Happy Birthday to Eleanor Roosevelt, Boss Lady and Badass Teacher!

Eleanor Roosevelt was an awesome woman. Though she was born into wealth and privilege, she fought tirelessly for the rights of everyday people. She also encouraged women to become “political bosses” – yes – “women bosses who [could] talk as equals” and “play the [political] game as men do.”


In fact, “the Lady” wielded much more political and personal power than history has given her credit for. According to Blanche Wiesen Cook (author of the twovolume ER biography I’m reading), ER essentially ran a parallel administration during FDR’s twelve-year presidency. Whenever she disagreed with his administration’s treatment of women, the poor, African Americans and other marginalized groups — which was quite often —  she would openly oppose her husband in public speeches, newspaper articles and other efforts to effect the changes she wanted.

As much as ER loved the political game, she was just as passionate about education. She had loved being a student, and loved being a teacher of history, literature and public affairs at the Todhunter School for Girls in New York City.

In honor of what would have been her 129th birthday today, here are 5 things that made Eleanor Roosevelt an excellent educator:

1. She championed women’s education in word and deed.

In a 1930 essay for Redbook, and in many other publications thereafter, ER encouraged women to educate themselves in order to gain real political power. They had to “take the pains to study history, economics, political methods [and] get out among human beings.”

And she was confident in the social change that would come as a result: “In my youth I knew women who hid their college degrees as if they were one of the seven deadly sins. But all that is passing, and so will pass many other prejudices that have their origin in the ancient tradition that women are a by-product of creation.”

ER put her beliefs into practice when she bought the Todhunter School for Girls at 66 East 80th Street in 1927. There, she served as vice principal, teacher and participated in all aspects of school life – including writing for school magazines and newsletters, raising money and seeking prospective students.

Todhunter School

2. She was a tough teacher who wanted her students to be informed, critical and active citizens.

ER held her students accountable for their work, and felt disappointed when they performed poorly. She believed that “the girls will have to take certain hurdles in life and that hurdles in school are an important preparation.” ER assigned research projects to promote critical thinking, wrote exams to assess her students’ political literacy (sample question: “Do you know of any way in which the Government protects women and children?”), and organized school trips to courthouses and tenements so her girls (who all came from privileged backgrounds as well) could learn about and be inspired to improve their communities.

She believed that good teaching began with students’ own interests, and that lifelong learning was imperative, saying often: “Education only ends with death.”

3. She loved her job, worked hard at it, and it paid off.

ER described teaching as the “one thing that belongs to me” and also said, “I like it better than anything else I do.”

On her commutes to and from New York’s Grand Central Station, she would grade papers, and read “voraciously” to prepare for the week’s lessons and lectures.

Blanche Wiesen Cook calls ER’s success as a teacher “rapid” and “intense.” Student Patricia Vaill said, “I never forgot a damn thing she ever taught me.”


ER (in dark coat) with Todhunter students and principal Marion Dickerman (third from left)

4. As much as she could, ER remained a dedicated teacher despite FDR’s growing political career.

Throughout FDR’s two terms as governor of New York, from 1929 to 1932, ER made weekly train trips from Albany to Todhunter rather than give up her teaching duties. At the time, this refusal to give up her work was rather unusual for a political wife – and unusual, actually, for any wife of a financially secure husband.

ER juggled teaching, family and business engagements. After teaching all morning, she would attend political events in the evening. On Wednesdays, she returned to Albany and to her roles as First Lady of New York and mother to five children.

Only when FDR was elected President in 1933 did ER finally, reluctantly, leave her teaching career.


5. She never forgot the teacher who inspired her.

ER modeled her teaching on Marie Souvestre, a radical, feminist educator and founder of Allenswood, the school Eleanor attended from ages 15 to 18.

Roosevelt admired Souvestre’s brilliant mind, formidable presence and commitment to creativity and intellectual rigor. ER recalled being “expected to do a good deal of independent reading and research” and working hard on her papers though she had seen Souvestre “take a girl’s paper and tear it in half in her disgust and anger at poor or shoddy work.”

Allenswood was where the adolescent Eleanor began to express her opinions, feel confident in her abilities and take on leadership roles. “For the first time in all my life all my fears left me,” she said.

ER's Allenswood school portrait

ER at 15

Souvestre and Roosevelt became lifelong friends.

After Souvestre’s death in 1905, ER kept her beloved teacher’s picture on her desk, and carried her teacher’s letters with her always.


