How To Get Your Child To Read This Last Half Of Summer

We’re already over half-way through the summer, and a return to school is probably beginning to loom on both students’ and parents’ minds.  (Maybe even some teachers, too.  I’m just sayin.’)

If you’re a parent, maybe you’re feeling a little guilty because your child hasn’t done much summer reading so far.

No worries.  Better late than never, right?

You can start your student on a reading program this week!  Studies show that 20 minutes a day really is enough to keep them sharp.  Your local library undoubtedly has programs of some sort.  Most have probably been going on for a while at this point, but it could be a little extra incentive for your child.  In case the local programs have ended, you could always even find your own way to incentivize them!  Maybe if they read 20 minutes a day for seven straight days, you can take them to a movie.  You know, that kind of thing.  We all love prizes, don’t we?

Now, feel free to email me if you’d like to really dive deeply into the benefits of reading, but for the purpose of this article, I’m going to keep it pretty simple and commonsense.

First and foremost, though, let me say this: there is NO downside to summer reading.  Again: there is NO downside to summer reading.  It’s ALL positive.

Whew!  Glad to have that out of the way.

Okay, so, it’s a fact that summer loss can occur if a student does not continue to engage their brain with reading and math.  It makes sense, right?  The brain is like a muscle–if it doesn’t get exercise, it gets weak, flabby, and kind of useless.  Some studies have shown that those students who don’t read over the summer can spend the first few months of school trying to catch up to where they were at the end of the previous year!  Yikes!  So, if nothing else, reading in the summer keeps that brain in shape.

Furthermore, just like with exercise, the more a student reads, the stronger a reader they become.  Their vocabulary will continue to increase; their comprehension will grow; their creativity will progress; even their writing skills will improve.  After all, it was Stephen King who said–and I paraphrase–the best writers are always voracious readers.

I bet right now you are pretty on board with me, right?  But you’re also thinking, “Scott, buddy, I’m not much of a reader myself.  How in the world am I supposed to know what to give my kid to read?  I’m not a teacher!”  Luckily, the answer is pretty simple.  Let them read whatever it is that they want to read.  Easy, right?

Of course, use common sense.  I don’t know that I would allow a ten year old to read Fifty Shades of Grey.  The truth is, in my opinion, that it’s going to be hard enough to get most students to read in the summer.  If you try to dictate the material, well, you may be destined for disappointment.

For example, my oldest daughter loves graphic novels.  I pretty much let her grab whatever she wants from the children’s section of our local library.  I quickly flip through them, just to see if anything catches my eye.  However, I also get her a stack of chapter books that I think will interest her.  I don’t force those chapter books on her, but I do every once in a while suggest that she gives one a try.  More often than not, she’ll have a chapter book she’s working on while she tears through several graphic novels.

If your student loves sports, get books about those favorite teams or athletes.  If they love video games, get them books about the history of the industry, or how to enter the field as an adult.  If they love fashion, get them books about famous designers or books about how to break into that world.  I believe with all my heart that a student will read if you put a book in front of them that deals with their interests.  In the teaching biz, we call that “high interest reading material.”

Finally, you’re surely concerned about how to check to see if your student is actually reading.  (Some of us have mastered the fine art of sleeping with our eyes open, after all.)  Again, you don’t have to be a teacher to pull out some basic comprehension questions.  Here are five simple ones to get the ball rolling …

  1.  So, tell me, what was your book about?
  2. What did you like about the main character?
  3. Describe the most interesting part of the book for me, please.
  4. Why do you think I would enjoy this book?
  5. Talk to me about how this book reminded you of other books or movies.

Of course, you may need to press a bit.  If they didn’t like the book, ask them why.  In other words, try to avoid “yes” or “no” questions, because those don’t really facilitate any sort of analytical response.  You can’t gauge comprehension with a “yes” or a “no.”

Oops, one more thing: practice what you preach.  Read a book along their side.  You know this.  Kids can sniff out a rat faster than anyone.  If you tell them reading is important, but you’re not willing to do it yourself, they are going to think you’re full of hufflepuff.  What’s that?  You’re saying, “But, Scott, I don’t like to read!”  Remember all that stuff I said about high interest reading material?  Suck it up and apply it to yourself.  Heck, you might even enjoy it!

