NCTE17 Reading as a Personal Art Session Review (Blog #10)

If you have read my last post here on the Joyous Life of Jess, then you know that my first foray into the world of NCTE small sessions was not… what I hoped it would be. I ended that post by saying that redemption was right around the corner. Little did I know I was about to see, in real life, the woman I just finished fangirling over in my recent professional development book blog. That’s right, at my second NCTE small session I got to hear PENNY KITTLE speak in the flesh. If that isn’t enough, NANCIE ATWELL and KELLY GALAGHER were there too! And get this, I was in the fifth row up in the bottom left section of the auditorium which immediately faced the side of the stage that the podium was on. Eeeep! Not to be creepy, but it was incredible. Yet, even more incredible was what I learned.

The first to speak was Nancie Atwell, who I was first introduced to in The Theory and Practice of Teaching Writing course. However, looking back I find my initial experience with her to be insufficient and I cannot wait to read her professional development books. The story she told was incredible. A male student, I believe an eighth grader, entered Atwell’s classroom as an adamant opponent against reading. Through book talks, it did not take Atwell long to hook (the Penny Kittle metaphor lives on) this student by giving a book talk over works that covered topics this student enjoyed. As she stated, “Any achievement, child or adult, is driven by interest.” This boy ended up becoming what one could easily consider a voracious reader, all within the span of a single year.

But this tale is not one with a happy ending. After devouring one book after another in Atwell’s class, he moved onto high school where his reading habits regressed to fake reading the two or three assigned books in English class in order to receive a passing grade. The passion was squelched in this child, arguably as a means of standardization. How sad is that? Yet it is important information. We can work hard to encourage students to develop identities as readers and writers, but without a strong foundation and firm support that lasts the identities may crumble. Luckily, there is a secret weapon. My favorite quote from Atwell’s speech was as follows: “Human beings are built to love stories.” So, what do you say? Let’s give our students these stories.

Next up were Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher who presented on a learning experiment they had been pioneering over the last three years. Essentially, it has turned into a cross country book club between Gallagher’s students in California, Kittle’s students in New Hampshire, and a collegiate English class from the school that Tom Romano teaches at in Ohio, Miami University. What they do is extraordinary. The greatest testament to this is the actual videos they showed of their students corresponding with their long-distance peers. To see the collaboration, insight, and respect these students shared with one another was a neat experience. Here are some of my favorite snippets:

“This year is different than last year; this year’s students are different than last year’s students. So how can one assume what they need from you?” Penny Kittle

“I’m not a literature teacher, I’m a literacy teacher.” Kelly Gallagher

“We write every day.” Penny Kittle

“Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” George Orwell

“We create a live circuit between books, kids, and culture.” Kelly Gallagher

I still get goosebumps just thinking about hearing these words. What Nancie Atwell, Penny Kittle, and Kelly Gallagher did was leave me with a yearning to connect students to reading and writing like they did… To make these activities not only worthwhile, but meaningful. That is the word that describes the work each of these three distinguished educators have done, are doing, and will do—meaningful. Every assignment that is completed within our classrooms should be saturated with intention that strives to make the most of student education. Simple as that.

P.S. Thanks to Kelly Gallagher, I also will most definitely have a crappy prize box in my classroom and I can’t wait to stock it. 😊

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NCTE17 The Real Life of Fiction: Using Nonfiction Texts with Literacy Texts Session Review (Blog #9)

I would describe my first ever small NCTE session in this way—sometimes first impressions just aren’t great.

I remember being so excited as I split from the group that I attended the Jimmy Santiago Baca general session with, leaving them with the words, “I’m going to check out the one on nonfiction texts!” I nervously opened the NCTE app on my phone, pulling up the map to show that all I needed to do was go straight down the hall and look for a room next to the bathrooms. I was by myself. I walked the short distance, pulling the door open quickly so as to assuage the butterflies in my stomach. The session didn’t start for another 15 minutes but the room was almost full. I took a seat next to an older woman. It seemed as though everyone else was talking, but she was engrossed with her phone. So I busied myself with pulling my notebook out of my backpack, selecting a pen to go with it.

