Countdown to Lift-Off

Teachers, take heart! In less than two months, you’ll be free.

Free to trade your teacher bag for a beach bag, or better yet, a fanny pack…

fanny pack

Don’t forget matching bangles.

swap your textbooks for a beach read or a glossy magazine…

beachreading

Just you, David Sedaris, and the sea…

ditch your gradebook for your journal, sketchpad, passport (or all three!) …

passport book

Time to add new stamps to your collection!

trade school projects for home projects…

garden-bounty

A little gardening, perhaps?

— And those hours of grading?

Poof!

How about hours of Netflix watching, sunbathing or sitting in a coffee shop to just…
you know, drink coffee?

No grading to see here!

No grading to see here!

Don’t you feel lighter already? 🙂

And for another boost to cap off Teacher Appreciation Week, check out Thank-a-teacher.org.

It’s an app for sending teachers thank-you notes created by engineering students at Olin College!

I discovered it via Twitter amid all the #thankateacher tweets.

From the website:

“We want more people to look back and thank their teachers; they put a lot of energy into helping us get to where we are today.”

Amen! And let’s keep the good vibes going: please send me any thank-you notes you’ve received. I’d love to publish them!

 

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What a Great English Teacher Makes

Got my first thank-you letter submission of the summer, and boy, is it a tough act to follow.

It’s basically every English teacher’s dream for her students: that they become passionate, prolific readers; sincere, reflective writers; and critical thinkers about themselves and the world.

I couldn’t help but think of Taylor Mali’s famous, “What Teachers Make” in titling this post.

I’m also reminded of “The Decline and Fall of the English Major,” from this past Sunday’s New York Times. English professor Verlyn Klinkenborg writes,

Writing well used to be a fundamental principle of the humanities, as essential as the knowledge of mathematics and statistics in the sciences. But writing well isn’t merely a utilitarian skill. It is about developing a rational grace and energy in your conversation with the world around you.

No one has found a way to put a dollar sign on this kind of literacy, and I doubt anyone ever will. But everyone who possesses it — no matter how or when it was acquired — knows that it is a rare and precious inheritance.

Thank you to my old colleague Lauren for sharing this letter, and for being the amazing teacher who passed on a “rare and precious inheritance” to this student!

msmthankyoucard

msmthankyou2

Mrs. Malanka,

Thank you so much for everything that you had done for me this year! 🙂 Even though, initially, I felt as though I was never going to improve my abilities in English class, through your instructions and encouragements,  I was able to transform my past inclinations — to be shy and silent at all times, to cherish books of my savor only, to accept all opinions as truth, and to adamantly write as I had done in the past. Now, I feel a lot more comfortable to share my own stance, and to sort out some other stances that contradicts mine. Nowadays, I am in love with reading! (which is very new for me. As a child, reading used to [be] my least favorite)

I have started my summer reading and will be reading A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, as you had advised the students who enjoyed Mark Twain’s satirical style of writing that made the readers chuckle every few paragraphs or so. In addition, unlike I have been used to, I learned to ponder as I read, and pay attention to the profound meanings that the authors hoped to portray. And since I had discovered this exhilarating exercise, I fell in love with all kinds of books! 🙂

Additionally, from you, I have learned to try my best to read news articles as frequently as possible to expand my horizon. So far, it has been an fortifying experience. I truly believed that if I were not in your class, taking an AP course, I would never have (or really late) encountered the beauty in reading and writing. I became more used to editing many times and cutting out parts that were [not] important in a coherent essay. Although I still have a long way to go as a writer, I believe you have launched me into the world of reading and writing that I have been avoiding my entire life. So I thank you for this exposure to a fascinating way to look, not only at novels, but also at nature, appreciating the harmony that is embedded everywhere amongst the readers, people, nature, and novels. Thank you so much also for writing my recommendation! 🙂 You’re a great teacher, and this year (English) was honestly the best experience that I have ever had regarding a humanity class!!! 🙂 Oh, and I hope you don’t find the pen* too troublesome; I thought you would enjoy collecting another set of pens! 🙂

Plus, I can definitely see you writing a great novel with such a pen! 🙂

Have a great summer, and I will keep in touch! Thank you!

*The student also gave her a cool feather pen along with the card.

Summer send-off for those who teach

Happy Friday and happy summer! Celebrate the occasion with me by sending your thank-you letters to teachers.

Let’s give those teachers who still have a few days of school left (I’m looking at you, New York metro area) a boost, too.

Maybe you received a handwritten note from a student on the last day of school that made you smile and tear up a bit. Maybe this letter reaffirmed why you’ve worked so hard this year.

Maybe you’re the student who wrote that note by hand to express your gratitude for how much you’ve discovered this year because of that one teacher.

For inspiration, here are the letters I shared last year:

Sweet ‘Refreshment’

‘A little praise’ goes a long way

The College Board can’t touch this.

Outstanding special effects

Grab this jet pack.

And, to get the ball rolling, here’s a letter I saved from a few years back. Though it’s not handwritten, I still appreciate its sincerity, and the way this quiet student spoke to me through writing. Having been a quiet student myself, I can understand how not speaking does not necessarily mean students are not engaged or thinking.

thankyouIS (1)

Grab this jet pack.

The very first comment on this blog was from a teacher who said of the opening post,”Reading it has given me a little ‘jet pack’ to get me going and excited again about what I do.”