Okay, for real this time, I’m almost done.  If your child starts reading a book, and they don’t like it, let them put it down.  That book is not attached to a detonator that will blow up the house if left unfinished.  In the real world, people don’t finish books that they don’t like.  Most of us don’t expect to take a test or write a paper over our bedtime reading material.  Don’t freak the kid out about finishing every book they pick up–that’s the teacher’s job.  (I’m joking … mostly.)  Give them the freedom to pick up books and put them down as they please.  Let them choose their own material (within reason).  Let this experience be … <gasp!> … FUN!

Thanks for reading.  (Man, that pun was totally unintended, but I love it.  I’m keeping it in there.  That’s the benefit of not having an editor.)

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)

Last Chance To Thank Your Child’s Teacher

If you’ll indulge me …

My wife is the absolute best.  She goes so far above and beyond in thanking our children’s teachers during “Teacher Appreciation Week” — it’s amazing.  Classroom teachers, librarians, administrators, office support staff, coaches, Girl Scout troop leaders, Sunday school teachers — everyone gets a little token of appreciation.  Furthermore, she develops a cute theme to go along with the gift.  This year everyone got an Amazon gift card decorated as though it was a special delivery by our girls.  I asked her to count up how many gift cards she doled out.  I wasn’t upset, just curious.  The number?  About twenty-two (at last count).

By the way … my wife is a teacher.

She gets it.

She understands the emotional stamina, the intrinsic motivation, and the sheer patience necessary to be a teacher.  She knows that by the end of the year, every teacher needs a little show of appreciation.

By the way, I’m a teacher, too.

I teach about 130 students a day.  I received not one “thank-you” from a student’s family during “Teacher Appreciation Week.”

I get it.

Hey, I’m busy, too.  I won’t pretend that I’d have taken over thanking my daughters’ teachers if my wife decided to take the year off.  I forgot it was “Teacher Appreciation Week” during the actual week — and I am a teacher!  Trust me, if you haven’t thanked your child’s teacher, you’re not alone.  I’m personally just as guilty.

The point of this is to tell you that it’s not too late.

Yesterday, several of my creative writing students went out of their way to tell me how much the class meant to them.  Today, two students came up to shake my hand and tell me “thanks.”  It meant the world to me.

Listen, I don’t entirely fall into the “I’d teach for free I love it so much!” category, but I also recognize that teachers make more money than a lot of people, have more vacation time than a lot of people, and enjoy more benefits than a lot of people.  But I’m here to tell you, folks — it’s a demanding job.  Not physically, but emotionally?  You bet.  Mentally?  Absolutely.  There’s no down time when you have a room full of children or teenagers.  There’s no mentally checking out.  Teachers are constantly monitoring and assessing.

You know how “busy” it can get when your child has friends over?  Imagine a room full of that.  Imagine coaxing them along through the power of personality.  Imagine talking, thinking, managing, and assessing all at the same time while also trying to be interesting enough to capture thirty children’s interest.  Let me tell you — it’s tough.  I’m sure you can imagine.

So, here’s what I propose — thank your child’s teachers.  Right now.  Send a little email.  Even if you you weren’t all that impressed with them, drop them a little note at least letting them know you appreciate their efforts.  If you thought your child had a great year, by all means, tell them as much!  It doesn’t have to be in-depth.  Just a note.

Trust me, it will make a huge difference to the teacher.  What a wonderful way to say goodbye, right?

Thanks for indulging me.

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Something Awkward Happened To Me At Work Today

As a teacher, there are ample opportunities for one to embarrass oneself.  I’m in front of teenagers about five hours a day, every weekday, for ten months out of the year.  In the past, I’ve always been worried about unstoppable bodily functions.  I won’t go into specifics, but you get the idea.  That’s always been my biggest fear.  The point is, every moment is a minefield of possible mortification.

Today something happened that’s never happened to me in quite the degree it did.

Before I begin, though, let me provide a little bit of background information.  We’re trying something new this semester called an “advisory period.”  For old folks like me, it’s sort of like what we called “homeroom” back when we were kids.  Theoretically, we’ll keep this same group of teens for advisory period every year that they are in high school until they graduate.  It’s an interesting idea that I think could prove beneficial.  Luckily, I’ve got an amazing group of students.  They really are fantastic.  Here’s the thing, though: I only see them twice a week.

Allow me to share just a bit more to help put this story in context.  I’ve taught now for seventeen years.  I conservatively average about 120 new students each semester.  That’s 240 students a year, which means I’ve had to learn over 4,000 students’ names during my career so far.