Marie Souvestre, also a badass teacher

Today also happens to be the International Day of the Girl. What a perfect pairing of women’s education advocates!

15 Ways to Be Kind to Yourself on the First Days of School

Whether you’ve been back for a few weeks, or just a day or two — you did it!

You made it out of bed at an ungodly hour, rocked a fresh first-day outfit, and presented your Teacher Self to a new crop of kids.

You’re taking attendance, writing those first parent e-mails, planning lessons, doing lunch duty, attending meetings, assigning first homeworks, and collecting first homeworks.

Maybe you’re teaching a brand-new course this year, or taking on a new responsibility as coach or advisor, too.

Through all of this, you’re delivering instruction to multiple groups of differently abled, very distractible kids.

So, please remember — it’s OK if…

1. You don’t know most of your students’ names yet.

2. It takes you a full five minutes to remember old students’ names when they say hello in the hallway.


It’ll come to me…

3. Your desk is already a mess of papers.

This week's grading

100% authentic piles of grading

4. You didn’t have time to make that perfect bulletin board / seating chart / welcome letter like you’d planned to do.


I’ve never made a bulletin board this pretty. Ever.

5. You already had to change a lesson because the copier was jammed or occupied.


Sad sight for sore eyes

6. You already had to change a lesson because the computer / projector / DVD player / TV / internet didn’t work.

test colors TV

“Hey, who here is good at TV stuff?”

7. You forgot to turn off your phone during class.

8. You forgot to go to the bathroom, even when you had a minute.

Imagine going to the bathroom when you need to...

Should’ve gone during prep!

9.  Your perfect “first days” lesson was not the raging success you’d envisioned.

10. You haven’t had time to catch up properly with your colleagues because of all the work that needs to be done.

11. You’re already grading or playing on your phone during the first full faculty meeting. (Do as I say, not as I do…)


Official story: teachers don’t have friends or use Facebook.

12. Your second-day outfit was not as polished as your first-day outfit. (Soon, you’ll be proud to have made it to school with matching socks!)

13.  You didn’t have time to make lunch and/or dinner.

School Food - Chicken Nuggets

School lunch it is…

14. You didn’t have time to make that doctor’s appointment.

15. You’re already falling asleep on the couch when you get home!

It's OK to be dog-tired!

It’s OK to be dog-tired!

Remember, teachers do heroic things, but you’re still human!

Rinse and repeat if you’re a first-year teacher.

Also: what would you add to this list?

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)

Meet a Real Teacher: Daniela Flores

Meet the amazing Daniela, a fourth-grade Spanish and English teacher in Grapevine, a suburb of Dallas, Texas.  Daniela’s past life as a journalist shapes her teaching, as does her experience as an English Language Learner.

And I think I’ve got a new motto: GOYA/KOD!

Type of School:
Title 1 Elementary School

Years taught: 3

Number of students this year: 35



You left a position with a prestigious news agency to become a teacher. What motivated your choice, and what have you realized about its impact?

I had a great journalism professor in college whose passion for the profession was so palpable I was ready to take on the world when I graduated. After college, I got to work with and learn from some of the most talented journalists I’ve ever encountered. They had that passion, too. It took me a while to admit to myself that while I liked what I was doing and have a huge respect for the work, I didn’t feel the same way they did about journalism. I wanted to find my passion and that led me to bilingual education.  In the years since, I’ve realized I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

You teach a bilingual Spanish class. What are your students’ backgrounds? Can you explain what bilingual education means, and give us a snapshot of your class?

My students are mostly either from Mexico, or first-generation Americans with Spanish-speaking parents. We follow a dual language enrichment model at my school. This means my fourth-grade students receive half of their instruction in Spanish and half in English.  Our goal is to educate bilingual and biliterate 21st-century learners.

Your family is from Monterrey, Mexico and you grew up speaking Spanish. How does your background inform your teaching?

I think my background helps me understand my students because I lived the same thing they are going through. I know how exciting, difficult, exhausting, but ultimately rewarding the process of learning a new language can be. I always use that to guide my teaching. Perhaps more importantly, I know what it’s like to feel like you’re between two cultures. I use all of this to create relationships with my students and guide them in taking the best from both of the worlds they live in.

What do you most enjoy about your work?

