7 Ninja Moves for Increasing Academic Risk-Taking

We sometimes find ourselves in a culture of product-based praise. The A’s, the high test scores, the right answers: These are our educational celebrities. But we lose ​sight of the process, the effort, the risk it takes learners to achieve those great scores and grade point averages. In doing so, the message is sent: The product is…

Don’t Smile ’til Christmas: A Teacher’s Worst Advice

When I first started teaching, I actually gave stock to the garbage of an educational aphorism, “Don’t smile until Christmas.” I remember thinking, “I’m young . . . I look even younger. I need to lay down the hammer early so kids don’t mess with me.” And there I was, reading the syllabus with a…

How Academic Risk-Taking Dies in the Classroom

Picture a baby. A fresh one. Straight out of the womb. It’s probably making a bunch of noise. It’s probably gross looking (let’s be honest: this whole “cute newborn” thing is a myth). Despite the grossness of this baby, it came into the world wired with a certain skill set. On a résumé, this baby…

An Open Letter to Myself: Don’t Give Up

Twenty-four of my students are failing. Only two are passing. They are failing in the grade book. They are failing in mastering content. They are failing in overcoming the abyss of apathy that is a characteristic of the students I teach. And, because of this, I am failing. I have tried dozens of techniques and…

Staying Present in the Classroom: Practicing Mindful Teaching

How am I going to transition to the next lesson? What’s that smell? What am I going to have the kids who finish early do until the bell rings? Do you think any of them actually like this book? I hope our staff meeting doesn’t go long; I’ve got to get home to my puppy…

To Teach or Not to Teach: Is it Worth the Money?

The voice comes from the center of your chest. “You should become a teacher.” As it settles in, warm and satisfying, a counter-voice calls from the surface of your brain: “Are you sure you want that as a career? I mean, is it worth it?” For you, this question, with its conflicting answers, hovers, a haunting phantom of past,…

Three Questions Worth Asking

The following is adapted from a 2014 National Honor Society induction speech I was asked to give to the students of Plainwell High School. Read on ’til the end for a personal challenge.   ————————————– There’s a saying in education: “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.”  Have you heard this before?  I think…

With Trepid Hearts We Step: Overcoming the Thorn of Change

In troves of tromping feet, students and educators begin yet another school year this month.  With the advent of another academic year, there will be loud cries from citizens, educators, researchers, and politicians about all the changes that need to be made in education.  Students need to change.  Teachers especially need to change.  Administrators? Please change. We…

Something Deeper: On Teaching with Heart and the Poetry of Teaching

Teaching is poetry. It’s the creation of something deeper, something sleeping below a classroom structure.  Its meaning is buried underneath flash cards and Power Points, grade checks and rubrics.  The surface seems simple and direct — we see the quizzes and cold-calls as clearly as pure rhymes.  The bells ring and the lines break and we prepare for…