Shortly thereafter, the session started. A woman by the name of Tracy Sholz opened it with the following statement, “Texts that we read in the classroom are not just for a grade in the gradebook.” My heart calmed a little. Okay. I can get behind that thinking. But… it did not last. We were given handouts that contained an excerpt from the short story “Two Kinds” by Amy Tan. We were to skim read it, and then they gave us questions to answer with our partner. They all dealt with analyzation. It was not what I was expecting; rather, it felt like I was the unsuspecting student being assessed on what I didn’t know. I do not remember the first question they asked (I ended up “losing” my handout), but I do remember that the older woman seated next to me, who ended up being my partner, had a textbook answer. I could not have said it better myself. I stuttered, and essentially regurgitated her information back to her. Thankfully, the session leaders called for our attention. They asked people to volunteer their answers. Two teachers raised their hands, and produced answers that were equally as perfect. I started to freak out. Is that what teaching is like? Always having the right answer? I felt like a fraud.

And then this feeling was compounded. The next question was worded in such a way that it required intimate knowledge of students. I did not have that. So, I decided to be honest. My partner asked me what I thought, and I told her that I was a pre-service teacher and was unable to apply this question to my own experiences. It could have been my nerves, but I swore after that moment our brief interactions became tinged with condescension. This disheartened me. As did the content for which I was being looked down upon… It did not fit with the reading values that I want my classroom to have.

I left feeling frustrated. Was this what the whole conference was going to be like? Thankfully, no. Redemption was right around the corner. Yet, it was still a difficult experience. I did not learn until after the fact that it is totally okay to walk out of a session you don’t enjoy. Oh well. I still learned a valuable lesson from the older lady who sat to my left. It is quite possible that not all of my future co-workers are going to support me as a new teacher. This is okay. I cannot let what they may think of me discourage my passion. Because ultimately that is the driving force, passion. And someday, if my passion helps carry me through twenty years of teaching, then you bet your bottom dollar that I will support the next generation of educators. After all, people may forget what you say but they will never forget how you made them feel.

I’m Hooked on The Greatest Catch: A Life in Teaching by Penny Kittle (Professional Development Book #1, Blog #8)

Turns out, Penny Kittle loves to fish. Considering she grew up in Oregon, this is no surprise. In the introduction section of her book The Greatest Catch: A Life in Teaching, Kittle explains how fishing was the way she bonded with her father. Yet the relationship with her father was not the only place where fishing bridged gaps. Kittle paints a picture, “My father caught a beautiful steelhead that morning and I caught nothing but trees across the river with my errant casts. I loved the trying, though . . . A warm sweater, grey dawn, and Dad and I in love with the water made a sweet harmony in life I continue to seek. And then I became a teacher. And it was a lot like fishing” (2). Kittle carries this comparison throughout each section of her book, many of which chronicle an experience with certain students from her twenty years of teaching. Though I could easily write an eager account on all of Kittle’s stories, I am only going to share two in this blog post.

The first is a chapter entitled “grace” and in addition to making me laugh out of relatability, it taught me a truth that often is not toted in teacher education programs. Let me set the stage: in this scene, Kittle is observing a class of first graders. She got caught up working with the same group of children during reading time for five days in a row, so her mentor teacher sent her outside with a book and a different group of students.

Once they reached the playground, two girls ran away. Kittle called them back, and the girls came sprinting with arms outstretched. Kittle reached out with her arms too. Focused on the girls, she failed to notice the jungle gym… and the bar collided straight into her nose. Ouch. As a side note, I did the exact same thing as a 5th grader after I had moved to a new school— except I was playing chase with a group of kids and it was the support beam to the big slide that I ran into. Luckily, I did not break my nose! But Kittle did. Naturally, she was in extreme pain but she did not want to leave the students. Its quite amazing what happens next. A little first grader offers to read the book for the hurt Miss Ostrem. Kittle states, “I nodded. She held the book before her and made sure we could see the pictures as she turned the pages” (29). I don’t think kids get enough credit. Sure, there are tough cases, but so many are willing to rise above and beyond the occasion. As she writes a little later on, “Teaching has taught me about the essential goodness in people—in teenagers, even—the wish to help, not hurt” (Kittle 30). It seems as though there is a constant drone about how difficult our given profession will be, and a lot of it is true. However, what this drone fails to take account of is the fact that teaching is a profession steeped in humanity. This means that people, especially students, will surprise you over and over again by providing grace, even when you expect it least.