Interacting with my students. Their enthusiasm and dreams fill me with hope for the future. Their calls for help remind me how important it is to have someone who believes in you. Last year, a student said to me, “Ms. Flores, I’m a girl with so many dreams. I want to be a lawyer, a chef, a teacher, a vet…” My job forces me to see the world very realistically, but my students allow me to see its endless possibilities.

If you could change one aspect of your job, what would it be?

I would remove the extra pressures that take away attention from my students and their learning. The students are the reason I got into education.

What’s the biggest misconception about what you do?

To quote “Bad Teacher”: “Shorter hours, summers off, no accountability.” Not only are those ideas false (!), they would not be the reasons anyone who really believes in education would become a teacher.

What teacher made the most impact on you and why? What would you tell him/her now?

My main journalism professor, Dr. Robert Cole. Even though I did not stay in the world of journalism, he taught me you should be passionate about what you get up to do every morning. Seeing his love for journalism led me to find my love for teaching. I was nervous he would be disappointed in me for leaving journalism, so I didn’t tell him.  Now I realize he would be happy I found my calling. Today, I want to tell him I’m still following GOYA/KOD*, just in the world of education. Thank you for showing me what loving what you do looks like, Dr. Cole.

*Get off your ass and knock on doors!

What advice do you have for aspiring or beginning teachers?

Surround yourself in greatness. Find the best teachers at your school, in your district, on Twitter, anywhere, and learn everything you can from them.  Also, don’t forget about yourself. When a former journalism colleague who had been a teacher gave me that advice, I had no idea what he meant. But you’ll figure it out very quickly!

Kafka’s Ice Breaker

My first day of school today began with an inspiring speech by David Steiner, the Dean of Education at Hunter College in New York City.

He asked the gathered faculty, “What does it mean to be educated?” — the same question he’d posed to his own students, who were studying to be teachers.

Their reaction? Silence.

It was indeed a jarring, uncomfortable question. How many of my former students would I consider — or would consider themselves — educated after taking my class? Despite my undergraduate and graduate degrees, could I claim to be educated?

Steiner addressed his difficult question in the words of Kafka:

“A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.”

I loved this way of thinking about teaching, especially teaching English, so much that I had to read more. Kafka writes:

“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.”

Kafka’s words are gorgeous, and thrilling. His statement reminds me too of T.S. Eliot’s, “Do I dare disturb the universe?” from  “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

I can’t wait for this school year to crack my frozen seas, and disturb the universe in doing so. I plan to take as many students down with me as I can…

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!  

Meet a Real Teacher: Dan Fullerton

Meet Dan Fullerton, the first science teacher to be interviewed for this site! Dan is a microelectronic-engineer-turned-physics-teacher at Irondequoit High School in Rochester, NY. He is also the creator of APlusPhysics.com and writes his own blog about teaching called Physics In Flux. 

Type of School: public high school

Years taught: 5 of high school; 9 at the college level

Number of students this year: about 100    



You were an engineer for major technology companies like Eastman Kodak and Samsung for 10 years; at one point, you were the head of several engineering groups at Kodak. What made you change careers to teaching, a field that does not pay as well? Why were you willing to move away from doing technical research?

In 2003, I was asked to teach a course to upperclassmen and graduate students at Rochester Institute of Technology as an adjunct professor.  I loved it.  And I continued teaching, in both on-campus and distance learning formats, year after year.

After about five years, I found I was becoming frustrated with the number of students who talked about how they had hated physics, or didn’t understand the basic principles.  I couldn’t imagine how that could happen, as physics should be one of the coolest, most engaging, hands-on and practical courses students take in their high school careers.  So I talked to my then-fiance about switching careers and making the move to teaching high school physics.

The financial impact was considerable, but I get up every morning wanting to go to work, and I have to force myself to leave my classroom. Every year I fall in love with my kids (and am heartbroken every June when they graduate), but they come back to visit!

How does your experience of teaching college physics compare to teaching physics to high schoolers? What motivated you to teach high school full-time?

I find teaching high school more challenging.  As an adjunct professor teaching the same course to upperclassmen and grad students day after day, the technical piece was simple, and I basically shared my knowledge in two-hour lectures twice a week to students who were highly interested in the topic.  It was the students’ responsibility to keep up and build understanding.

As a high school teacher, I have to work considerably harder to engage my learners, develop relationships with them as I learn their strengths and opportunities, and find ways to help them learn not only physics, but more importantly, skills such as learning to teach themselves, logical thinking, organization, prioritization, working in teams, and taking responsibility.  It’s a monumental task, but one that is extremely rewarding.

