Planner freebie at the end of this post.
A decade of teaching the same courses and grade levels had its pros and cons. On one hand, it’s wonderful to shake that new teacher first-time-teaching-the-curriculum feeling. I’ve had a chance to get to know the material really well and experiment with various ways of presenting it for maximum student engagement and growth. I’ve even served as a team leader of sorts among my other American Literature colleagues. On the other hand, I have to admit that I am getting bored teaching the same material and collecting the same big tried and true assignments each year from my 140 students.
It seems like every year my students come to me with less reading and writing ability and I have to double-time it to elevate those skills and complete the curriculum so they are stronger scholars when they leave me in the spring. While successful each year, it’s increasingly demanding, draining, and dull work. Like many other educators, we find ourselves making daily choices about what we choose to keep, cut, and explore in more depth because time is not on our side. After all, there are only 180 school days.
This 2018-2019 school year was just as rigorous, but I’m finding that my students are responding less enthusiastically to my methods. End of the school year reflection often leaves me in the same paralyzing place:
- I know my students need more writing practice, but there’s not enough time to give feedback on the volume of work they would need to produce to really see significant improvement.
- I know they are not reading enough outside of school, and they are, more often than not, fake-reading for school assignments. How do I hold them accountable without cramming punitive reading quizzes down their throats?
- I know many lack clear communication and positive interpersonal skills. How do I teach them how to be respectful, productive, and confident individuals in an engaging and meaningful way?
Times like these make me recall one of my favorite not-so-flattering lines about Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby. Nick says about Tom: “Something was making him nibble at the edge of stale ideas…” I, too, felt like I was circling the wagon, expressing the same trite complaints with no new tools in my toolbox to combat them.
Insert my coworker, Amanda, at exactly the moment I needed inspiration the most. Her enthusiasm at the end of the school year, despite May being a soul-crushing marathon of grading, was contagious. She showed me the professional development book she had purchased from Amazon and distracted me from a mountain of papers I was marking by talking about innovative ideas and techniques for ELA teachers. Game on!
Everything about Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle’s 180 Days is spot on. The needs of our students, the challenge to “get it all in,” and the desire to be responsive teachers who engage our young people to be responsible citizens spoke to me. 180 Days is probably the only education book I have ever read, voluntarily, from cover to cover.
Practical suggestions, real unit models, and core discussions about pedagogical and grading philosophies are only the tip of the iceberg, here. Gallagher and Kittle inspired me to experiment with a writer’s notebook, re-institute sustained silent reading time, campaign for donated books to offer a diverse classroom library, and they reminded me about the power of conferring with my students.
Though the school year isn’t over yet, we still have about 3 weeks to go, I am excited to teach this coming fall. It feels good to feel passionate and creative once again. If you are an ELA teacher battling curriculum blues, whining about your disillusioned teenagers, do yourself a favor and read this book first.
This review is one hundred percent my own opinion. This post was not sponsored by anyone. I am recommending a great book that I found useful and compelling. Links in this post may contain affiliate links. I will receive a small commission if you choose to click them.
Are you familiar with bullet journaling (BUJO)? I assimilated one of the BUJO concepts, called a calendex, and I’m using it to plan all my units for the upcoming school year as a visual pacing guide. Need more of an explanation, read here. Feel free to download my Calendex spread for FREE! This spread is part of a collection of teacher spreads available in my TPT store at just $7 for the whole bundle.
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