Before I begin, I should note that I’ve taught high school English since the year 2000. I still teach to this day.
That being said, to my fellow teachers, I hope you are well. We are a routine-oriented lot who thrive on knowing what to expect, so this summer has been particularly difficult in that regard.
Hopefully, by now, you are getting some concrete plans. For instance, within the last few weeks my district has shifted to remote learning for students and then, a bit later, remote teaching for the instructors as well. Needless to say, we all exhaled a collective sigh of relief when that news arrived.
For those of us fortunate enough to be teaching remotely from home, I offer this one piece of advice: be the best you’ve ever been.
There are many ways to interpret that statement, but let me lay some groundwork before I expound upon it.
Everyone is currently stressed to the point of breaking.
School administration is being hit on all sides by the public, the business world, and politicians. They cannot please everyone right now. The phone calls, the emails, the texts, the social media comments–I’m sure it feels like a deluge. It’s hard to be an administrator at the moment.
Parents are also at their wits’ end. Their entire schedule has been thrown off-kilter and they are trying to work while providing childcare for their kids. They realize that they will soon have to also help with school work as best they can. I can easily imagine the pressure of trying to make sure the kids are on the correct Zoom call and checking in for attendance while the parent is also trying to fulfill their work obligations. Furthermore, parents are worried about their kids’ mental health. So many things are forcing their kids out of routine. Sports, music, clubs, youth groups–they are worried about what effect these omissions will have on their child’s well-being. It’s hard to be a parent at the moment.
Members of our community have had their lives disrupted. Even if community members don’t currently have a child in school, as taxpayers, they are still entitled to an opinion and should have the opportunity to voice that opinion. Some members think it’s dangerous for schools to be in session and every precaution should be taken to keep all members of the community safe. Some members believe the virus is not so great a risk that we should deny children all of the benefits that come with attending school such as education, supervision, food, shelter, and other services. It’s hard to be a member of society at the moment.
My point is, teachers, that everyone around you has a vested interest in how this all plays out, and everyone is on edge. Consequently, everyone will be watching you. Your administrators will be watching you. Your students will be watching you. The parents of your students will be watching you. If working from home, your neighborhood will be watching you.
My district has told me since the day I got hired that the teachers in our district are the best of the best. I’m guessing every district says that, but even so, we have to exceed that description. We must surpass even our own professional standards. As teachers, we are accustomed to being in front of students the vast majority of the day with very little downtime. The public is going to expect that same rigor even if we are working from home.
Therefore, teachers, be your best selves. Do not slip out for some time in the pool during the workday. Don’t be seen mowing the lawn during the workday. Don’t go shopping during the workday. Don’t go on vacation during the workday. I would advise you to even stay off social media during the workday. Do not give anyone any reason at all to doubt your professionalism.
Is this fair? Probably not. I know plenty of people in other professions working from home who have no qualms about doing any of those things. But teaching is different. We are judged in ways most other professions are not. There are dozens of reasons as to why this is the case, but the bottom line is that it’s true and we must act accordingly.
It’s correct that everyone’s “best” is going to look a little bit different. Some of it depends on our subject area, some of it depends on our technological prowess, some of it depends on our personality, some of it depends on our living conditions, but the most basic thing we can do is keep up appearances by sticking to our contractual hours and saving chores, errands, and personal desires for after the work day.
Teaching is an incredible responsibility. We are counted upon to guide the nation’s future. Yet, we must do better than we’ve ever done before during these difficult times.
I wish you all good health. I support you. I respect you. I stand with you.
Before I begin, I’d like to state that I truly believe almost all teachers and administrators honestly want the best for their students. I cannot say “every” because I try not to deal in absolutes, but the vast majority of teachers and administrators with whom I’ve worked put the students first.
Educational leaders are in an impossible situation. They know that children need to be in school. It’s not a political responsibility, it’s not an economical responsibility, it’s simply a responsibility to the child’s well-being. Children need to grow socially, intellectually, and emotionally, and school is an exceptional place to do that. School is a place for children to exist independently from their parents or guardians and a place for them to find their own voice. Yet it is also a place filled with structure, routine, boundaries, and–perhaps most importantly–professional guidance.
However, school is impossible without teachers. We all seem to be forgetting that fact. Teachers are, right now, being asked to enter often poorly ventilated, overcrowded classrooms filled with children who are proven to carry the coronavirus. We are literally asking our teachers, many of whom are over forty years old, to risk their lives and the lives of their loved ones.