That’s a lot of names.

Can you see where this is going?

So today I’m doing an activity with my advisory period kids.  I’m running through the room, calling on kid after kid–no issues.  And then I get to a particular student–a student I’ve spoken with on a regular basis since the semester started.

I drew a blank.

Now, this is not the first time I’ve struggled to remember a name during my time as a teacher, especially when so early in a semester.  Usually, a second or two goes by, and it hits me.

Not this time.

I stared at the student.

He stared at me.

It got awkward.

I didn’t have my seating chart within reach.  I wasn’t near my computer, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway because I didn’t have attendance up on my screen.

I kept staring at him, smiling.

I saw the realization set in upon his face that I couldn’t remember his name.  A look of amusement in his eyes slowly turned to disbelief, then discomfort, then horror.

I peeked at the rest of the room and they all gaped at me.  No one would come to my rescue.  Though, to be honest, they might have thought I’d feel insulted if they did.

I told myself not to panic right before I panicked.

“Help me out,” I said to the young man.  “Give me the first initial.”

“P.”

Nothing.  I still had nothing.  I wanted to say “Nick.”  I wanted to say “Nick” so bad, but the kid just told me “P.”

“P!”

I briefly considered the possibility that he didn’t know his own name, that, in fact, I was right after all.  I abandoned that hope almost instantly.

I could feel myself grinning like an idiot, trying to play it off, but the awkwardness grew unbearable.  If you know me, you understand that’s quite a statement.  I exist in a perpetual state of awkward.  For the awkwardness to be so potent–so powerful–that it paralyzed me … well, that level of awkwardness might have killed a lesser man.

I had one more play.  Just as I was about to make it a game, to have the class offer me some hints, the student in question had had enough.  He called out his name to me–“Parker*.”

“Parker!”

How could I forget “Parker!”

I apologized profusely to both he and the rest of the class.  I joked about my age, how they can expect that sort of thing to happen more often from me.  On the inside, I was mortified.  I’ve never before experienced that level of forgetfulness in a pressure situation.  I absolutely feel like if I’d stood there for an hour looking at him, I still wouldn’t have come up with his name.

The class laughed it off with me, but I could see it on their faces–as far as they were concerned, I’d aged decades to them in that moment.

I’m barely over halfway through my career, people.

By the time I reach retirement age, I’m going to be lucky to remember my own name.

 

*The students real name has been altered in the interest of protecting his identity.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s e-book series HERE)

No Bad Days Allowed

Yesterday a student asked me if I ever get in a bad mood.  She told me she had trouble imagining me being angry or upset.

I laughed and told her that I’m just like everyone else–I have good days and bad.  I then explained to her that when you’re a teacher, you adopt something similar to a stage persona.

It’s understood in our profession that teachers become almost archetypes to their students and even the general public.  For example, it was always weird for me to see my teachers out and about when I was in high school.  It was definitely strange to see them in regular clothes on a walk or something–kind of like spotting a Sasquatch in the wild.  I used to joke with my students that I kept a cot in my classroom’s closet and that’s what I slept on at night.  Some of them didn’t think twice about it.

Look, we all have bad days.  I understand that.

But as a teacher, I’m not really afforded the luxury of hiding out for the day.  I can’t put in my earbuds, ignore everything around me, and just get my paperwork done.  Like a prize fighter, when that bell sounds, I’ve got to move to the center of the ring whether I want to or not.  If I’m not engaged with the students, if I’m not enthusiastic about what I’m teaching, my day will only get worse.

That’s when the persona takes over.  That’s when “Mr. Foley” comes into full effect.  That’s when the show starts.

I bet you’re thinking, “Why don’t you just tell the students you’re having a rough day and need to relax at your desk.”  Funny.  Have you ever had to manage twenty to thirty teenagers an hour at a time, five times a day?  That’s just not the way it works.  Most don’t necessarily care if you’re having a bad day, nor should they.  I’m there to do a job, and if I’m there, I better be doing that job to the best of my ability.  Most of them have their own problems to think about.  I’m the adult in the room, after all.