I’ve got about a week before school starts, while many other teachers are already back in the classroom.

It’s time to power up!

Here’s a “jet pack” from Molly Rankin, an English teacher at Prosser Career Academy, a Chicago public school. Molly also leads her school’s chapter of OneGoal, a program that aims to get at-risk students with leadership potential into four-year colleges.

Ms. Rankin

This letter shows how teachers often provide vital emotional support in addition to academic instruction – and reminds me once more that student progress cannot be measured in grades or test scores alone.

Hope it gives you a small boost for your first days of school.

And please – send in more jet packs!

Ms. Rankin.

The school year is at an end and did in fact end the way I wanted it to. I know that D’s aren’t what I should be aiming for, however in the situation I’m in now, they are acceptable. I passed mostly all of my classes (even MR. F’s class) and I am very proud of myself, and I want to thank you for helping me pick my head back up. You made sure that I didn’t ever give up on school.  You came to every meeting that Ms. S and Mr. C held on behalf of my grades, and you were with me every step of the way. You made me work as hard as I could and motivated me all of the way.  You made sure that my situation did not discourage me from being at school and scolded me when I needed it. You and my mom were literally the main two people I did not want to disappoint at the end of the school year (also Mr. C). Without your help I really believe I wouldn’t have made it this far, and I’m glad even when I was screwing up you still believed in me and that’s all I needed. Thank you so much for putting time in to support me when you already have a heavy load on your hands. You just don’t know how grateful I am and this note still don’t describe how I feel, but it is a summary. Have a great summer.  Speak to you soon… BYE and thanks!  

The College Board can’t touch this.

Last year, I began teaching AP Literature, an experience that’s been both rewarding and stressful. It’s a privilege to work with smart, highly motivated students, and I’ve loved rediscovering stories like Hamlet and Great Expectations through class discussion and student writing.

I’m more ambivalent about The TestHow much time should I spend on practice exams? What do students’ scores really mean, and how much should I care? If they score poorly, does that mean I’ve failed as a teacher?

Two notes I received last week from this year’s AP Literature students reminded me of what being a good (AP) teacher really means:

I’ve been harping on concision all year (“It’s fluff! Get rid of it!”), and The Color Purple was a summer reading novel that many students had not initially enjoyed, so to hear two students make positive connections to this work was energizing.

The College Board, which administers the AP exams, and Race to the Top, which ties teacher evaluation to test scores, are incapable of measuring many of the positive changes we make.

Teachers, please help me broaden the definitions of successful teaching and learning.

“A little praise” Goes a Long Way

A thank-you letter to a teacher, submitted after my first post on the topic, caught me off guard: it wasn’t from a student, as I’d expected, but from a mom.

While I do appreciate parents’ verbal thank-yous, and gifts from students on behalf of their parents, I’ve never gotten anything quite like this:

“It’s just what I needed…I could teach for thirty more years with this letter in hand,” says Keri Benton, an elementary school teacher in New Hanover township, NJ. In her five years of teaching, she’d never received such a detailed letter, either.

What could we accomplish if more parents expressed gratitude to teachers?

Art Appreciation

Margaret Mead said famously, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

I’d never thought of myself as part of that “small group.” Despite six years of teaching, it has often been hard for me to notice tangible, positive results. It’s been much easier to dread a meeting with a difficult parent, or feel guilty about a class that didn’t do well on an exam.

Since I started the blog four days ago, though, I’m learning to notice all the “thoughtful, committed” teachers around me in finer detail. I’m beginning to think differently about the impact of my small actions, too.

My colleague Lauren’s story is a good example of a subtle, yet lovely moment:

While visiting Monet’s Water Lilies panorama at MOMA with my senior Art and Lit. class, one of my burly football player students said to me with an awe-filled expression: “It seems as though this museum should have been built around this.”

Another colleague, Shane, shared an end-of-year goodbye from an ELL student who expressed her joy and gratitude despite her imperfect skills, writing:

Dear –, I’m so happy this year. You are funny. I like you so much. I don’t know how to say…just thank you.

Teachers often “change worlds” — students’ worlds and their own worlds — through their “thoughtful, committed” actions.

Like the brushstrokes in Monet’s Water Lilies, we need to acknowledge these moments as parts of a powerful whole, however tiny they may seem in isolation.

Sweet ‘Refreshment’

Happy Summer!

To help celebrate, here are two letters to teachers. I hope you enjoy them and consider submitting your own. Teachers, I’d love to publish the most memorable ones you’ve received.

The first is from a student in my colleague’s War and Literature class who’s joining the army after graduation. His note was scrawled inside the back cover of his Blue Book:

On a side note Ms. ___, that last story couldn’t have hit any closer to home. I enjoyed reading it and at times caught myself smiling and almost tearing up. I’m glad you put it in. Thank you for everything and all that you and the class has inspired me to do.

The story was “Refresh, Refresh” by Benjamin Percy. I just read it, and it’s fantastic.

The second note is one I received today, inside a card. No, the handwriting is not as clear, nor always grammatical, but I appreciate the time this student took to write to me, and feel encouraged by the idea that my class may have changed the way he thinks about art:

 Thank you for teaching me. In the beginning, after essay and essay about literary devices, I felt frustrated. But after mulling over all those 89s and lucky 91s, I noticed that I did learn something. I have a newfound appreciation of the arts. In movies I found myself commenting on color, (?) tones and etc. It’s very satisfying. Thank you, –.