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.

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“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?

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, –.