What do you most enjoy about your work?

More than anything I enjoy seeing my students grow.  The first few weeks of school each year, we set the stage for the classroom atmosphere and student expectations.  It’s chaotic, wild, challenging, and frustrating as a set of very diverse learners realize they’re going to have to come together to build a learning community.

By the end of the year, however, I plan complete lessons where I don’t say a word.  The students come into class, know what they’re supposed to do, and dive into activities that allow them to build their own understandings.  I become a facilitator instead of a lecturer, and I have a classroom full of teachers teaching themselves and each other.  When you get to this point, it’s an amazing feeling to be able to sit back, watch and listen to the wonderful things going on in the room.

If you could change one aspect of your job, what would it be?

I would love the ability to adjust my teaching topics on the fly and write my own end-of-year final exams.  We currently end each year with a standardized state-administered final exam, which follows the prescribed course curriculum.

I can imagine a physics teaching nirvana where a class that has a strong interest in electricity and magnetism spends an extra month on semiconductor devices.  The students in a second section of the same course might have a stronger interest in modern physics, so we could spend a couple of extra weeks on relativity, black holes, quantum theory, or whatever catches their interest.  I have that ability to a certain extent, and I understand the need for state standards and the value of our final exams, but a fella can dream…

What’s the biggest misconception about what you do?

The biggest misconception about teaching has to be the hours.  The belief that teachers work from 8 to 3 and get three months off each summer just isn’t so. I’m in by 7 a.m. each day and out at 4:30 p.m. at the earliest; usually spend a half day working each weekend during the school year; and spend hundreds of hours working on curriculum and resources in the summer — so much so that the start of the school year is usually a “slowing down” period!

What teacher made the most impact on you and why? What would you tell him/her now?

My high school math teacher, Mr. Richard Genung, was extremely demanding, strict, and everything had to be done his way.  Once I learned to listen to him, though, everything started coming together.  I was able to graduate high school with credit for Calculus 1, 2, 3, and 4, and only had to take two pure math courses in college as an engineering major. The discipline he instilled in me put me ahead of my colleagues from a math perspective for years.  To this day, I can hear his voice telling me to justify my answers, and show all work as presented in class.  He was a truly amazing, dedicated, and caring instructor, whose efforts put me in a great position to succeed in so many future endeavors.

What advice do you have for aspiring or beginning teachers?

The best advice I could give to new teachers would be two-fold.  First, let your students know you care.  You’d be amazed at what mistakes they’ll forgive if they know you care about them day in and day out, and it’ll make class fun for them and for you.

Secondly, take great notes your first couple years.  Document each lesson, then as soon as it’s done, reflect on it and update it with what you’d like to change for next year.  Put it on paper immediately, and file it away, so next year you can go right back to it, and immediately see what you’re going to modify.  It all piles up if you don’t stay right on top of it, building yourself a giant database of lessons and resources.

I store all of my materials in Evernote digitally so it’s very easy to search, update, and print out, but a stack of file folders or binders would do the job just as well!

Outstanding special effects

I had to share this story from “Ms. I,” a K-12 Lead Technology Teacher for students with dyslexia and autism. She uses her dual license in art and technology, and IT field experience, to teach programming, video production, and 3D animation.

Since 2008, I’ve taught with Scratch, a free application that lets students create computer games. It’s been a great way to promote creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking.

sample Scratch game screenshot

My school, however, thought I was “crazy” to teach programming to students with learning disabilities. I forged ahead because I wanted my students to go beyond their limitations and discover their strengths.

My greatest success story was John, a 12th grader.

During first period, I presented the Scratch project and, as usual, helped John start it. I often couldn’t tell what he was thinking because he generally didn’t display emotion.  He would tell me, “I can’t do this,” at the beginning of every class project.

This time, rather than asking  for help every five seconds, he worked independently.

Some weeks later, he pulled me aside to proudly show me his animation. He also stopped complaining for the rest of the year. I was amazed.

When John gave a speech at graduation, he said, “Thank you, Ms. I, for helping me do things I thought I couldn’t do.”

John is dyslexic and on the autism spectrum. His rehearsed speech did not include his thank-you to me; he spoke from the heart.

To get any reluctant learner to begin to say “I can” is impressive on its own. Having taught students with autism and dyslexia myself, though, I know the progress John made with the support of “Ms. I” was no easy feat.

Teachers, what’s your greatest success story?

“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?