The second chapter that had a profound impact on me is entitled, “our last day of school.” Let me preface this with a short story. Last summer a teacher I knew ended up fostering one of her students from the previous year. I do not know why she was taken away from her parents in the first place, but when CPS asked the student who she would be most comfortable staying with she immediately answered, “My teacher.” How powerful is that? Kittle writes of a similar situation that occurred when she was just starting out in education. She had a set of real money that was used in her elementary classroom as practice for counting change. After two years of no issues, money suddenly disappeared… as did other classroom artifacts. Eventually, she deduced it was a student named Darlene who had been sexually abused by her father for much of her young life. As punishment, Darlene was sentenced to detention on the last day of school while the other students enjoyed playing games during field day. Darlene accepted this penalty, and used her time to write Kittle a letter. Upon opening the note after all the kids were gone for the summer, she read a plea. “Her apology was sincere” Kittle describes, “her explanations a jumbled mess of things she herself did not understand. She just couldn’t control herself no matter how she tried. And then she asked if I’d let her come and live with me. She begged. She said she knew I’d say no, but she’d never wanted anything as much as this and couldn’t I please just let her live at my house and be her mother? She promised to be good and my sobs absorbed her pleas of forgiveness and mercy” (42). My heart broke reading this section. For $30,000 a year, teachers are tasked with not only assigning A Separate Peace or grading vocabulary worksheets but helping students endure the unthinkable. When home is no longer home, students search for love elsewhere—often the first place they look is at school, within the teachers who consistently show students that they are valuable in so many other ways than a grade in the gradebook. As teachers, we should strive to make our classrooms this sort of safe haven. Life is messy and difficult, but we have some power to be a steady presence in a student’s tumultuous existence. Remember that.

The Greatest Catch JPEG

Ignore my poor attempt at drawing a fishing pole, and focus instead on the fact that Penny Kittle’s book is amazing—fishing metaphors and all! Picture is my own.

I suppose I will end this review by saying that what impacted by the most about Penny Kittle’s book was not necessarily the words, but the way it made me feel. When I closed the final page there was a tightening in my chest that embodied the weighty responsibility our chosen career path entails. Our students are going to look to us for much more than assignments, and we would be wise to live each day with that in mind. I don’t mean to sound like a downer—but at the same time I recognize that it is a serious calling. This book is heavy, but it is even more inspiring. I HIGHLY recommend every teacher, regardless of subject, to read it. I am blown away. Like her own students, through the teaching in this text Penny Kittle has caught me hook, line, and sinker.

Works Cited

Kittle, Penny. The Greatest Catch: A Life in Teaching. Heinemann, 2005.

NCTE17 Jimmy Santiago Baca General Session Review (Blog #7)

To be completely honest, I have never read any of Jimmy Santiago Baca’s works. Until this year, I am unsure whether or not I had heard his name. I am disappointed in this. He has an incredible story, going from prisoner to poet. But even more so he has an incredible gift to tell stories. Hearing him speak of his teaching endeavors left me with tears in my eyes, laughter on my lips, and happiness in my heart.

First, I want to list some of his quotes from the session that I felt impelled to jot down:

  • “Write to keep the light lit” (This Baca quote is going to be printed on a sign that will hang over the door of my future classroom).
  • “True poetry happens when you’re not supposed to and you do.”
  • “True poetry comes from the deepest recesses of our heart that allow us to cross the bridge anyway.”
  • “Wherever there is controversy, there is teachers. Because that’s who we are.”