I often hear the argument that grocery stores and doctors’ offices are open–schools can open, too. I think it’s important to remember that those are usually very well-ventilated environments with strict control over who and who cannot enter. If someone refuses to comply, they literally have a security force they can call upon. We took our child to the doctor the other day. We had to wait in the car until we got a text. Then, when the text came, we entered a side door, spoke to no one, and made our way directly to the patient’s room. We wore masks the entire time, as did the medical staff. It was an incredibly controlled, rigid system. My wife’s eye doctor even had a placard placed in her examination room stating the room is disinfected between patients.
Think back to your days in school. Do you really think children are going to stay six feet apart (even though most agree this will be impossible to accomplish in classrooms due to limited space and teachers). Do you really think schools are going to be able to force students to wear their masks correctly?
I’ve seen some plans where teachers are being told to wear a mask all day, disinfect desks between class periods, eat lunch with the same group of students in the classroom daily, prohibit shared material (like textbooks), stay six feet away from those students in the classroom (which will literally be impossible in many cases), enforce temperature regulation, and direct traffic in the hallways. This is on top of the daily lesson planning, teaching, grading, behavior management, parent contact, and meetings.
Furthermore, some schools are going all in, every student every day, while others are going half in-session and half remote learning. I have a child at the elementary level and then another child at the middle school level. The middle school is essentially going part-time, while the elementary level is going full time. Meanwhile, my place of work (a high school in a different district), is going all in, full time. This is an incredible burden on me both as a parent and as an employee. I’m being asked to leave my middle school child home alone for three days out of the week, find after school care for my elementary school child (which further bursts any already-lackluster bubble), and work full time in my own building. My middle school child is going to be isolated at home for many, many hours, which is dangerous at a physical, emotional, and social level, while my elementary child is unnecessarily being exposed to even more people. As a parent, I find this incredibly stressful.
If your child is next to a child who shows any of the numerous symptoms, your child is quarantined for several days. If your child’s teacher shows any of the symptoms, he or she is quarantined for several days. In some cases, an entire class could be quarantined for several days–perhaps as many as fourteen. This is all true for school buses as well. We are quickly going to run out of teachers, substitute teachers, and drivers. You’re going to be finding someone to watch your child as they keep getting quarantined when kids in their classes show symptoms. It’s going to get very chaotic, very quickly.
Though it’s not the popular solution, the most logical, rational, and safest decision is for all school districts to go 100% remote. Families can continue with whatever summer childcare they have in place, which will keep them within whatever bubble they’ve established. We can all start the school year off with a remote learning procedure in place. As it stands right now, schools meeting in-session will be doing so completely out of any previously proven routine, and will likely have to go remote within four to six weeks anyway. When that happens, many are going to be scrambling for childcare and trying to figure out remote learning anyway. Doesn’t it make more sense just to start off with 100% remote learning when we know it’s coming? Neither choice is easy–I understand that. There will be hardships even with 100% remote learning. This is obviously a case of choosing the lesser of two evils. Personally, I feel ensuring the physical health of our teachers and students must take priority.
As a nation, we have not done our part. As a nation, we’re not wearing masks, we’re not staying home, and we’re not establishing a bubble. People at my grocery store won’t even follow the arrows marked on the floor. We teach our students that behaviors have consequences. Guess what, America? 100% remote learning is the consequence of your behavior. Many have taken the necessary precautions, and it’s awful that those people must suffer the ramifications of those who haven’t been responsible.
Additionally, I fear this is further reinforcing the class divide. I hear more and more of my friends who are upper-middle class or upper class opting to keep their kids home in order to guarantee their safety. They will still have outdoor play dates, Facebook Messenger For Kids calls, trips to the park, and bicycle rides. Those parents, who are likely working remotely due to white collar, well-paying jobs, don’t have to think about it too hard. Meanwhile, lower-middle class families and low-income families don’t have a choice at all. If they don’t physically go to work, they don’t get paid. They literally cannot afford to do what they think is best for their kids–they have no choice in the matter. They will risk their lives, their children’s lives, and their extended families’ lives because they have to. This is the height of inequality.
It will take incredible bravery, morality, and willpower for school administrators to do the right thing and implement 100% remote learning at the start of the year. It will be incredibly hard. They will be ridiculed every step of the way. Many will question them at every opportunity. There will be several challenges, such as food distribution, guaranteeing WiFi, and providing services for those students with unique needs. However, in the long run, it will be what’s best for our children.
As for politicians, I suspect the most powerful of politicians never attended public school nor send their own children to public school, so they should stay out of it and let the experts–teachers and school administrators–work it out. I’m tired of politicians using our children as pawns in their political warfare and you should be, too. I was under the impression that they were here to serve us, but it seems to be just the opposite.