Some teachers call in sick if they know they are not up to facing a total of 150 students throughout the day.  Some people call it a “mental health day.”  Let me tell you, it’s a pain to call in sick.  You have to leave sub plans for each and every class period, and they better be detailed.  Some kid invariably decides to test the sub’s mettle and so that has to be dealt with upon returning.  There’s also grading from that day to complete.  It’s easier just to go to work, honestly.  That’s why most of us go in even if we’re at Death’s door–it’s simpler to grind it out than to make sub plans.  Don’t even get me going on elementary teachers.  Can you imagine writing an entire day’s worth of plans for a sub?  At least at the high school level you only have to leave plans for two or three courses spread out over the day.  At the elementary level, they’re doing something different all day long.

I’m not looking for pity.  It’s just that I think we are often seen as a service or resource and not as actual people.  Like you, we have families, bills, victories, losses, dreams, and tragedies.  Like you, we have good days, and we have bad ones.  However, if we’re having a bad day, our job is to make sure no one ever knows.

The show must go on.

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  (Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Is Our School System Better Than Sliced Bread?

I’ve taught high school English since the year 2000.  During that time, we’ve seen the advent of smartphones, automated cars, even artificially intelligent grocery stores.  Our technology has grown exponentially in just eighteen years, and I don’t see that trend slowing down.

Consider the following advancements that happened within the last 100 years: the Internet, space travel, computers, video game consoles, compact discs, printers, cassette tapes, television, microwave ovens, bagless vacuum cleaners, and even sliced bread.

Yes, sliced bread did not exist in an automated, widespread manner until 1928.

Now I’d like to share with you the year most agree our modern system of schooling arrived: 1837.  There are those who will argue against that particular year, but most will agree children have been sitting in desks for regimented amounts of time listening to teachers for well over one hundred years — the way we still do it to this very day.

Please allow me to point out that I am in no way, shape, or form trying to destroy our school system.  I enjoy my profession and it’s provided a wonderful life for my family and me.  I played school well as a student, and I continue to do so as a teacher.  Obviously, I like school.

However, when I look at the world around me, and then when I look at the way our modern school system functions … the two don’t match up very well with one another.  That’s just my observation.

I don’t need to remind you how school works because it’s pretty much the same as when you were a kid.

And it’s pretty much the same as when your parents were kids.

And it’s pretty much the same as when their parents were kids.

Obviously, schools are not keeping up with the times.

But here’s the thing: I don’t have the answer.  I barely have any suggestions.  I have no idea how we would even go about changing our school system.  It’s so ingrained in our society that I think it’s hard for us to consider an alternate method.

I realize a popular argument against what I’m saying is that students need to learn how to sit and listen.  They need to get used to people telling them what to do.  They need to know how to follow instructions.  Well, yes, okay, those are skills we all need to have at our disposal, but do they really need thirteen years of it, day after day, week after week, year after year?  Let me tell you, they have it mastered by sixth grade, and then they start to realize they’ve got six more years of the same, and most of them decide they’re in store for a miserable existence until graduation.  Some react to this realization by acting out, checking out, faking us out, or just plain getting out.

Let me tell you, we have GREAT teachers. I guarantee you we are trying our hardest to create engaging lessons.  The truth is, though, that I’m not sure we’re all wired to sit and do one thing for fifty straight minutes any more.

And before you say it, let me stop you.  When I say “do one thing,” I mean that from a student’s perspective.  I try to vary the activities as much as I can within fifty minutes, but to the student, an English class is an English class no matter what the various activities are within that block of time.

I’m told that people who work in business are often allowed to get up when they want, use the bathroom when they want, chat with coworkers when they want, and chip away at the project of the moment little by little as they see fit as long as they meet their deadline.  This is a generalization, of course, but from my conversations, it seems to be the gist of how things go.

Why shouldn’t our schools reflect this same environment?

Ah, again, I can guess the counterargument.  High school students can’t be allowed to wander around!  They can’t be trusted to independently do their work!  They can’t be allowed to just talk whenever they feel like it!

Under our current system, that’s true.  In the modern era, just like the last one hundred years, the teacher is the authoritative figure, the taskmaster, the issuer of grades, and the the ultimate assessor.  As a result, many students must enter a subservient relationship with the teacher.  Some teachers inflate this relationship more than others, but it’s there nonetheless by merit of the system.

I’m not sure our model is the best way to engage high school students in this day and age.  During the last several years, my students seem to thrive when they are allowed a lot of freedom, the chance to choose certain aspects of a lesson, and the opportunity to actually do something.  Trust me, kids still like to work with their hands, they enjoy making things, and they find happiness in creating a product.

