Category Archives: iTEACH

I believe that all teachers need effective strategies, not just in a regular classroom setting. If you teach in any way, shape, or form, be it in Sunday School at church or at a business meeting among colleagues, visit some of these posts to see what works for me!

The Choice Is Yours

Spring is in the air, and it’s all I can do to not want to be outside all of the time.  Before we know it, school will be out and that’s how I greeted my students this week.  If your child is not wanting to finish the school year strong, teach them the difference between optimism and pessimism.  I took that opportunity while coming back from spring break.

You can think like this:


Or you can view it like this:


This was my board on Monday morning. It’s all about how you look at it.

The choice is yours. Every day, every way.
The choice is yours. Every day, every way.

My problem is that I enjoy weekends and vacations too much.  But! When waking up, not in the mood, faking it until I make it often turns that day around.  And so far this week, the optimism is paying off.  You have to go either way, so take Mary Poppin’s advice: “a spoonful of sugar.”

Hope you’re enjoying your April!




Dear Communities and Families,

The past week and a half, I have had the urge to stand on top of a desk in the middle of my school building and scream to my students and all students that

“Reading Matters!”

“Writing matters!”

“Learning matters!”

Let me share with you some conversations that I had today:

  • Student A: “I don’t want your help. I don’t have to.”
  • Student B: “There is nothing you can do to change people’s minds.”
  • Student C: “I don’t want to today.”
  • Student D: “Teachers are the problem.”
  • Teacher: “What’s going on? Why did you make an A 3rd quarter and now you’re not turning your stuff in? What’s up?”
  • Student E: “That’s why I got an A last quarter: so I don’t have to do anything now.”

I don’t mean to gripe; there’s enough negative energy in the world, but it is disheartening to feel like you’re beating your head against a wall, talking to a deaf audience, putting in hours of work, willing yourself to have patience and faith in people, seeing the potential and not the current prevailing attitude when you are meeting such resistance without backup.   Those conversations are hard to stomach day to day, especially when you consider yourself a reflective teacher, one who has tried new engaging strategies and read authors like Kelly Gallagher (Readicide; Write Like This); Jeff Andereson (Mechanically Inclined), Jeff Wilhelm (Reading Don’t Fix No Chevies); Deborah Dean (Strategic Writing), Doug Lemov (Teach Like a Champion), and so many more.  On some days they work, and on some days, you want to jump on a desk and start screaming.

One of my students is writing about drug culture, the concept that people view drugs as “cool” or “desirable.”  I am proud of him for being insightful; unfortunately, he is one of the few willing to speak up.  And that has nothing to do with me; he deserves all the credit for that mindset.  He gets it.

Similar to his observation though, there is another type of culture that terrifies me: “school is not cool.”  It’s contagious and it’s infecting our students. At church last week, I leaned over to Parker and told him that I am afraid that no matter what I teach my future sons, the idea that “boys hate reading” will rub off on them in middle school, and I won’t be able to stop it. He chuckled because he was expecting me to be worried about peer pressure of drugs or something more grave like that.


Not reading or valuing education is not harmless! It is grave. It’s a numbing, willful ignorance; and its effects on an individual’s life and then society as a whole is frightening.  Our kids are below reading level.  They give up when a learning task is hard.  And they laugh when you bring up mental endurance.

Teachers alone cannot solve this problem.  I am with my students for an hour and a half every day.  Some teachers only see their students for 45 minutes a day. We need more support from vigilant parents, from coaches, from other role models in the community, from older brothers and sisters, from friends, and anyone else who thinks they can help.

Another teacher the other day shared the old adage that you can lead a camel to water, but you can’t make it drink.  That’s how it feels on some days.

Companies are already complaining that their prospective employees don’t have the communication skills they need.  News to the companies.  Give it 10 years because at our current rate with legislation, lack of parent support, and teacher burnout, I don’t see much changing.

In her autobiography, I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai says that she and her father went to the mountains to rural villages in Pakistan to teach about the importance of education itself.  Her father told her that they would be “preachers of education.” How beautifully he put that. Malala was shot in the face by the Taliban because she stood up for girls’ education.  Right now, her book is banned in Pakistan; that’s irony for you.  Our students are counting the minutes until the bell rings.

Well, it’s not just in rural villages where we need preachers of education.  It’s in our wealthy suburbs, in our low-income areas, in our cities, and in our small towns.  Across the country, we need those preachers to be connecting with the youth of America to show them why they should value an education.