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.
People often ask me how they can get their children interested in reading, which I’m always more than happy to answer. It’s vital we encourage our young people to read. Studies show that reading improves critical thinking skills, vocabulary, comprehension, writing, empathy, and a broader understanding of the world surrounding us. Best of all? Every child wants to be reader. (Granted, some may not know it yet.)
Here are 5 simple steps you can take to entice your reluctant reader. Though I’m not providing citations, I’m basing these steps on fifteen years of teaching experience and my Reading Master’s Degree. These methods have proven effective for me personally, for my own children, and for my students.
1. Read with your child – As a parent, you know that actions speak louder than words. If you want your child to sit and read, I urge you to participate. It’s one thing to tell them to read and then walk away. It’s quite another to carve out time from your own schedule to sit by their side with a book. I’m not saying you have to read to them, though that’s not a bad thing. But when they actually see you believe in reading so strongly that you are also taking the time to do it with them, well, don’t underestimate the power of that action. Get the whole family involved for some bonding time!
2. Let them read what they want – This one will be tough for some parents. Your child will never learn to love reading if you force them to read something they hate. The quickest way to get your child to want to read is to let that child read about whatever it is that they love. I guarantee you that once you’ve established a reading routine with them and they look forward to it, they will be open to your suggestions. But, in the beginning, it has to be about their interests. If they love Pokemon, let them read about Pokemon. If they love volleyball, let them read about volleyball. Fiction, nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels, drama – it doesn’t matter. In my eyes, nothing bad has ever happened by letting a child read. (Of course, use common sense. I’m not suggesting you allow your children to read vulgar material.)
3. Take them to the library – The library is one of the single most important facilities in your community. Not only will they have virtually any book your child may be interested in reading, but your child will be able to check out as many books as they wish. Grabbing armfuls of books can be a euphoric experience, trust me. Furthermore, allow your child to take advantage of the available up-to-date movies, music, and video games. Maybe the kids will be a little more excited to go to the library if you promise them a movie and game as well. Furthermore, your library will probably have all kinds of events in which your child could participate. Personally, I love that it’s all free.
4. Spoil them a little – When I was a kid, comic books were available at my local grocery store. When my parents shopped, they’d drop me off at the newsstand and would always buy me two or three comics a week. Though that amount totaled less than three dollars, it meant the world to me. I looked so forward to those trips. We all love to get a little something now and again. If financially able, take a monthly trip to your local book store and spoil your child with a book. Trust me, it’s a wise investment, and I know your child will count the days until that next trip.
5. Connect it to TV and movies – You know how people always say the book is better than the movie? They say that because it’s true. Since the advent of movies, books have provided their source material. If your child is interested in a new movie coming out that’s based on a book, offer to get the book for them to read before the movie’s release. Then, after experiencing both, have them tell you about the similarities and differences. I’m in no way suggesting a quiz or test (that will send them running away quicker than anything), but conduct a conversation. Chances are, the child will love showing off what they know, and you’ll enjoy witnessing their critical thinking and comprehension skills.
There are dozens of more possibilities to entice your child to read, but these are a few that I personally believe in quite strongly. I hope they are helpful to you!
I have the privilege of teaching a reading class primarily aimed at seniors in high school. It is by and large a free-choice reading class, meaning students choose to read whatever they desire. If a student doesn’t like a book, they are welcome to put it down and pick up a different one.
Some of the students come in excited with a long list of what they hope to get through during the semester. Other students are not so excited to read, and those are the students I most enjoy. I love those students in particular because I get the honor of helping them to rediscover their love of reading. It all comes down to finding the right kind of book for them. Once they discover their niche, they are off to the races. I’ve had so many tell me that they like to read again because of the class, and I tell you what, you haven’t experienced joy until you’ve heard a student say that to you.
Listed below are books that always prove to be winners with my reluctant readers. I’ve tried to divide them up by very general genres, and I’ve included a very simple summary. Though this is but a small sample of literally hundreds I could recommend, I hope one of these will win over the reluctant reader in your life!
YOUNG ADULT LITERATURE
Monster – Written from his perspective, Steve is a sixteen-year-old on trial for the murder of a drugstore owner. He says he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and had nothing to do with the killing. The prosecution refers to him as a “monster,” and the book features Steve struggling to deal with the awful stress of an uncertain future.
Eleanor & Park– Perhaps the most authentic book I’ve ever read about high school romance, this book is funny and heartwarming while still retaining an edge. It perfectly captures the very adult emotions teenagers experience while still having to abide by their parents’ rules. Best of all? It never veers into the dreaded world of “sappy.”