Don’t we all?

Keep in mind, I’m in no way suggesting that we do away with school.  I don’t want a future where students all sit at home on a screen learning through modules or virtual reality.  There are many benefits to school beyond academic achievement.  The skills they learn through social interaction are vital to their success as an adult.  Kids need to be around other kids.

Again, I don’t have the answer to this issue.  It would take an absolute restructuring of our model at every level.  But I’m invested in trying.  I want to create a system more suited to our modern society.

I know we can be better than sliced bread.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

The College Tuition Bubble Burst?

Perhaps you read the article over at CNBC entitled “The Scary Amount That College Will Cost In the Future.”  It addresses the rising cost of college and the projected cost eighteen years down the line.  According to Wealthfront, the article says that the average cost of most public universities is currently $101,000.  This is consistent with the price of my community’s local college, Illinois State University.  Obviously, that’s a very large amount of money.  However, Wealthfront projects that by the year 2036, public universities will cost an average of $184,000.  As a parent of two children under ten years of age, that number induces paralysis.

Because I teach seniors in high school, we always take a few days and explore the options available upon graduating.  I ask them to review their financial situation and then to investigate the cost of the junior college and the university.  I next ask them to research the projected earnings associated with the kind of career their degree will procure.  We also discuss the pros and cons of entering the work force directly upon graduation.  I’ve done this twice a year every year since 2010.

The cost of a four-year university astounds them … every time.  For some, they immediately give upon on the idea.  They don’t want to take on the debt.  Honestly, I can’t say I blame them.

I believe we have both an ideological problem as well as a practical one.  A typical public university should not cost two or three times as much as a staring salary of its graduates.  It simply shouldn’t.

Once upon a time, a college degree guaranteed employment.  It proved a valid investment that would assuredly pay you back a hundred times over throughout the course of a career.  Undergraduate degrees are now the norm, however.  Most careers require an undergraduate degree for even an entry-level position.  Unfortunately, salaries do not seem to be keeping pace with the rising cost of tuition.  As a result, we have college degrees that are not only taking far too long to pay the graduate back, but also, in many cases, failing to do so at all.

Frankly, I’ve felt confident that the tuition bubble would burst.  I believed, as I’ve witnessed with my students, that the cost would prohibit the demand.  People would simply stop going to college.  My logic dictated that tuition would consequently decrease.

According to these projections, though, my thinking is not only flawed, but flat-out wrong.

Practically speaking, this can’t be good for our nation.  I’m not an economics expert, but it seems clear to me that a country full of people in debt due to tuition costs that outpace most average salary schedules puts an undue burden on the populace.  People in debt can’t spend money.  An economy has a hard time functioning well without money flowing.  The college degree is meant to empower the individual and actually afford them the ability to make more money and thus spend more money.  The inverse seems to be occurring.

Ideologically speaking, I take tremendous issue with the trend.  I believe in education.  I wholeheartedly believe in the power of learning and bettering oneself.  I also believe everyone has the right to an affordable education.  What happens to our nation when the average person can’t afford college anymore?  How many doctors, teachers, and other vital roles are we going to lose due to college costing more than most people can pay?  Are even public universities only going to be possible for the affluent?

I’m not saying college should be free.  I don’t mind paying for my daughters’ higher education.  However, I also don’t think it’s right that families have to pinch every penny for over a decade if they hope to send their child to college for a degree that likely will not pay them back anytime soon.  It seems as though Americans are being taken advantage of by the tuition system.  We tell children they need to go to college if they want a good job, if they want to make their families proud, and so young adults do whatever it takes to go to college — even if it means taking on decades of debt.  We are made to fear the idea of not going to college, and so, as a result, tuition keeps going up and up even as salary increases stagnate.  It doesn’t seem fair, does it?

Though it doesn’t appear that the tuition bubble is going to burst anytime soon, believe me when I say that  I’ve seen the hopes and dreams of many students burst these last several years.

It is my sincere hope that we can find a balance between the undeniable value of education and the appropriate amount of tuition fees.

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The Joy Of Writing With Others

As you may know, I’m teaching a creative writing course this semester and I’m enjoying it more than I ever expected.  My students are amazing–a dream come true.  They are creative, have excellent attitudes, and don’t hesitate to get right to work on their writing.  I can’t imagine a better group to initiate this new chapter of my career.