 

Clearly, there is no doubt that this man is a poet. However, he is so much more. Teacher, mentor, encourager of hope… He proved in his speech that he wears many hats. One such illustration of this is a tale he told that struck a chord with me. After having a fight with his wife over money, they pulled into a gas station. His writing and speaking were not supporting the family like she wanted. After going to a speaking engagement where the group could not even afford to pay for Jimmy’s gas, his wife almost had him convinced that he needed to pursue other career options. He was on the ropes. As he handed a small amount of money to the attendant, the man asked if he was Jimmy Baca. Jimmy said yes. The man explained how one time Jimmy talked to his class, and the man never forgot. He said he had been struggling with addiction to drugs (or alcohol… some of the details are fuzzy). As a form of self-control, he had begun journaling because he remembered Jimmy’s encouragement of writing. It helped the man, and he thanked Jimmy.

Here’s the deal: that is what teaching is all about. The connections. Though the man only experienced a passing encounter, Jimmy had a long-lasting influence over the man’s life. As teachers we only have a short time with our students. Sometimes a year or two or three, but after that they set out on their own. It is our responsibility to make the most out of the time we have, to help students make the most of theirs. Jimmy accomplished in one encounter what most educators fail to do in a lifetime; he helped one young man see writing as a safe space. Further, he helped the young man believe that he is a writer. That is all I want—for my students to see that writing not only staves away darkness, but helps them to keep the light lit. Because each and every one of them has the ability to shine.

 

NCTE17 New Attendee Orientation Review (Blog #6)

The New Attendee Orientation at the NCTE convention was not at all what I expected it to be. The yogurt parfaits and fresh coffee was as promised, but the informal atmosphere was not. I entered the room expecting to be quiet while a speaker clicked through PowerPoint slides that provided helpful tips and tricks to navigate the zillions of sessions (and magical exhibit hall!). Instead, I was seated at a table with a college professor from Florida, a teacher from Tennessee, and a teacher from Indianapolis. There were no handouts or directions, instead we simply… talked.

The professor had been coming to NCTE conventions for I believe thirty-something years. She accidentally thought my coaching minor was for literature coaching, and she had strong opinions on the elimination of tenure for teachers in Florida. The Tennessee teacher worked in a small town where she stated a number of her co-workers graduated from the same school they now taught in. The Indianapolis teacher was relatable. She was just beginning her second year of teaching at a small Catholic school in what sounded like an urban portion of the city, and wasn’t afraid to admit she was still learning the ropes.

This is going to be a short blog post. I don’t remember any of their names, but I do remember one moment. The Indianapolis teacher was talking to the Tennessee teacher, and I may have been kinda-sorta eavesdropping as I sipped my coffee. The Indianapolis teacher was explaining that she had been working two jobs—waitressing down the block in the evenings—but had recently quit. When delivering this news she said something to the effect of, is having money but constantly being stressed really better than scraping by but being able to spend time doing what I love? That spoke to me. In work, school, and my personal life if I am so stressed that I have forgotten why I am doing what I am doing then something needs to change.

I don’t know if I’ll ever see the Indianapolis teacher again, but if I do I will thank her for allowing me to see life through a new perspective. Connecting with other English teachers can be a profound experience, even if only in passing.

NCTE17 Secondary Section Get-Together Review (Blog #5)

My first ever NCTE convention started off strong at the Secondary Section Get-Together Thursday evening. After waking up at 4:00 a.m., making our way through the Denver airport (which gives me the creeps… I once pulled an all-nighter before my first high school two-a-day practice watching DIA Conspiracy videos on YouTube, not my best decision ever), flying an hour and a half to St. Louis (this girl is also scared of heights), traveling backward on a metro train, and then intimately orienting ourselves with downtown as we hunted for our elusive motel I was ready to have my socks knocked off by the first session. But I was apprehensive too—what should I expect?