Teachers alone cannot combat this “school is not cool” business. We are trying.  We need backup.

It takes a community to raise a child.  It takes a community to educate a child.  It takes a community to prepare children to be the successors of our nation.

With deep concerns and prayers of hope,

Mrs. Plant

I Prayed for my Students

I call my 4th block, my little angels.  A friend might ask, “were your students loud today?” My reply:

“My little angels? Loud? Never.”

Let’s just say that my 4th block has about 22 students, a gloriously small number, but they sound like a crowd of 44.  So many of them are loud personalities.  When you combine that with the last class period of the day, you get a boisterous (one of their vocabulary words) environment, a garrulous (another word) group, and a recipe for a headache, for those of us with sensory overload.  Quick to share, quick to argue, quick to be normal teenagers during the last class of the day; and tomorrow is Friday, the last period of the last day of the week.  Want to come?

How about the Friday before Spring Break?

That’s in two weeks. Anyways! The point of this post is that last night I prayed for my students.

Though there’s separation of religion and state in my classroom, in my home, I can think and pray as I wish.

I prayed not only for the patience to teach them well because as Parker knows I sorely need it on some days, but also for the things they go through, which I know they need.  As I have written before, they are dealing with many things outside of my room: child abuse, parents’ divorce, relationships, loneliness, and etc. Parker is a student and I know he goes through a lot outside of his classes; he has a lot on his mind.

And you know what?

Today went pretty well.

I think I’ll double up on my prayers for tomorrow.  Friday afternoons deserve doubled efforts.


Mrs. Plant

Teaching Tip: “Get Them Talking”

Dear teachers of all places and all ages, 

(That includes you, parents.)

I’m starting a new series, Teaching Tips: For Sundays & Mondays.  I’d love for you to join me.

I know that good teaching happens in many places.  It’s not just in our schools.  It’s in various places such as Sunday Schools, employee training workshops, presentations, in the home, and more.  As a fourth year teacher, I don’t consider myself an expert of experts, but I do believe I have come a long way since my student teaching and my first year of teaching.  There are many books I have consulted, conferences I’ve attended, and teachers I have observed to help me become a strategic teacher.  In fact, I still have a professor who emails alumni tips and tricks of the trade, plus writing opportunities; it’s awesome being an English Teaching Graduate from BYU.

One of my favorite books happens to be: Teach Like a Champion (By the way this is not an affiliate link; I genuinely love this book. Apparently they have a second edition out now). Its strategies have made a world of difference in my teaching techniques.

Teach LIke a Champion: a Book That Has Elevated My Teaching Capabilities

My friend, a community college adjunct professor, and I often talk about teaching and the needs of our students when we’re out walking. I used to live with two other teachers and carpooled with another.  It’s safe to say that I just love talking to other teachers–in my own hallways, but also teachers of every kind and every age.

With my new series, Teaching Tips: For Sundays & Mondays, my goal is to share the best teaching strategies that I have found working in my classroom and in my lessons at church and in other professional presentations.

But before I share my first one, I want to point out the word “strategy.”  Good teaching takes strategy; good teaching is intentional; and good teaching is an acquired skill.  I’d argue that even the most naturally talented teachers have room to grow and probably have grown throughout the years.  My tips are the strategies that work for me, that have helped me grow, and that continue to help me develop.

 Good teaching takes strategy.

And so I invite you to read, follow, and share these posts and talk with me as well.   I would love to hear what works well for you and who your best teachers have been. I would love to build a community of fellow teachers, teachers and parents of all kinds, who care about the children we teach and parent.  I hope you enjoy #1!

Teaching Tips: For Sundays & Mondays.  Get Them Talking.


People like to talk about themselves, especially kids and teenagers, and even many adults.  So no matter who you’re teaching this likely applies.

Most people like talking.  Just get them going.
Most people like talking. Just get them going.

There are so many ways to have people talk in a meaningful way that can accomplish the purpose of your lesson. Sometimes you’ll want them talking as a hook (in place of an object lesson for example) or sometimes you may want them talking to explain something they learned from a particular activity.  Don’t worry.  I’ll give you examples of how both can be done.