Today we started on our first “official” genre–Realistic Fiction.  We’ve done a few warm-up activities, but this is the first story we plan to read to each other.  When it comes to reading and writing, I believe in sitting down and doing it with the students.  Luckily, I happen to love both of those things.

So, as my students started their first short story, I started one as well.  I fully intend to partake in each genre, to read my work to them just as they must read their work aloud to the group, and to basically experience the victories and frustrations as an active participant, not just an objective observer.

I’ve been writing regularly for a long, long time now, and virtually all of it has been by myself–mostly in a basement of some sort or another with the lights off and music playing.

Today I wrote in a classroom full of teenagers.  Some of them were sketching characters, some of them were developing plot in their journals, some were typing away.  I’ve always listened to music as I write, so I allow them to listen with their earbuds as well.  I would intermittently look up to see my students lost in their own creative endeavor.  I heard the tap-tap-tap of their keyboards.  I saw the words appearing on their screens, the characters taking shape in their journals, or the pencil gliding across their notebook paper.  I took all of this in and it brought me great happiness.

At the end of class I mentioned to them how fun it is to write with others.  I explained that writing can be such an isolated, lonely activity–to sit in a room and write with others … it felt so … nice!  (Excellent writing there, huh?)

Guiding these young people though the first steps of what I hope will be a lifelong writing journey has not only invigorated me as a teacher, but it’s also already provided a sense of community in regards to writing that I didn’t even realize I craved.

Tomorrow Begins a New Chapter In My Teaching Career

I’m so excited because tomorrow begins a new chapter in my teaching career.  Tomorrow marks the first day I will teach a creative writing class.  It’s hard to believe that I’ve taught for sixteen years without ever once instructing a creative writing course, but it’s true.

I’m particularly excited because I can share with the students quite a bit of real world application when it comes to creative writing.  We can explore so many traditional and nontraditional publishing avenues, contacting agents, setting up readings, developing a website, partaking in social media–all of those things that are necessary to reach an audience.  After all, writing the story is just the first step.

I am ecstatic to help these students find their voices, experiment with different genres, hone their craft, build their confidence, and learn about the business side as well.  I’ll share with them my victories, but also my blunders.  I think both will provide ample learning opportunity.

However, my number one priority when I meet them tomorrow for the first time?  Ask them what they want to learn.  Their requests will drive the course.

Wish us luck!

 

The Importance Of Appearing Positive When Returning To the Classroom At Summer’s End

Teaching is a tough job.  We are part manager, part philosopher, part parent, part mentor, part babysitter, part drill-sergeant, part psychologist, oh, and I think we actually educate somewhere amidst all that.  When summer rolls around, most of us need that time to regain our sanity, recharge our batteries, and reacquaint with our own families.

The job is absolutely relentless.  If you’re doing it right, there are very few “breaks” during the day, virtually no downtime, and you are assessing and making decisions on a nearly constant basis throughout the entire workday and typically even after it ends.  Furthermore, most of these decisions have a significant impact upon a young person and are not to be taken lightly.  It’s no wonder I come home almost every day with a splitting headache.  We have no bonuses, no real raises, no stock options, and, if we want to stay in the classroom, very little opportunity for career advancement.

On the other hand, though, teaching affords one the opportunity to truly affect the future, to positively influence hundreds (even thousands) of human lives, to change society, and to experience tremendous personal satisfaction.  A teacher is never bored, always remembered, and largely autonomous.  We’re paid more than many, not as much as some, and typically enjoy satisfactory health benefits (excluding dental and vision, but alas …).

Oh, and let’s not forget the vacation time.

We have excellent vacation time. There is simply no arguing that matter.  I’ve heard many complain that we have too much vacation time, to which I typically respond by encouraging the complainer to go back to school, earn an education degree, and enjoy that same vacation time.  They rarely seem enthusiastic to do so.

For me, teaching is so psychologically and emotionally draining that I need the vacation time to stay sharp, enthusiastic, and able to perform the job well.

But to my fellow teachers, let’s be honest — nobody wants to hear us talk about being sad or bummed to return to work.

Now, when teachers do this, I totally understand.  It’s not that they don’t want to teach again, it’s not that they aren’t excited to see their students and set to work forging the future, it’s not that they don’t want to earn a living.  Rather, it’s that they don’t want to get back on the lock-step schedule, the chaotic unending cycle of creating, grading, and assessing, the inability to ever truly relax.