Turns out, I could expect Laurie Halse Anderson to be the keynote speaker! However, before she took to the podium in Lois Lowry’s stead she was introduced by a fellow teacher who talked to us about sensitive issues in language arts. This is a topic that has made me nervous since I decided I wanted to be an English teacher. What if I assign the wrong text at the wrong time? However, a quote the teacher shared from one of her 10th grade students eased my mind: “There really aren’t sensitive issues if the teacher handles it well.” Death, racism, religion, sexuality, violence, and abilism are all topics that are bound to come up at some point or another. If I am prepared to competently handle the topic and any issues that may arise, they can be delivered in a mature fashion that promotes student learning. According to the teacher, one of the best ways to accomplish this is through discussion. If I facilitate the language students need to navigate difficult topics in a respectful but comprehensive manner, then adolescents will be equipped to embrace these tough topics autonomously. As the teacher stated, “Learning flows in a sea of talks.”

Laurie Halse Anderson effortlessly picked up the theme set before her, contributing hilarious stories that were firmly grounded in a simple yet resounding message: good teachers are important. Some of my favorite takeaways from her speech were as follows:

  • “Always look for the helpers” ~Mr. Rogers
  • “The real obscenity is the people who don’t have the balls to give high schoolers what they need in high school”
  • Don’t be a teacher who has their head stuck in the canon!
  • Often, books are challenged by the parents who are broken by fear and do not know how to talk to their children (Sidenote: THIS!)
  • There are a lot of lost kids wandering the halls that need to be reached out to.

 

Just like that, the tone was set: my tiredness was forgotten (well, at least until I got back to the motel and remembered I had homework to do) and I was inspired to learn as much as I could over the next 72 hours at NCTE17… which is precisely what I did.

P.S. Laurie Halse Anderson also liked and responded to one of my Tweets! How amazing is that!? I know, I know; pics or it didn’t happen. See screenshot below.

Laurie Halse Anderson Tweet

Much happy, many excitement.

Second Time’s A Charm (Book Review #2)

Holy smokes… I am HOOKED. It literally took me an hour to read Saga: Volume One by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, and now I need to read the next one. And the next one, and the next, and the next! Because currently there are seven volumes. I’m thinking there might be some early Christmas presents from me to me in the near future.

Saga Christmas Tree

You may have thought I was joking when I said I was going to buy the other volumes as an early Christmas present to myself, but I am very serious. To prove it, here is Saga beneath my tree (that has been up since November 2nd). Yay, Christmas! Picture is my own.

Okay, now let me attempt to summarize what I just read. This story begins in the middle of a war between planet Landfall and its moon, Wreath. The people of each planet are different, kind of like races. Though the origin of the war is still unclear, the races of each place despise one another. However, the comic begins with a baby being born… between a winged woman from Landfall named Alana, and a horned man from Wreath named Marko. They are married. This is a big no-no. As a result, multiple groups of beings are out to kill Alana and Marko. I don’t want to give much more away, but the rest of this first comic follows their journey to outrun their would-be assassins.

Of course, it is not this simple. The story is written in real time, but thanks to gentle interjections the reader knows that Alana and Marko’s daughter, Hazel, is actually narrating the story. Though she is a baby in this first volume, she is looking back and telling her story, which at that point is her parents’. It’s fascinating to get not only the plot at hand, but the foreshadowing plot of what is to come through Hazel’s words. As if that is not enough, I have a suspicion that parts of the story that focus on a different character (The Will) are somehow happening both in the future and in the present of the story (although I cannot confirm these suspicions until I read the subsequent volumes!) Either way, this comic is an excellent use of interwoven plot points that are seemingly separate but not.

Here’s the deal: if you are a fan of sci-fi, fantasy, comic books or all of the above then this first volume is absolutely for you. However, I do not think I would house this volume on the shelves of my high school English classroom. On the back cover there is the rating “M/Mature” and it is there for good reason. There is a LOT of graphic violence and sexual nudity throughout the entire work. It all serves the plot, but it is there nonetheless. I understand that graphic themes of this nature appear in many other novels, but it is tricky when images accompany it. I am an adult, and there were a few pages that made me feel extremely uncomfortable. That being said, this first volume covers some important concepts such as war, sex trafficking, interracial marriages, corrupt power… the list goes on. I love what I just read, but I do not think I would feel comfortable handing it out to my students.

