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.

National Boards Completed

This year I undertook the massive task of completing my National Boards, and I set two goals for myself. First, I wanted to complete the process and send off my box. Second, I wanted to complete the test as soon after submitting my box as possible.

I know, I know. My goals essentially were about completing the National Boards process and I did. However, this was no small feat for me since I have (no joke) 12 other outside-of-my-basic-teaching-assignment duties (coaching, bargaining, etc.) in addition to the National Boards attempt.

What ended up happening is that I planned out the process and completed all of the submissions in January, February, and March–not how I would recommend completing the process–and took the test in early April.

I feel good about the test. Four of the questions were much like what I give my students, and the other two covered ELL and struggling learner issues, which I haven’t had to deal with very often. so I hope I answered those well enough. I did review for those, and that definitely helped me.

Overall, I did not feel like the National Boards process forced me to change my teaching–I hope this is a good sign of what I had been doing–but it did cause me to be a bit more reflective on how I approach lesson planning, student interactions, and recording data. I feel like I’ve always done well in these areas, but the National Boards process made me sit down and detail the “why” of my decision-making.

  • Why do I get to know my students?
  • Why do I structure my lessons into small segments of individual, small group, and large group approaches?
  • Why do I record who responds to questions, in what way, and with what frequency?
  • Why do I keep so many records of student progress and social behavior?

These questions had to be answered in detail and had to be connected to my knowledge of my students.

Maybe the key here is that education is moving more towards extra record-keeping, more detailed data sheets indicating how much I know about my students. In the past I would have my evaluator pick a student, and I would explain the student’s strengths and weaknesses in reading and writing. Now I have to provide printed or written data showing the same thing, often in the form of assessment results rather than the more informal means of the past. My word is not enough; proof has to be provided. The National Boards process mirrors this change in education.

Wish me luck this November when the scores come out. The last couple of years the scores came out right after Thanksgiving, so I’m hoping that I’ll have one more reason to give thanks.


My favorite quotes from the NEA-RA:

  • “Those who think they are too smart for politics are often ruled by those who are dumber.” (Caucus guest speaker)
  • “In our efforts to leave no child behind, we may have accidentally left all of the teachers behind.” (Teacher of the Year, Rebecca Mieliwocki)
  • “put laid-off educators back to work” to best improve the economy (Paul Krugman)