Most teachers love teaching.  So when they complain about returning to work, they are really lamenting spending less time with their own family, losing a liberal amount of freedom in their schedules, and putting an end to ample traveling and personal pursuits.

But here’s the problem — the public at large do not take such considerations into account, nor should they.  When they hear a teacher complain about going back to work in August, we should not expect them to take that statement beyond face value.  So the issue is that we have the public, many of whom are parents, who believe that teachers don’t want to be in front of the kids.  Of course, this sets the wrong tone for the start of the school year, even if it’s not what’s truly in our hearts.

As teachers, we are always watching, assessing, judging, and criticizing.  However, we are also always being watched, assessed, judged, and criticized.  It’s important to remember that a simple off-hand joke could be repeated by a talkative pal, a tweet could become a trend, and a Facebook post can always be shared.

In 2010, I decided I was going to fight hard to always stay positive at work.  I’d spent several years going way too far the other direction, and it had real adverse implications on my mindset, my health, even my job performance.  They say you are what you eat; I believe you are also what you think.  So, six years ago, I told myself I wanted to be a force for good.  Hokey, I know, but true.  I wanted to try to stay positive — for myself, for my own children, my wife, my coworkers, my administrators, and for my students.  It made a tremendous difference in all aspects of my life.

There’s an old saying that goes “Fake it until you make it.”  There were many, many days I had to fake it.  Even to this day, there are times that negative version of myself creeps back in — none of us are perfect.  But overall I try to stay positive.  Life isn’t perfect, the job isn’t perfect, but honestly, I’ve got a lot to be happy about.  A lot.

Am I happy about going back to work?  Absolutely.  Would I tell you if I wasn’t?  Absolutely not.  We are teachers, we are role models, we set the tone.  If we don’t act excited and happy to be at school, how can we expect our students to?  Actions always speak louder than words with kids, so we’ve got to model what we expect.  Should we sing songs and do cartwheels?  Of course not, but a simple smile and a pleasant demeanor can go a long way with students, and adults, for that matter.

So, to my fellow educators, I’m encouraging you to act positive about going back to work.  Tell your friends you’re happy to get back to it.  Share with our students’ parents how glad you are to teach their children.  Let any students you bump into know that you can’t wait to see them.  Set the tone.  Model expectations.  Be the teacher you would like your own children to have.  If necessary, fake it until you make it.

Blended by Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker – A Book Review

Blended (subtitled Using Disruptive Innovation To Improve Schools) entered my world when a representative from Edmentum recommended to my staff that we read it before going one-to-one.

It’s important I provide some background before reviewing this book.  My workplace, where I teach English, is rolling out a new initiative this August in which every single student will be given a laptop to use both at school and at home.  I’ve been teaching since the year 2000, and I’ve been teaching predominately using traditional textbook methods and using mostly whole group instruction.  One-to-one is an incredibly exciting adventure, and I’m very glad to finally reflect the society in which we live, but I’d be lying if I pretended to have any idea where to start with a classroom fully utilizing laptops.

That’s where Blended has been so incredibly helpful.  This book takes a big picture approach to how to utilize blended learning not only in the classroom, but as a school, as a district, even as a culture.  It offers several different models of technology in the school, and it explains which model is probably best suited to your current situation.  It goes into great detail as to why blended learning is vital to the student, and it especially stressed the importance of most student populations having face-to-face time with teachers.  Any teacher fearful of technology replacing them will feel greatly heartened after reading Blended.  It truly values the importance of professional educators working with children and young adults.

I also appreciated that it explained basic terminology, offered some useful websites to help you get started, and provided several anecdotes in each chapter offering real-world examples to illustrate points being made.

This book proved extremely effective at helping me wrap my head around one-to-one, it taught me several different methods I could employ in my own classroom, and it encouraged a positive attitude about technology in the classroom which will help contribute to a productive culture in my workplace.  Best of all?  It straight out tells you that it will not be an easy process and it will take time to find a comfortable method specific to your school and population, but it also explains how to go into blended learning purposefully and strategically.

Though it gets slightly repetitive near the end, I urge you to read this book if you have any questions about one-to-one or blended learning.  Personally, I would consider Blended required reading for any teacher about to embark upon technology in the classroom.