Scenario #1: Students Talking As a Hook

Let’s say you’re trying to teach a lesson on how to choose a book well (an English Teacher’s favorite, and yes we still teach that in the 10th grade).  Rather than jumping straight to the high and mighty importance of reading, ask students to start talking about their favorite movies.  People love talking about movies right?  As they are talking, you are doing two things. First, you are genuinely listening to their preferences and personalities, AND ALSO you are making a mental note to remember those answers so that you can refer to them when you are transitioning to the point of your mini-lesson.  For example, when Bradley declares he loves The Fast and the Furious, you might “coincidentally” mention that when making a choice about what type of book to read, Bradley may want to look for an adventure or thriller book to begin with.  Two things are going to happen: he’s going to look amazed that you heard what he said and remembered it AND ALSO be wondering how you somehow managed to relate it to R.E.A.D.I.N.G, that thing he’s hated since he figured out it’s not cool for boys to like reading.  “How did she do that?” he’s thinking.  It’s simple Bradley; she asked you a lead-in question, you talked, and she actually listened.

That scenario can be repeated time and again.  High interest discussion questions are great hooks to get kids involved, engaged, and invested.  Once you have their attention, which by the way is half the battle of teaching, you can begin to go somewhere with your content, no matter what that content is.  If the teacher alone is doing all the talking through lecture or answering his or her own questions when met with silence, then the teacher is the one involved, the one engaged, and the one invested.  That’s the beauty of talking.  Whoever is doing it, is actually learning.

Teaching Tips: For Sundays & Mondays. Get Them Talking.

(I should note that talking doesn’t outweigh listening; it’s simply one of the strategies that works).

Scenario #2: Talking as a Response

Often times, teachers are so worried about “getting through everything” that they don’t leave time for a meaningful discussion.  I will re-emphasize what I just said above: if the teacher is the only one talking, then he or she is the only one really learning.  You have to plan adequate time for a discussion.  Believe it or not, talking takes time, especially authentic talking.  Susie needs time to share her opinion, Ben needs time to process it, and Tim needs time to respond.  Instead of just the teacher lecturing or presenting information, at least three people in the room have engaged in the topic and you know it because you can hear it.

Now, to save time for talking or pause in the middle of content to debrief means that you have to be brave.  I think for some shy people it’s scary to think about how to facilitate comments or they may be worried about things getting off track; however, if the teacher simply listens and responds, then he or she really can direct or redirect the conversation throughout meaningful interactions: that’s what facilitating is after all.

For example, in a discussion about the importance of professionalism in social media (keep in mind I teach 10th graders who will soon be applying for colleges before they know it), I may ask “so after having looked at what colleges value in an applicant, why would it be important to keep public spaces professional?” Suzie right out of the gate says “to hide anything bad.”  Ben has his thinking face on, but Tim says “I don’t care what they think.  I am who I am.” To which, you have listened and might respond with something like, “I think it’s important to be who we are Tim, but don’t you think it might hurt your chances if you advertise certain things?” Now depending on his personality, he may or may not change his mind, but that’s not the point.  The point is that you know what he’s thinking about the content and the lesson because you’ve allowed him the time to involve himself, engage with the content, and invest his emotions in it.  That’s the power of talking.

Teaching Tips: For Sundays & Mondays.  Get Them Talking.

Getting them talking may seem like a no brainer, but planning meaningful discussion for various purposes has made such a difference in my teaching.  I hope that one or both of these examples can help you the next time you teach.  Be brave.  All you have to do is ask a question and then listen.  If you truly listen, you’ll know what comes next.

Happy teaching!


Proof: My 8th Year of High School.  4 as a Student. 4 as a Teacher.
Proof: My 8th Year of High School. 4 as a Student. 4 as a Teacher.

P.S. If you liked this post, then you may like Learn Names on Day One.  And as always, I’d love to hear from you.  Like I said earlier, I learn from you just like I learn from my students.