Touching Spirit Bear – Cole, a juvenile delinquent, accepts an offer to follow a Native American practice and live isolated on a deserted island rather than face jail time. Angry, unreasonable, and bitter, Cole respects nothing until he chances upon the Spirit Bear, a legendary creature that will inspire Cole to change after a violent encounter.
Tears Of a Tiger – When a high school superstar dies in a drunken car accident, his best friend Andy, who drove the vehicle, must deal with the guilt of the horrible tragedy. It has one of the most shocking endings students will ever read.
The Fault In Our Stars – Though this book deals with very serious subject matter — teenage cancer — John Green somehow blends great humor into his characters. In order to deal with terminal cancer, the teens make fun of it and riff on it to no end. A romance ensues, but beware, there can be no happy ending with terminal illness. Fast, funny, and thought-provoking, this one is always in demand.
Crank – A brutal book depicting the depravities of meth addiction, this is the story of Kristina, a good girl who becomes addicted and develops a split personality to handle the awful things she does for meth. This book is graphic and pulls no punches, so be aware.
Batman: Year One – This gritty book depicts Batman during his first year as a crime fighter. He is raw, inexperienced, and at his most vulnerable. Fans will love the moody art, quick dialogue, and grim characterization.
American Born Chinese – This book blends Chinese Mythology into a young boy’s life as he must deal with racism we rarely take into account. Insightful with great swatches of humor, this one very much will make a student look at life a little differently.
Wolverine – Students love this graphic novel because it finally provides Wolverine’s origin story. They will be shocked to learn Logan’s life is far different, and longer, than anyone expected!
Kingdom Come – Set in the near future, this beautifully painted graphic novel deals with older classic heroes like Batman and Superman coming to terms with new, violent, immoral crime fighters. Poignant in today’s world, this story delves deeply into the problem of how far one should go to save people from themselves.
The Dark Knight Returns – This graphic novel changed the entire industry. It imagines a retired Bruce Wayne in his sixties who decides to put on the cape and cowl again. However, he is not nearly as fast, agile, or reflexive, and so he must learn to become a whole new Batman if he expects to survive. Dark, violent, and generally unsettling, this story illustrates a side of Batman never before seen.
All-Star Superman – This book will delight even the most casual of Superman fans. Grant Morrison has taken the best Superman stories since 1938, put a modern twist on them, and connected them into one linear, cohesive story. The art is exquisite, and this Superman is charismatic, fun, and a true hero.
World War Z – Written as nonfiction, this book will make you forget it’s all make-believe. Delivered as a series of eye-witness accounts, field reports, and interviews, you will begin to think this book really happened and get more and more unsettled with each page.
Gone Girl – If you’ve seen the movie, the huge surprise is already ruined, but this book is fantastic because it keeps you guessing and virtually none of the characters have any redeeming qualities. It’s a little bit of a thriller, a little bit of a mystery, and it will keep a student riveted throughout. Be aware, however, it is written for adults.
The Gunslinger – Part one of Stephen King’s epic series, Roland is a cowboy with a six-shooter forged from Excalibur who must make his way to the Dark Tower in order to restore order to reality. As the series goes on, it weaves its way into other Stephen King books, and at one point Stephen King becomes a character himself! This series is amazing because once reluctant readers get into it, the enormous size of the books don’t bother them at all!
The Martian – Set in the near future, Mark Watney is left behind after a manned mission to Mars. Much of the book is from Watney’s perspective, and it’s fascinating to watch him run though the math and mechanics to keep himself alive on an inhospitable planet. Though the book is very heavily rooted in science, Watney’s sense of humor as he’s describing it makes it very entertaining to read. This is definitely a feel good book and a must-read.
American Gods – This novel imagines the gods of the old world covertly battling the gods of the new. While it can be something of a crash course in world mythology, at its core the book is about Shadow, and ex-convict trying to find peace with his past, his present, and also his future. Lovers of the fantasy genre will adore the scope and nuance of this masterfully written work.
The Time Traveler’s Wife – Don’t let the title fool you, this is the absolute best time travel story that I’ve ever read. The author goes to great lengths to make sure everything is connected, logical, and executed well. The main character is genetically predisposed to lose his place in time, and in doing so, meets his wife as a little girl. But then a question arises … does he condition her to one day be his wife, or, when she meets the young adult version of him for the first time, does she condition him to be her husband? The complexities of cause and effect mixed with potent emotional moments between man and wife make for a wonderfully written, highly engaging read.