As for myself, though, onto volume two!

A Swing and a Miss (Book Review #1)

Recently I took the plunge and read my first ever graphic novel. Until this year, graphic novels had not been on my reading radar. I know that my high school library had them because some of my classmates loved them, but I never hopped on board. I was (and am) more into the likes of the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz, and the Game of Thrones series by George R.R. Martin—and that’s totally okay!

However, one day I was in the library with a fellow special methods student (shout out to Regan!) and she recommended the graphic novel This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki. First, she pointed out the illustrations (which are done in beautiful blue ink), and then she told me that the tale is “haunting” which is a fair adjective to describe this book. It follows the coming-of-age story of a tween girl, Rose, who goes to her family’s summer vacation home with her parents. On the beach, Rose’s life is a realistic one filled with a steadfast friendship where sometimes nerves are frayed, parents who are in a complex relationship, as well as various other typical teenage drama. Within the text tough topics are tackled such as teen pregnancy, suicide, and miscarriages.

Now for my confession: this graphic novel was a swing and a miss for me. The pictures were vivid, I appreciated how quickly I could take it in, but This One Summer failed to pull me in as a reader. My biggest issue was the story line itself. I found that I simply could not relate. I cannot blame this all on the book because it has been quite some time since I’ve fully immersed myself in young adult literature. That being said, I felt at times it was trying too hard and this made it feel very stereotypical to me. In addition, it was very… negative. Have you ever read or watched something that made you feel weary because of the weight it was placing on your shoulders? That was this book for me. An unpopular opinion I’m sure, but I want to be honest.

Still, I could see how this book would resonate with teenage readers. I did not entirely enjoy the characters or plot, but that does not mean that my students won’t too. I loved the strategy my professor shared in class yesterday of a teacher who challenges her students to read books she doesn’t like, and then encourages them to tell her why she is wrong. Perhaps This One Summer will still find a place on my classroom shelf one day where I can challenge my own students to let me know what I am missing. Until then I will continue the search for a graphic novel that makes me say, “Wow!”

Common Sense (Blog #4)

This afternoon I had the pleasure of watching two incredible TED Talks. They were not memorable because of their humor (although I’m fairly certain I earned a few odd looks from laughing out loud while watching in the library), nor for their spot-on deliveries. What made these two TED Talks stand out to me were their profound common sense— something that is increasingly rare in our world today.

The first video, embedded below for convenience, was Sugata Mitra’s “The Child-Driven Education.” In his speech, Mitra described to his audience the ongoing experiment(s) he had been working on for years. His research started with a simple concept: place public computers in third-world countries for children to interact with. The results blew me away. Not only were kids figuring out how to utilize the technology on their own, but they were also working in groups in order to both learn from and teach others. As Mitra explained, “Groups of children can learn to use computers and the internet on their own irrespective of who or where they were.”

How amazing is that? However, before hearing his results I must admit that I had doubts. Occasionally I’ve come across Internet forums that ask the question “What jobs will never be replaced by machines?” Each time I read it I tend to laugh self-satisfactorily to myself and think, “Educators for sure.” In my mind, teachers have always been an invaluable presence. They are the encouragers and facilitators to authentic learning. But is this really the case? Are teachers actually irreplaceable? These are tough questions, and I will pose my answer like this: though teachers can provide a positive presence for students, it makes sense that they do not necessarily need to be present for learning to take place.

After all, learning occurs every second of every day. Did a teacher make me complete a worksheet when I learned how to shoot a basketball or throw a discuss? Did a teacher make me take a quiz when I taught myself how to make eggs benedict? Did a teacher require me to deliver a speech when I visited the memorials in Washington D.C.? No, no, and no.