Why I Haven’t Seen The Oscar Winners Yet

Right now, I am watching the 87th Academy Awards and as usual, I struggle while watching because unfortunately, I haven’t seen so many of the films that are being announced, and I’m a Film Studies teacher!   There are various reasons for this, and it’s very frustrating.  4764440136_3f75b62db4_b WHY I HAVEN’T SEEN THE OSCAR WINNERS/NOMINEES YET 

  • The money! Now I know it’s a well kept secret, but we teachers make A LOT of money. Right.  Hopefully, you’re saying it with me.  Back to the reasons though! I have such a hard time coughing up the money to pay for the movie theater tickets, and I know I’m notdollar-499481_640 alone. Back in my single days, I only had to buy one ticket, so it didn’t matter as much (my expenses were also not as substantial at that time either for various reasons; however, now being a young married couple with Parker in medical school, suddenly that makes two tickets at $10 a piece a little hard to justify in our budget.  In college, I frequented the dollar theater just on principle, but I remember knowing many families who were there out of necessity.  Now, I’m with them.  I get it.  $20 for two seems huge! I can only imagine families trying to have a night out with four and five tickets to buy.  One of my students last semester wrote an excellent open letter to movie theaters about their prices and why they should consider changing them.  While I’m sure that there are many reasons for the continual raise in their prices, such as instant streaming cutting back their revenue and the rise in costs to show them and run the business, I can’t help the fact that $20 right now with a medical school budget seems like a lot.
  • Their release dates.  Having read The $11 Billion Year: From Sundance to the Oscars, an Inside Look at the unnamedChanging Hollywood System, written by film critic Anne Thompson who writes at Thompson On Hollywood, I understand the process of the Oscar process more. Typically, films that want to win an Oscar are released later in the calendar year at the most prestigious film festivals, which if I’m not mistaken are mostly towards the end of the year.  This is sometimes because of the festivals themselves or an easier reason to comprehend: a later release means that they are fresh on Academy members’ minds when it comes to being nominated and/or voted for.  Thus when films like The Imitation Game are released on Christmas Day at the same time as Unbroken and Into the Woods, how can I possibly see them all? I know, I know.  It’s February; I’ve had two months, but then we loop back to my first excuse: the $$$ & the dreaded budget.  (I’m also waiting to see Unbroken until I have read the book, which my book club is reading in April.)  I HAVE to see Still Alice and The Theory of Everything too! Still Alice is on hold for the book too.
  • Lastly, I struggle with the strong language in so many of the nominees and winners. I LOVE history films and other dramas.  Though I probably shouldn’t rationalize that viewing extreme violence doesn’t bother me as much as other content, profanity really does bother me and most of the films that are nominated and currently being awarded have so much profanity.  Not just the “small” swearwords as I like to call them, but the strong ones for me personally.  I talked about the dreaded F-bomb in my post 50 Shades of Crap when I mentioned the film The Wolf of Wall Street.  I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that word.  I really don’t.  As a teacher, it’s not like I don’t hear it.  Students drop it in the hallways and out in the lunch areas; sometimes you can tell that the younger ones are simply trying to sound cool.  Of course in the school setting, they obviously get in trouble for such language, but they still try to sneak it in when they can.  While I can understand that in some films, the use of strong language is accurate to the film’s setting, story, and content, I still struggle with wanting to hear that much language.  I also think that sometimes filmmakers include language unnecessarily and too gratuitously. I own my conservatism in this area, but I still hold onto it and embrace it.  Parker and I value clean language, and we want to practice what we preach in that sense.

Well, I’ve said it!  I have decided the only way to satisfy my frustrations in my current circumstances is to view the Oscars as the Academy’s endorsement for what to see now!  I’ve taught Film Studies twice before and am teaching it for the third time right now.  This is the first time I’ve been able to teach it during the winter semester so that I can teach it in conjunction with the Oscars ceremony.

 I love the art of film, I love the entertainment of film, and I love studying and learning more about it every day.  It’s such a triple threat! Great stories, great sights, and great sounds.   As a human being, I read and write because I can’t imagine life without connecting with humanity and other people.  They allow empathy, growth, and learning. They inspire imagination, opportunities, and possibilities.  

(Nice! The Imitation Game just won Best Adapted Screenplay! Can’t wait to see it! Also I’m excited to see The Theory of Everything from the preview alone, I love Eddie Redmayne and would love to see him win Best Actor!  The Academy usually doesn’t pick my favorites though.) (YES!!!  HE JUST GOT IT!  I really didn’t think he’d get it! “I’m a lucky, lucky man. This Oscar, wow!…This belongs to the people with ALS…I’m its custodian.”) (One of my students is going to be thrilled! She loves Julianne Moore!) NOTE: Two wins for acting involve illnesses.  The Academy is consistent. 

