Category Archives: Uncategorized

Goals for the Year

As part of our new evaluation system, we have to set student growth and instructional goals (everyone in Washington State does). I’ve been debating what I should do, what my focus should be, and I have chatted with numerous colleagues.


I think I’m going to try and create reading and writing assessments for every novel unit I teach. The standards will be constant throughout the year, but the content will change. I’ll track my students’ progress and provide opportunities for the students to assess their own progress and set individual goals.

Thus, my plan is two-pronged: assessments for every unit and a process for students to track and assess their progress. 

I’m feeling ambitious with this but excited. 🙂

Winter Break as an English Teacher

I hear it often, and you do too. Winter Break (Christmas Break) approaches, and community members begin to envy the two weeks away from school that teachers have and the comments begin.

“It must be nice to have two weeks off.”

“What will you do with all of your free time?”

“Must be nice to get paid and not have to work.”

These comments frustrate me, but I do try and correct the misconception with my responses, which don’t need to explain in detail here; however, I did think a good idea would be to post what my “break” is like as an English teacher.

I time one set of the students’ papers to be due around this time because I have 150 students. Each paper averages about 15 minutes to read, mark, and evaluate, which means I have about 37.5 hours of grading time during the break. This is essentially an unpaid week of work (but, as most of you know, teachers are only paid for contracted days). This is the only time of year when I bring papers home to grade because I like to work the extra hours at the school before coming home in order to keep my work life and home life separate. 

I do take 2-4 days off for family time and decorating the house and such, and then it’s back to work. Some years my wife and I take a short trip outside of family time–we’re partial to Vegas–but this year we couldn’t swing it.

Then, it’s time to prepare for the return on January 2. Usually, I re-read one of the novels I’m teaching and prepare “Big Idea” questions (ideas that allow for full discussions and essays) for each section of the novel.

I typically start going to the school each day beginning on the 27th of December to make copies, clean and re-supply my classroom, update and change the bulletin boards, and post grades. I probably average 2-4 hours per day. 

Also, I like to take January 1 off, and I schedule time to watch my favorite college and pro football games. All in all, of the 17 days of the Winter Break, I usually work 12 of them. 

What type of hours do you keep over the holidays?

The First Day Is Tomorrow

I received a couple e-mails about how I start my classes each year. A few years ago I started with the following activities, which I wrote about in January. It worked like a charm.

On the first day we have lots of comings and goings because of schedule changes, so I start with an easy activity and a game. I have the students take the first ten minutes to write down any questions they have about me or the class on 2″ by 2″ pieces of paper. They can ask anything they want and do not put their names on the slips of paper. I don’t have to answer a question, but it’s rare to get an inappropriate question. The kids drop their slips of paper into my Mariners cap and away we go.

I answer every appropriate question, even if it’s a silly one because this is how we get to know one another. I always hated the list of rules (I don’t have any rules in my classroom–never needed them) and the reading of the syllabus on the first day, and this allows me to answer their questions, making their interests the focus from day one. It’s their class after all.

This takes about 30 minutes, and then I give them some word puzzles to complete in groups for the ever-requested extra credit. It’s only five points, but they think it’s a billion and will do anything for the points. This ends the period.

I’ve found that the more the kids feel they are in control of the first day, the better it goes. I’ve played games, done the traditional first day, started working, and more, but this lesson (above) has worked the best. The class relaxes and they really open up right away.