So the biggest question then is, how will this thinking affect my future classroom? Before I explain, let me first examine the second video: “The Puzzle of Motivation” by Daniel Pink. His video is interesting due to the fact that his intended audience is actually business people but everything he states applies just as well to education. In essence, his argument is that intrinsic motivation is better in a 21st century work environment than extrinsic motivation.

This is not just a personal opinion either— keeping with his law theme, he has plenty of evidence to back it up. However, my favorite supplemental piece of his argument isn’t that which supports it, but rather the proposed solution to it. The new intrinsic approach for motivation that he outlines consists of:

1.) Autonomy— Pink defines this as, “The urge to direct our own lives”

2.) Mastery— Pink defines this as, “The desire to get better and better at something that matters.

3.) Purpose— Pink defines this as, “The yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves”

It is in these three characteristics of intrinsic motivation that the similarities between these two videos lie. To answer my aforementioned question, what this information means for me and my classroom is that in order for students to be intrinsically motivated they need to be interested in their learning which will be achieved by allowing them to be autonomous. Easy enough, right? Though I have fully understand this general idea, it is more difficult working out the finer details. That being said, I do know two great places to start; in order for students to have control over their learning, and therefore enjoy it, they need to be able to choose both what they read and what they write. If my students do these things, I firmly believe that the rest will fall into place. At the end of the day, it all goes back to common sense.

Nervous (Blog #3)

ABC

Not quite as easy as 1,2,3. Or 100, 97, 93. Picture is my own.

I am just going to come right out and say it— I am very nervous to “grade” as a teacher. I wrote a little bit about my own history with grading in my first blog post of the semester entitled The Battle of Assessment & Why I Will Be Fighting Back, but as I’ve mulled over the concept of feedback this week I’ve come to another realization. In high school I thought I had my English grades all figured out. I would have a long string of 100% papers, maybe a 97% here and there, very rarely a 93%. I would be able to say, “Oh, I had some awkward sentences in this paper” or “The content was amazing in this paper” and I would know that’s why I earned the grade that I did. To my teacher’s credit, along with a number grade she would provide each of us with a paragraph of narrative feedback as well.

However, as I look back from the perspective of a soon-to-be teacher I get extremely overwhelmed. A barrage of questions are firing in my mind, one after the other. What is the difference between a 100% and a 97%? Is a mistake worth 1 point or 5 points or 10 points? If one student maintains their writing but another student largely improves their writing, how can I give one an A and the other a C? How do I measure subjective content? How do I put a number on creativity?  How do I distinguish between a strong voice and a good voice? How do I, how do I, how do I…

Like any education major, I’ve been taught the basics. Make sure you have measurable objectives in your lesson plan, always create a rubric, grade on the curve, etc. The thing is, what if I don’t want to do any of those things? The other thing is, what if I am required to?

After this week, there are a few approaches to grading that I know I will implement in my future classroom. These include providing students with positive statements only, asking lots of questions in regards to their writing, as well as implementing a conferencing system. These concepts can all be applied under any already-established grading system. I also want to implement another grading approach— eradicating number grades altogether.

That is the one that gives me anxiety. I am afraid of the “what-ifs.” What if students take advantage of this no-grading grading? What if parents complain to the school? What if my principal reprimands me? What if I lose my job because my superiors find me lacking accountability? I already know the solution to these scenarios. Do my research. In order to run my classroom in the best way I know how I need to read voraciously, develop professionally, and network unceasingly. It is crucial for me to learn all that I can about the English classroom, and then be ready to present my findings at any given moment.

I’m just going to come right out and say it again— grading still makes me nervous. It is easy to balk at the unknown, but that’s when I need to remind myself to just keep pushing through. I have learned so much both as a student and teacher, and now all I need to do is keep learning. Because as much as I worry about my own future, my biggest concern is that I will fail my students. As funny as it sounds, it is within these fears that deep down I know I shouldn’t be afraid. I worry because I care, and caring is the cornerstone in any profession. At the end of the day as long as I keep seeking information so that I can be the best teacher for my students, I will be accomplishing what matters most. 🙂