I’m really curious what other teachers, parents, and anyone thinks about the Oscar winners and nominations. There’s such a debate between freedom of expression and censorship and over-protecting children and exposing them too early.  How does your family decide about media in your home?  What are favorite films? I would love hearing other people’s thoughts.  I hope I didn’t wait too long to ask these questions, seeing as how the Oscars are playing as I write!  OScars P.S. Most of the films that I am so excited to see are at our $2 theater now! SWEET!

50 Shades Followup & Seeing People

Dear Readers, Film Goers, Teachers, and Parents,

Part One: The Followup to “50 Shades of Crap: a Feminist’s View.”

Where to begin? I’ll start by saying that I did not realize that so many people would be reading last week’s post.  I typically post at least once a week; sometimes it’s about a recent trip, sometimes about teaching, and sometimes an opinion piece like last week.  In my open letter, “50 Shades of Crap: a Feminist’s View,” I was direct with my opinion and still maintain that opinion, despite the mixed reception.  Whenever you post an opinion, solicited or unsolicited, there’s bound to be varied responses and reactions because people have so many different views; also, we tend to feel strongly about our own opinions, myself included.

Today, I’ll simply offer a few clarifications on last week’s post, knowing that there will still be some who disagree and that not every comment will be addressed; then, I will move forward with the rest of today’s post, which I’m excited about!

  • “50 Shades of Crap” was not an actual book or film review, rather a commentary on the shift in values and the specific reception and release of the film in mainstream American Cinema; it is also not the only film with explicit content to be released in theaters.
  • Consensual, private relationships were not the intended subject of the post; my comments were directed towards the public release of a film that I consider to be pornographic, again, in what I consider a public point of access.
  • Pornography has a negative impact on people and on families.
  • The intent of the post was to judge a film and its release, not individual people.


Whether or not you agreed with my observations and feelings about 50 Shades is your choice and freedom, but I do want to thank everyone for visiting and commenting.  I do think it’s a discussion worth having, even if many of us disagree strongly.

Moving forward though! BREAK! clapperboard-147103_640

Part Two: “How’s Home?”– A Simple Question.

picstitch 2

Let’s start with some stories. These experiences really reminded me of what matters most as a teacher and human being in my community: seeing people as people.

First occurrence.  On Monday afternoon, I said “Happy Monday!” to Jose, a 4th Block student. This time he didn’t even grumble as he usually would on a Monday afternoon in reaction; he simply shrugged, and I barely caught it.  Just as I normally do, I asked “how he was,” to which he replied he was really tired.  Normally, that’s where the interaction would have ended.  But this time, “how’s home?” popped into my head and I asked him.   I probably thought to ask him because he had previously written a “This I Believe” essay on avoiding addictions because of his older brother, who was constantly in trouble and causing his mother grief and anxiety; his brother would come in late at night and he would have to deal with it since they share a bedroom.  This time, Jose told me that he didn’t sleep but two hours that night because of his brother.  He was arrested for possession “again” and his mother was distraught; I could tell that he was as well; it was written on his face.  Though English is his least favorite subject on any regular day, my class was definitely the least of his concerns that day.

students-250164_640The following day, recalling that experience with Jose, a female student approached me outside while I was on lunch duty and I repeated my question, “how’s home?” Brittany is one who often comes to see me in between classes, during lunch, after school, and so on.  Usually it’s just a quick check-in, but this time she was obviously melancholy.  As soon as I asked her about home, she immediately teared up and started telling me about how hard things were with her mom.  I hugged her, and we talked for the second half of her lunch.  While I realize I am only listening to one side of the argument, she did say that when her mom said “she’s looking forward to her being out of the house,” it hurt her feelings; it obviously stuck with her.   She was listening. Sticks and stones can break bones, but words my friends can crush.  People remember them, or the lack thereof in some cases.

imagesRepeat again on Wednesday: Lela had been somber for two days.  She normally walks in the room with her bright workout gear on, dancing with her headphones  with what I would assume is upbeat music based on her stride.  She answers questions cheerfully and definitely exhibits pride in her work and learning; her face expresses her thinking and analyzing.  But not on Tuesday or Wednesday.  Both days, she came in expressionless, propped her head on her hand, and was silent as can be.  Her face was gray and flat.  “Hey Lela, how are you?” She admitted not great.  She was struggling with stuff at home.  This time it turned out to be her mother as well.  Both girls expressed that they feel like they can never do anything right.

So many times when students walk into my room, they are dealing with so much outside of this little hour and a half class. Some of it is exciting, some of it is not.  They are figuring out life and their individual circumstances just like the rest of us.  A lot of teachers laugh when students make it obvious that they think we don’t have lives outside of our classrooms, but I think that we as teachers or adults make the same mistake.  We forget sometimes that our students and children have their own lives outside of school and home, which can be overwhelming.  Friend problems are real.  Home problems are real. Work problems are real.  They are easy to overlook.


Life gets busy with the projects we’re working on or the standardized tests we’re preparing for (which is another issue for another day), but really, Jose’s brother is of course more important to him than reading Night or writing about injustice that day.  Brittany cares more about the fight she had with her mom than her vocabulary quiz on Friday.  And Lela has been sad for several days; why would she be concerned about writing the perfect journal when she was worried about something big or small that happened at home?

The worst case this week was when a girl showed me a note shoved in her locker.  In it, it made fun of her and then said at the bottom really small: “go die.”  It may have been written small but the message was big.  (After talking with her, I referred her to guidance and administration where they are working on handling the situation more thoroughly.)  These might sound like stories aimed at pulling the heartstrings, but they were true and they all happened just this week.

e1721d7b-6efe-4ec7-92d4-bf48991d3996_dThe same thing happens all around us; so many people are just barely holding it together. The waitress at dinner last night admitted it had been a long night.  I bet when I go grocery shopping this afternoon, the grocer will be much more concerned with his personal problems than with superb customer service.  And in my case, I know that sometimes I don’t have on my best face on because I’m more concerned with some personal struggles or feeling overwhelmed.  I even think that when people are posting on their social media sites, they are hiding a part of their real concerns.

We have to see people. Really see them.  In person, online, everywhere we go.  You never know what’s really going on in a person’s life.  In a student’s life.  In a child’s life. What I learned this week is to simply notice and ask. You’d be surprised how many people are willing to answer and maybe even hoping you’ll ask.

“How’s home?”

“How’s it going?”

“You don’t seem yourself. What’s up?”

Maybe one of those questions to your own child can reveal a lot.  Maybe to the random waitress, just the acknowledgement will lighten her night.  It’s definitely something that I learned this week.  My goal is to make it something I remember, especially on days when I’m feeling impatient.


Sarah (& Parker)

*Note: all student names have been changed.

The Giver

The man on the cover is apparently a painter in Maine who talked with Lowry about color and how much more an artist sees than the everyday man or woman.
The man on the cover is apparently a painter in Maine who talked with Lowry about color and how much more an artist sees than the everyday man or woman.

Most people love The Giver, and I like it philosophically. For an adult it is a quick read and it is profound; it’s just simply not my favorite, which is why it only gets a three.

A few thoughts about it though:
-It’s a great young adult Dystopian novel, which preceded the craze.
-It must have been challenging to imagine an world void of the things that make life meaningful; I said to my book club that reading this book or writing it in Lowry’s case would be like the age old object lesson of trying to describe “color” to the blind. How do you imagine not knowing it?

-It made me think about opposition in all things a lot.  You can’t know joy without pain and so on.

It kinda reminded my of reading The Alchemist, both had me thinking a lot.

Dear Teachers: Learn Names on Day One

Dear Teachers,

(Of any kind: School Systems, Tutors, Sunday School, etc)

There is power in knowing a name.  Power, I tell you.  In fact, though I won’t say that not knowing names will automatically break a teacher, it will make a world of difference, especially to new teachers.




Make An Effort!
Make An Effort!

One use of a name on DAY ONE stops most students in their tracks.  In my experience that’s true of any teaching situation. Sunday Schools. Public Schools.  The singular use of the name is a teaching superpower.  It stops talking.  It lifts a downtrodden head.  It magically makes phones disappear.  Just one “James, Annie, or Chris” will do it.  Mark my words.  But it has to be on day one, or at least by day two or three.

Strategies for Learning Names

  • Plan ways to learn names
  • Invest some class time for this purpose
  • Require students to know each other’s names
  • Write the names down if you struggle
  • Have a seating chart
  • Repeat the names back to them when you meet each student
  • Call roll, requiring an out loud response with an eye contact

Name Activities

  • Name Card Competition (This is my favorite one! Students come into the room with a strategic bell ringer activity. They fold an index card in half (hamburger style) and write their name largely on the front.  For my film students, they also write the name of a favorite movie to launch a discussion; my English students draw a symbol that represents them.  One by one each student stands to introduce him or herself.  We repeat back the names periodically; let’s say between every set of five.  Then, at the end, whichever student can name all students win a prize, which today was simply a giant eraser from the Dollar Tree; second prize was an Avengers pack of tissues, in case he or she shed a tear for how much he or she loves my class.  The second day, I give out mini-erasers to one or two who can still remember the names.  It takes about 20-30 minutes, but in my 1 1/2 hour class, the investment is worth it. “James” with a look: the talking stops. Just like that.)
  • Name “Signs” (This is also a competition of memory, but in addition to remembering the names like above, students also had to remember a physical action that represented each person; examples are shooting a basketball for students who play or playing an instrument for a band student, etc.  It’s similar to the game “Signs” if you’ve ever played signs.)
  • “My Name” by Sandra Cisneros (There is a golden vignette in the book The House on Mango Street that describes a girl’s life through the history and memories associated with her name.  Do a close reading of the chapter and follow it up with a handwritten chapter of their own about their names.  It’s a great way to get to know them and another use of their names the day following the name games.)  I should also add that this would be really cohesive with 11th grade English if teaching a text like The Crucible, where John Proctor says, “Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them you have hanged! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!”  The PDF attached is simply from a google search and has great additional resources with similar ideas.)
  •  The ANY Assignment Walk-around (Remind the students to put their names at the top of the page; then walk around constantly looking at their names and faces while they work.  Memorize their names while they are working.  A main purpose for whatever this first assignment is, be it a diagnostic or letter, is to also have time to get their names down.)

Happy teaching! I hope these ideas are useful.  They make all the difference for me.

With hope,

Mrs. P


Dear End of Semester,

This girl is tired! Well, here it is: our glorious weekend.  On Friday night, I managed to fall asleep during the five minutes Parker was in the shower (at 7:00 pm!) and then for the majority of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.  (I have already confessed to a number of people that I am much more fun on Saturday night.) On Fridays, I am crawling home after 70 something teenagers zap my strength for five days straight, angels that they are.   photo 3 (16)

But in all seriousness, a high school teacher loves Christmas just like the rest of us; however, that being said, getting ready for Christmas Break comes with its drawbacks, which is probably why we so desperately need the perk.

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Finishing up the semester for an English teacher means grading the last big writing assignments (open letters) my students wrote (which were awesome! I had a 100% turn in rate from one class, which let me tell you, NEVER happens). It means figuring out how to teach a Shakespeare play in a week and a half (you save the hardest material for the end because they’ve had time to hone their skills).  It means figuring out how to pretend Julius Caesar is one of Shakespeare’s greatest (not my personal favorite) because either way you have to teach it.  It means trying to not be resentful of an education system where a teacher is forced to teach a particular text (and I’m at a good school where I have more freedom than most).  It means writing a final exam.  It means calling parents of students who are close to not passing.  It means staying after school with students on that border, helping them through (even when Mom and Dad are forcing them to be there; P.S. I should add that I am grateful for such moms and dads.)  It means planning review games and study methods. It means adding to the custodian’s stockings, baking for the Faculty Christmas Party, and cooking for the English luncheon.  It means grading the finals in one day, ironically, a Friday, when as I mentioned above, is the day I have so much energy left to give.

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They worked!
They worked!

Needless to say, I am very excited for the break. A lot of people give teachers a hard time because we have so many breaks.  I must say that I am very grateful for them.  I don’t think I could function without them.  One appealing aspect of this career are the breathers.  But I never knew until I became a teacher how needed they are.  Without giving the teachers of the world breaks, the burnout rate would increase exponentially, my sanity would tip to craycray, and I might just fall asleep right in front of my students, while standing.  Who knows? It’s possible.  So please come Christmas.  And with it, please let me carve out time to rest.

Get me through Christmas!
Get me through to Christmas!
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Our little tree! I love Christmas trees!

This video, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Christmas video, is a great reminder of what really matters.  Each night I am trying to find time to enjoy my Christmas tree, slow down, and remember the real reason for the season. I know everyone is busy and it’s not just me. I also know that “busy” should be one of those other four letter words because we all use it too often.  I said to a friend this week that we need to slow down and simplify; it’s just so hard to know what to cut and how to prioritize.  But I think the majority of people need to do it.  It can’t be just me.

I should also add that from the student perspective, the final crunch before the break is a similar experience, at least for my med student.  He is powering through 19 lectures of Clinical Medicine, Pharmacology, and Pathology for his exams.  How nice of the medical professors to do this for his last Monday before Christmas (I hate their Monday exams). I would say better now than after except that he’ll have more afterwards.  I predict he’ll sleep about 4 hours tonight.

We hope the countdown week treats you well! Merry Christmas!


S + P

P.S. This is not a replacement for a Christmas card, though I probably won’t get those out this year either.  Sorry.


Picture this: It’s Election Day and you’re off of work (if you’re a teacher).  You’re on your way home from an errand, when you realize that the library would be a great place to cheer you up.  Now, don’t confuse the placement: you’re not sad that you’re off work; you’re happy about that.  You just needed a happy book, not the sad one you were currently reading. Sometimes life calls for a pick me up book, rather than a tragedy.

Of course at the library, you run into your school’s librarian, with whom you’re already well acquainted because you’re in their at least three times a day for various reasons (collaboration, making copies, helping students choose books, working at the computers with classes fighting through a research paper, etc.).  But I digress.

Back to the story:  You went there to pick out a new book.  When suddenly…

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You can’t quit imagining now.  We’re back to my voice. Well, without a particular title in mind, as per usual, I couldn’t pick just one book to check out because there were so many that said “pick me, pick me!”  I was perusing the staff picks… Well these are the titles that said “cheerful” that day and the thoughts that accompanied them.

  • Fried Green Tomatoes “That’s sounds southern and it’s from The Depression Era! Perfect.  Right in line with TKAM.”
  • Freakonomics “A friend mentioned that book and it sounded fascinating.  Maybe I need non-fiction!”
  • The Help “I should definitely grab this one because I have three students reading it instead of TKAM. Plus I love Skeeter, Celia, and Minnie.”
  • Clark Gable “Hello film and Gone with the Wind.  Are you my next movie read? Biographies are the best anyways.”
  • Folly Beach “I really should finish you.  I made it half way.” (I may not finish this one.)


I should also mention that I have a book on my Kindle that I just started reading last week and am reading Harry Potter y La Piedra Filosofal  (The Sorcerer’s Stone) in Spanish to keep my Spanish up.

Here’s what’s going to happen. I will read Fried Green Tomatoes because I am already reading it.  I will read parts of Clark Gable to see if I like it.  I won’t read Freakonomics yet because of time, but I’ll hold onto it for a month just to check it back out again to read later like I did with Folly Beach, which I won’t finish; I’ll finish Freakonomics though.  I’ll read HP every once and a while, and over Christmas, I’ll read the one on my kindle. Oh! And pause for the interruption! I just remembered that I snagged another title Rose Under Fire when I took my students to the school library.  I couldn’t resist a WWII historical fiction novel with a female protagonist, who’s not a nurse, even though I knew about the stack at home.  (I also wrote down the new Scott Westerfield title so that I don’t forget to read it as well.) I’ll read Rose Under Fire right after Fried Green Tomatoes. And I’ll finish TKAM with my students within the next two weeks.


Clark Gable for those who haven't had the pleasure of watching Gone with the Wind.
Clark Gable for those who haven’t had the pleasure of watching Gone with the Wind.

The irony is that I want to devour all of these, but it’s so hard to find enough time to absorb them all without losing balance in life.  I still need to work, run the house, exercise, socialize, and participate in church.  Swallowing all these reads is never-ending, so when people recommend a book to me, I say add it to my list.  It may be a while. 🙂

Even though I knew that I didn’t have time to read all of these simultaneously, I could not walk out of the library without the stack coming with.

#thiswasgoingtobemyfirstinstagram #untilirealizedididn'tknowhow #i'mbehind #jimmyfallonjustintimberlakehashtag
#thiswasgoingtobemyfirstinstagram #untilirealizedididn’tknowhow #i’mbehind #jimmyfallonjustintimberlakehashtag (PG-13 clip)
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#house not dog proof #i’mnotreadyforinstagram #don’tneedanothersocialmediaaddiction

Parker was so excited to get this book in the mail! It only lasted an hour.  He threw the package on a chair by the door, and when we returned from dinner, the dog had eaten through the package.  Must have been a good read!