! I get kind of dizzy just thinking about it, and then I remember that all of those things are being towed behind my students when they enter my classroom each day.  I smile, though, because they are bringing these things into my English classroom, and, among other very important things, English is all about communicating about my world and your world and the worlds that have come before us and those that will follow.  It is using this great gift of language to deconstruct our ideas, philosophies, understandings, and questions.

This past school year, I came to the decision that it was time to make a transition of my own and decided to seek employment at a different school.  When I began the process of applying and interviewing, I knew without a doubt that, no matter what other changes I made, I wanted to keep teaching middle school.  I may have stumbled into middle level education, but I have no desire to leave. This sentiment is viewed as crazy-talk by some (even some within the field of education) but that also means that the majority of teachers you have on a middle school faculty really want to be there.  Others may have stumbled into it, like I did, but I’ve also found that those who find it is not for them don’t seem to hang around for long, which means you are left with a faculty who is largely happy that they are working in a middle school – at least in my experience.

This coming July, I will begin the move to my new school where I will teach 7th and 8th grade English.  It is an independent k-12 school just outside of Atlanta, and also just happens to be where I attended high school.  A lot has changed since I was in attendance, and I am excited for this next stage in my career.  Looking ahead, though, I am also finding a few more ways to relate to my transition-laden students.  I will be learning to work within the new codes and expectations of a new faculty and a new curriculum.  Additionally, the school has a couple of innovative programs and ideas in place.  For one, in the 6th-8th grades, Math and English classes are gender divided.  I am eager to see how this new dynamic will affect my classroom, but also want to make sure I am preparing myself for this new class element as much as possible, so that creating the right environment for my students is not too trial and error based.  In the upcoming school year, the school is also launching a one-to-one tablet program.  I am glad that this is a transition that all faculty members will encounter and not just the new additions.  I’ve brought my tablet home and am excited to begin playing around with it.

For my students, middle school is all about transitions.  As for me, I am in full transition mode, too.  It can seem a little overwhelming at times, but overwhelming in a way that fills me with energetic enthusiasm for the year to come.  So now, dear PLN, I am calling on you to help me in this transition, and hopefully we can all learn a little be from each other in the process.  Do you have any great resources on teaching to different genders? One-to-one tablet programs? Entering a new faculty and curriculum?  I appreciate all the ways you help guide me and will be sure to share what I learn along the way, as well!

The Next Great American Blog Post

I haven’t blogged in a while. I’m coming in just barely under a month. However, it is not because I have not been thinking of what I want to say to you dear readers and fellow teachers. I have actually spent quite a bit of time (that probably should have been spent grading) working on this site behind the scenes and drafting some blog posts.

I currently have four drafts, none of which I feel are ready to go. I think it might be that “Publish” button. It seems so final. So official. Yet here I am in a voice, which rambles noticeably more than usual, about my lack of recent published blog postings.

I promise I have a point. These recent writing quandries I’ve experienced through the blog have helped me to relate a little bit better to my writing students.

Publishing is a critical step of the writing process.  As teachers, most of us have also read the research and seen the evidence in our classroom that the more authentic the audience, the more powerful that publishing step may prove.  However, publishing can also be a powerful intimidation.  It seems so final.  In the posts I am still drafting, I feel this pressure to be profound.  To say something that will hopefully bring you affirmation for your own classroom practices.  Or challenge you. Or, from a more selfish place, make you stop and think, “that girl knows what she’s talking about.”  Now I’m not saying that this blog should not be a place that could affect change in education or bolster my personal and professional learning network.  However, I also need to remember that the next time I hit publish, it doesn’t have to mean I am uploading “The Next Great American Blog Post.”  If perfection is what I’m waiting on, I may never publish again.

It is easy to see when our students have test anxiety, but what about their “publishing” anxiety.  They may feel that sharing their work with us and others makes their work final, finished.  But, that is just not true!  How can we demonstrate to our students that writing is an continual practice.  Even great books put out revised edition.  I want my students to let me in on the process, and not fear the finality.  After all, there isn’t really much finality in writing at all.  Especially in this digital age where everything seems up for revision.

Want to see what else may be coming down the hatch?

Here’s a glimpse at the ideas hanging out in the “Drafts” box:

Poem-A-Day Challenge Updated

So, I am mostly up to date with my efforts in the poem-a-day challenge. Each entry was written this month. However, I cannot actually claim that each was written on the day ascribed to it. Let’s think of it as “Thirty Poems for April” instead. If you are interested in checking out my efforts, go to the “Writing Teacher Writes” tab above, or you can just click here.  Keep in mind that I never promised they would be good!  If you would like to follow along with the challenge on your own, you can check out the daily prompts at Poetic Asides.

The promised follow up to the summer reading poll is coming tomorrow.  Get your votes in on the poll and check back Monday for my thoughts.

%d bloggers like this: