My Declaration of Independence

Things I have learned by living on my own.

This year, I struck out on my own. I am now living in an apartment for the first time in my life. Having never rented an apartment, the experiences I have had this year have been terrifying and empowering simultaneously.

The photos to follow show an apartment that needs some loving. I hope to get permission to do some work on it, but for now, I have to live with what I have. I love this place.

I can put stuff together.

A friend gave me the dining set in the first picture. I summoned the courage to put it together. It took three hours or so, but it was finally built, and now it still sits in this spot in my kitchen. (My kitchen… that still sounds weird to me.)

Although you cannot see it, the bed frame that supports my bed is one I had to build. It took a while, but when it was done, I was very proud of myself.

When the TV stand came, courtesy of another friend, I was certain that when I put it together, the TV was a “goner.” However, it’s still standing, and I am grateful for that. I was quite nervous.

Next to the TV stand in the third picture is the DSL modem. When it arrived, I had to figure out how to install it. Finally, I had to call Verizon to help, and it turned out the issues I was having were not my fault. I celebrated! The technician came out, made a few changes at the network interface, and I was connected. (As an aside, I use Sling TV instead of cable, and I love it.)

When the lawn mower in the fourth picture arrived, I was dismayed to find I had to put it together. I envisioned cutting my hand off with the blade. However, it was assembled in half an hour, and off I went to cut the lawn.

Finally, just yesterday, I installed the apartment-dweller’s screen door in the last picture. Since I cannot install a proper screen door, I decided to put up this magnetic screen door. That took about 15 minutes, and now there is the potential for a cross breeze in this odd place I call home that will not allow buggies to enter. (Please ignore the towels hanging in the background. The door to the deck leads directly into my laundry area.)

I don’t have to live with torn screens… or much else.

When I first opened the windows in my apartment, I noticed the screens needed repair. Well, instead of waiting for someone to repair them, I purchased the replacement screens, as shown in this picture. They are working well.

The screens represent one of the first decisions I made to not simply live with something I found unpleasant because I thought I wasn’t worth the expense. Since then, I have made frugal yet practical decisions to improve my living conditions. I am worth it.

Putting an air conditioner in the window isn’t as scary as I thought.

Last week, there was a heat wave. I was forced to put the air conditioner in the window. I was afraid it was going to fall out of the window, onto the porch roof below, and do some serious damage, but it didn’t. So far, it’s still in place. Gorilla tape has become my best friend. Yes, it looks a little odd framed in black tape. I don’t care. I will have to paint the woodwork and use Goof Off to get the adhesive off, but I don’t care about that either. I will do that.

You may be wondering: “Are those clothespins holding up the curtains?” Yes, indeed they are. As part of my attempt to conquer the heat wave, I went to Walmart and purchased curtain rods that were the wrong size, along with other items. Well, I can use them in the loft, since the windows are smaller, but I did not want to spend more money on curtain rods. So I took the clothespins I use for laundry and hung the room darkening curtains I purchased.

Yesterday, the heat wave had passed, and I wanted to pull back the curtains. So, I took 3M hooks and shower curtain rings I had on hand to create makeshift “pullbacks” for the curtains. For right now, they will do.


Each time I figure something out, I send a photo to my family and caption it with “In today’s episode of #makedo…” I have been trying to use things I already have, or that are not that expensive. So, the picture of the curtains came with the following caption:

In today’s episode of #makedo, what do you do when you don’t want to spend more money on curtain rods, don’t want to climb on a chair again, and want light to come in on a nice day? You use shower curtain rings and 3M hooks you have on standby as makeshift pullbacks.

It’s been fun to figure things out and send photos with #makedo captions. I think the family likes them. My mother says I am channeling my grandmother. Grandmom, thank you.

Doing laundry is an act of affirmation and empowerment.

When I first moved into my little apartment, I went to the laundromat for the first time in my life. I liked it there, but realized I could spend my time wisely if I invested in a washer and dryer. The expense was (and still is) out of the question, so I purchased a portable washer instead.

My favorite appliance is my portable washer.

The washer arrived while I was visiting my mother, so we drove back from her house to get it from the neighbor’s front porch and into the apartment. Since then, I have done at least one load of laundry daily.

It’s an act of empowerment. It reaffirms my independence. I won’t go into why, so please just believe me.

Using the washer required a few adjustments. I purchased a short garden hose to hook up to the spigot in this room, and an attachment to keep that from leaking. That is because the hose that came with it does not fit the spigot, which is common. Additionally, I have to drain into a bucket, which then goes into the sink in the kitchen. That isn’t a big deal either. Each time I lift the bucket, I fill my vessel with positive, empowering energy. For an hour, I’m not thinking about much aside from doing the laundry. It’s like laundry yoga.

I also had to learn about using the right amount of detergent. This portable washer requires much less detergent than a regular washer. If I use too much, I have to clean out the suds, and that is not fun.

Oh, and if you have never tried cleaning vinegar, I highly recommend it. It softens the laundry, and no, your laundry does not smell like vinegar.

The spinner on this washer does a brilliant job. The laundry is practically dry when it comes out of the spinner. I hang items on the drying rack in the kitchen using the clothespins mentioned earlier. When I launder the sheets, I have taken to hanging them outside. I have never hung laundry outside before. It’s a pleasant experience.

As this home evolves, it reflects upon my emergence from a dark place.

The progression from a place to live, to a safe place in which I am happy, reflects on my development as a human being who wants to not only live, but thrive. When I moved into this apartment, I was in a self-imposed darkness, a cave I had found and crawled into. I wanted the world to leave me alone. I was afraid of everything, especially finding myself destitute and homeless.

A friend said to me that I should – and eventually would – realize that time in my life was not only an ending, but a beginning. Intellectually, I understood that. Emotionally and psychologically, it took time. As the seasons changed, I learned how to live in the moment; be good to those who want me around; be grateful for my family, friends, and guides; and to let the past guide me toward a better future, not to cling to it to further my self-imposed and well-cultivated misery.

What I have done to make this place a home is my declaration of independence.

Happy Independence Day to the United States of America.

Let’s Unhide the Hidden Curriculum

According to The Glossary of Education Reform, the hidden curriculum “consists of the unspoken or implicit academic, social, and cultural messages that are communicated to students while they are in school.” This year, the hidden curriculum isn’t so hidden, which is for the best, because the focus on the academic, social, and cultural challenges facing all stakeholders in education can be helpful. The absence of the hidden curriculum, or the inability to implement aspects of it, has shown how important it is, for better or worse.

What Does That Mean?

This year especially, I have been wondering about why education needs to be so mysterious. Indeed, some mystery has been taken out of learning from when I was a child and teachers didn’t tell us WHY we were learning something. It was awful, spending years wondering why I needed to know anything math-related when all I wanted to do was be a history professor. When would I use math with that?

Aside: If I had known then that I would end up working as an administrative assistant for a couple of years before transitioning into training, and would need to use Excel daily for all sorts of tasks, I might have been more inclined to try harder in math class. You see, the dream of becoming a history professor needed to go on the shelf for a while. Perhaps when I retire from teaching English I will work on that goal.

The point is, we did not get to hear the teacher expound upon the value of anything we were learning unless it was a higher-level class. For example, in “Philology and Linguistics,” Dr. Phillips would lecture about the beauty of investigating the history of the English language, and the development of language within human beings. Those classes were inspiring; each student left class in a deep intellectual fog. It was great, Dead Poets Society great.

I could use a few lectures from John Keating this year.

In other classes, we needed to infer that for ourselves. We did not even know that we needed to infer, frankly. Here’s a book. Read it. Love it. Learn it. Regurgitate its contents for the test. Move on.

Today, we teachers do talk about the importance of our subject area, and we definitely teach the importance of inference and implication. I will not speak for anyone else when I say I need to go further and have been trying to go further, but I don’t think I’ve done enough. I’m not John Keating or Dr. Phillips… yet.

Why Am I Not Like Dr. Phillips?

Time. I never have enough time. “Philology and Linguistics” was an elective, so he had all the time in the world to show us how important the ideas of the course were. There was no standardized test at the end. His teacher evaluation was not contingent upon test scores. (Dr. Phillips was a teacher god, so it did not matter what he did. He was just that good.)

Today, I am beholden to those dumb tests and to standards. While standards-based grading is great in theory, in reality it doesn’t work with all the other demands on teachers.

I also find myself in grade hell. I wish I could get rid of grades altogether and let students build portfolios of their progress instead. For the record, grades are poor motivation to learn anything except how to play the game of school. During this time, cheating has become more prevalent than ever, simply because grades mean more than learning and kids don’t have time to wonder. They are too busy trying to survive a terrible time.

What Aspects of the Hidden Curriculum Need to be Unhidden?

How about all of them? Why not just tell the kids everything? I promise you, they can handle it. They probably crave that information, to be honest.

Do you think students would be more engaged with the content if I said something like this to them at the beginning of the unit?

“We are going to work on a novel for the following reasons. First, to explore its themes, syntax, diction, [insert important elements here], but also to practice critical thinking skills and time management skills. With certain activities, I am stressing the importance of being prepared for class, too, because you’ll need to be prepared for activities for the rest of your life if you want to have a prosperous future. I am going to ask you to take risks while we work on this novel, during which you might even fail. Why? Well, failures are learning opportunities. If we spend our lives afraid of making mistakes, our growth is stunted. If we take risks and make mistakes, we learn and grow. Finally, we are practicing our collaborative and cooperative skills with activities related to this novel. It’s not all about the content, it’s also about the connections you can make from the study of the content to how to manage your life.”

What I should be saying to the kids.

Academic Skills

In the hidden curriculum, the messages sent to students about academic skills and priorities are embedded in what is taught and how it is taught. Another important consideration is what isn’t taught, but that is a subject for another post.

Teachers let their students know what they value through their teaching. For example, if assignments demand a certain level of self-responsibility and independent thinking, we are sending the message that we value the release of responsibility to students and their development of critical thinking and problem solving skills. We may not actually express that (although I don’t understand why not), but it’s true, nonetheless.

This school year, those of us fortunate enough to teach in tech-ready schools have been teaching many technology skills our students need to do well in school (and life) right now. I’m not sure how many teachers are explicitly making those connections for the students, therefore these skills could be part of the hidden curriculum. So many teachers are learning them while also teaching their established curriculum in a strange context. The technology training has been so light, but, again, that’s a subject for another rant…er, post.

That said, here are several examples.

  • We stress digital citizenship as students practice discussion posts.
  • We practice different time management techniques using calendar software.
  • The LMS itself reinforces navigation and search skills that apply to most complex sites these days.
  • Collaboration software, like digital whiteboards and shared documents, help students hone those digital cooperative skills that will lead to success in later years.

When we tell the kids what’s going on, take the mystery out of it, it’s my contention we serve them better. During this crisis, they need that information to re-engage with school, to understand its purpose during a time in which more practical matters seem more important.

Socialization Skills

In the classroom-before-COVID, socialization skills were embedded in lessons, too. Teachers and students enjoyed the time together, working through problems, collaborating in small groups, doing think-pair-share activities, building word walls together, acting out scenes from Shakespeare, figuring out science labs with a partner, and yes – having that time before the second bell to talk.

Then, COVID-19 came along and many of us went home. Those of us who remained had to keep six feet apart and face in the same direction. Masks obscured facial expressions. Until we got used to the masks, it was difficult to understand people when they talked.

Some teachers experimented with breakout rooms online as a way to develop the rapport that group work used to support. For a little while, that worked in my room. However, it stopped working as more students went into isolation mode, and then we went to a fully-remote model during which breakout rooms just did not seem to work anymore. That was my experience; I’m sure other teachers have found great success. I want to figure out how to build that rapport again while students and I share a virtual classroom, not a physical one. I have ideas.

Many reports have indicated students’ overall socialization skills have degraded or not developed sufficiently this school year. Some children have even regressed in their toileting and have gone back to diapers. More children are spending too much time in bed, not showering or changing their clothes for days. Due to despair, suicide rates have increased, as have reports of domestic and drug abuse.

Some students’ eating habits and exercise habits have changed. They are eating more convenience food and leading more sedentary lifestyles. Obesity rates among young people are up as a result. It’s not their fault. There’s nowhere to go. There’s no recess. Gym class is modified for the COVID-19 era. Athletics is limited. Even being able to walk from class to class daily has ended for most.

We can, and should, address all aspects of the hidden curriculum related to these issues. We could reimagine the curriculum to explicitly address socialization and mental health issues in the time of COVID. Perhaps our content needs to change. Here are some ideas.

  • Our gym classes have been modified to include walking at least 5,000 steps a day. I love this; it’s brilliant. We need more of that.
  • A teacher I met recently, who teaches French, has emphasized getting out of the house and exercising by taking videos of herself on a rail trail and in other places. She explains what she sees and what she is thinking about, in French, at least once a week. She invites the students to explore the same space and to think about what she said during the video. They can even play the video and listen to the audio while they walk, if they have the proper technology.
  • Make virtual breakout rooms work with more explicit directions about how to be successful. Encourage them to take risks, like turning on their microphone and webcam. Many students are still hesitant about doing that. However, turning on the webcam may help get the kids out of bed and into the shower before school each day.
  • Provide students more opportunities to complete assignments using paper and pen/pencil, to get their eyes off the screen for a while. Let them be creative, use colored pencils (or pens, or watercolors), doodle, and receive the credit they deserve for thinking critically and creatively about something.
  • Let students wonder and consider by providing longer-term assignments that afford them more time and the chance to practice time management, like creating a schedule for those assignments.
  • Use software like FlipGrid so students can record themselves tackling the content. This particular idea terrifies me because I would hate it and I think many of my students would as well, but I just mentioned risk-taking, so here it is.

Other Issues


Attendance has been a concern throughout this pandemic. Often, it’s not the child’s fault. Instead, poor attendance can be blamed on various factors, including poor technological resources, the need to help support the family by helping younger siblings or by getting a job, illness within the family that requires the child’s attention, mental health crises, and the list goes on from there. Our need for physical and emotional security will always supercede other pursuits.

That said, there are students who have completely “checked out.” Every year, teachers deal with senioritis, but this year, senioritis has extended across most grade levels. Some are frustrated by remote learning, and those tales are heartbreaking. They give up. Others find learning from home too distracting. Those who have worked from home can relate. I learned recently that there are students who sign in and go back to sleep. It’s too comfortable at home, no matter what guidance we provide about how to set up for remote learning.

Participation Concerns

Following on attendance is the concern about participation in the remote classroom. Those students who sign in and go back to sleep are not participating, obviously. There are others, though, who aren’t participating even though they are present and awake. In the distant past, we chuckled about the black hole into which our classes have fallen at times, or how it’s like a seance, but it became a serious concern shortly after that. In in-person classrooms, we can reach more students through proximity. I’m still wondering how we can do that in the remote classroom in a more effective manner.

Do you have other ideas? I would love to hear from you.

Thank you for reading this post.


Feeling Capable, Competent, and Valuable

Usually, my blog posts address educational topics immediately. This post will be different. Just as we teachers have found our personal and professional lives blended out of necessity while we teach from home, my blog post today will address something personal and tie it to my professional context. By sharing my experience, I hope to help other teachers who may also be struggling to feel capable, competent, and valuable.

Today, I learned about the cognitive triangle, a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) concept that I wish I had known about half a lifetime ago. A person’s thoughts spark certain feelings, leading to certain behaviors. Around the triangle we go, sometimes going back and forth a while, over and over, for better or worse. Habitual ways of regarding ourselves form this way.

That said, however, learning about this theory has revealed my psychological and emotional mindset to be malleable, not set in stone. I don’t have to feel the way I do about myself. It’s a habit to consider myself the way I do, one formed as I traveled along the sides of the triangle, fearing to leave the path. Now, I know I can practice something different, but it needs to be deliberate practice, intentional practice.

It’s Been Like This for Too Long

Frankly, I am tired of perceiving myself as a problem child who needs to be tolerated. There may be people who are surprised to read that, but most folks who know me would say, “No surprise there.” The moment I make a mistake, I crawl back into a figurative hole into which I have dumped every negative thought I’ve ever had about myself. It’s pretty crowded in there. I’d like to close it forever and walk away with my head held high.

I’ve tried my best. That should be enough.

My triangle usually includes thoughts about being a problem, incapable, incompetent, and of little value, which lead to feelings of deep and utter sadness, confusion, and hopelessness, which culminate in behaviors that include tears, the tell-tale hunch into a semi-fetal position, and self-isolation. It’s exhausting, and has been for many, many years.

I’m tired. I’m also ready to be happy. Time to build a new triangle, a better triangle, a more productive triangle.

Could You Use a New Cognitive Triangle?

It’s hard to change, and during this health crisis, trying something new is harder than ever before. Everything seems to take longer, including self-care. Therefore, something as simple to remember as the cognitive triangle might help those changes become permanent.

It all starts with thoughts, with changing the thoughts that lead to terrible feelings that culminate in negative behaviors. Change the thoughts and different feelings emerge. Just like taking a deep breath when reaching a summit, filling the lungs with clean air, changing thoughts and feelings forces the shoulders back, and raises the head to face the horizon, both observable behaviors that reflect the intangible.

Image from Pixabay

Perhaps, if you have read this far, you could use a new cognitive triangle too. Perhaps you realize you deserve clean air and to view the horizon.

As I said before using different words, there are no quick fixes. How do we eventually succeed in having a positive view of ourselves? Step-by-step, moment-by-moment, and day-by-day, I imagine. Having a positive view of myself is something new to me; it’s actually frightening. Hudson Therapy, in White Plains, NY, explains the challenge ahead very well.

It is not until we bring light to this process and begin to interrupt the cycle that any change occurs. This is where a lot of work in therapy is focused. The change doesn’t happen easily, rather it is hard. Our brains become accustomed to the way we have always done things, and it takes a lot of active and consistent work over a long period of time to disrupt this cycle and instill more healthy ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving.

Hudson Therapy

A New Cognitive Triangle for Everyone!

When I took the time to decide how I wanted to perceive myself (as capable, competent, and valuable), I compared that to how I actually see myself. The negative thoughts had a deflating effect, like letting air out of an air mattress. To truly devise a new paradigm for self-reflection, those negative descriptors need to be pushed aside rather forcefully. One way to keep them at bay is to make manifest the positive thoughts, on paper, on one’s lock screen, etc.

A New Lock Screen?

This is something we can teach others to do. We aren’t psychologists, but this concept is not difficult to share with others and we aren’t engaging in therapy, just sharing a tool they can use. As a literature and creative writing teacher, it is a tool I can embed in character analysis with no problem at all.

For example, this week in AP® Lit, we start King Lear. There is a treasure-trove of psychological issues in that play, starting with the first scene. Lear thinks his daughter, Cordelia, is diminishing his worth by not giving a grand speech about her love for him. He feels angry because he thinks his favorite daughter has betrayed him. He acts by disowning her. A good question for the students: How does that compare to what you might think about Cordelia’s response?

In Creative Writing I, we have been working on creating a character we can use in a short story. We can make the character believable using the cognitive triangle. If the character thinks “x,” then what would the emotional response (“y”) be? How would that translate to behavior (“z”)? Figure that out and create a believable character.

In English 10, we are reading Ethan Frome, and Ethan and Zeena are both psychologically wounded, but Zeena – a hypochondriac – is easier to figure out with the cognitive triangle method. Zeena thinks she is sick, she feels sick, and she tries to find cures for her various “illnesses.” Ethan’s report to the narrator about her decline makes it obvious that Zeena is more depressed than ill, and everyone living through this current health crisis knows that depression can manifest itself physically. The pain is real, but its origin is not in physical decline, but in the mental struggle. A good question for the students: Can we apply Zeena’s cognitive triangle to how some people feel today?

Finally, in English 11, we are reading All Quiet on the Western Front. This is a story about German soldiers in World War I, many of whom died or became part of the Lost Generation, suffering from what we now know as PTSD. My goodness – again, there are many connections among thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to explore. A good question for the students: Can you trace the progression of the cognitive triangle through the narrator’s characterization?

The need for SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) is legitimate. This is one way I can incorporate SEL into my lessons. If you teach in a different content area, what thoughts do you have about incorporating the cognitive triangle into your curriculum?

Thank you for reading.

“How do I teach now?” – Lessons from the Classroom after an Insurrection

On January 6, 2021, I was working with a student during office hours when my husband came into the dining room to tell me that people had stormed the U.S. Capitol. My mouth dropped open. My student’s mouth dropped open. After my husband apologized for interrupting the meeting, he went back downstairs to his office to watch the incident unfold live. Once my schoolday was finished, I joined him. I missed about an hour of what was happening, but I have since watched many videos that frighten me sufficiently.

Later that evening, I checked Facebook. A fellow teacher had posted, “How do we teach now?”

The responses indicated the resilience and commitment of teachers across this country. Lesson plan after lesson plan was posted by hundreds of teachers. Each focused on truthful and/or positive aspects of this country; none had a focus on violence or rebellion. I chose to do the following with two of my classes.

AP® Lit: “America” by Claude McKay

Thank you, Poetry Foundation

In AP® Literature and Composition, the plan was to write an essay on a sonnet “For That He Looked Not Upon Her,” by George Gascoigne. With what happened the day before, on 1/7, the plan changed to feature Claude McKay’s sonnet, “America.”

I explained to the students: “Yesterday, something happened in the U.S. Capitol that rocked me to the core. We were going to work with a sonnet written by a contemporary of Shakespeare, but now we are going to use a sonnet written about America. Any objections?”

Hearing none, we proceeded.

I chose this poem to illustrate the complicated and complex feelings that many have about this country, this “cultured hell.” It gave me a chance to talk about the Harlem Renaissance, too, and how the artists, musicians, and writers of that movement demonstrated to everyone that Americans are resilient, beautiful, brilliant, and determined.

The turn of the sonnet describes how the speaker assures the reader that although the nation has fed him “bread of bitterness,” sunk “her tiger’s tooth” into his neck, and overwhelmed him with her power, he is not afraid. He stands up to her “cultured hell” as a rebel would face a king. The turn shows us that the speaker is a persistent individual with foresight, one who knows truth.

The last four lines, however, were those I hoped the students would pick up on. My interpretation: If we continue – as a country – along the path we are on, we are in big trouble. The sonnet was written almost 100 years ago, but the message resonates today: We must be vigilant, protect the American Experiment, strive toward improvement of life for all, and not be fearful of those who would prefer the United States fail, even those within our borders.

The students’ responses blew me away. I’m so proud.

Creative Writing: Langston and Martin Luther King, Jr.

In Creative Writing, I developed a final project for which students create a story from a poem. As a sample, I created a draft using “Harlem,” by Langston Hughes as its foundation. A line from this poem provided the title for the play A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, which I had been working on with another English class. Therefore, the poem was on my mind. We had just finished reading “I Have a Dream” in that other class, so it just seemed natural to me to have Langston pay MLK a visit in August, 1963, before the March on Washington.

On 1/7, I introduced the students to their final project. I presented my draft to them and read a bit of it. This time, I did not tell the students that 1/6 rocked me to the core. Instead, I focused on the Civil Rights Movement and, again, the Harlem Renaissance. Several of the poems I provided for the students to pick from were from diverse voices, too, and the students have gravitated toward them, especially “Perhaps the World Ends Here,” by Joy Harjo, our nation’s first Native American Poet Laureate.

My message: Our nation is beautiful. Our nation is resilient. Our citizens are brilliant. We will overcome challenges to the American Experiment.

I look forward to seeing what they come up with.

Other Classes

I have a few other classes, and they wanted to talk about 1/6. I did my best to explain how I, as a citizen and an American, had thought I was witnessing the end of our country while I watched “priceless treasures” manhandled and listened to chants threatening the lives of long-time public servants. Until such time as the Capitol was cleared and secured, I worried that Congress would be overrun. I was mourning those who had died in the insurrection, also.

They were somber conversations, but also truly focused on the feelings we have about 1/6 as Americans. Forget partisanship, put aside differences of opinion, and think about how close we came to not having a country anymore.

My Secret Hope

Well, it won’t be much of a secret when this is published, but my secret hope is that these future leaders will reaffirm their commitment to a nation once a beacon of hope and a leader among those who espoused or aspired to democracy. There needs to be, just as every sonnet needs a turn, a turn toward something brighter and beautiful. We need a Renaissance.

Will my “kids” lead us there?

Practical Considerations, Part II: Scheduling for the 2020-2021 School Year

The Traditional 7, 8, or 9-Period Schedule Might Not Work This Year

I’m still curious as to how many people like the bike monologues and would like me to keep them going. It’s actually helped me to make my thoughts more precise and, frankly, less angry. This has been a trying time for us all.

Eliminate Some Transitions with a Different Schedule

In this article by Melissa Kelly, we learn that the 4×4 schedule typically splits up the school year into contained semesters of 4 classes, with those classes that are typically a semester long only lasting one marking period. Therefore, most electives would only last one marking period. However, each period would be twice as long as it normal is (90 minutes instead of 45, for example). There are pros and cons with this schedule as there are with any schedule. For one thing, everyone has more time to focus on fewer subjects, but there are fewer days to work on the content of a particular course, which means that the typical yearlong course needs to be revised for the compressed timeframe.

The focus of this post: With this schedule, there would be fewer transitions. If we are doing in-person learning, having fewer transitions could help make things feel less chaotic for teachers, staff, and students. The extra time in class would help us to get settled safely while also affording us meaningful and productive time to learn together.

In my bike monologue, I mentioned one issue: Standardized testing typically takes place in the spring. In my locale, our high school exams include Algebra I (9th grade), Biology (10th grade), and English Literature (10th grade). So, my recommendation is have students preparing for those exams to take the relevant course in the fall and then take an enrichment course in the spring, which would be worth whatever a typical elective is worth. A schedule might look like this.

1English 10English 10English EnrichmentComputer Science I
2BiologyBiologyScience EnrichmentCreative Writing I
3GeometryGeometryU.S. History IU.S. History I
4HealthHealthSpanish 2Spanish 2
It’s just an idea…

There could be a zero-hour class as well, for students who are in technical courses, band, or other tracks. No, I’m not saying that is when they would take those courses. Perhaps a teacher or two would volunteer to have a zero-hour class to accommodate those students and teach one of the core courses at that time. It worked well in some high schools in my area.

Facilitate Social Distancing with This Schedule

We might be able to facilitate social distancing a bit more if we have one cohort attending a class one semester and the other joining the second. If the students are going to test in the spring (sigh), then an enrichment course could start in MP 2. The schedule might look like this.

1Computer Science IEnglish EnrichmentEnglish 10English 10
2Creative Writing IScience EnrichmentBiologyBiology
3GeometryGeometryU.S. History IU.S. History I
4HealthHealthSpanish 2Spanish 2
It’s just an idea…

What Would an Enrichment Course Look Like? That’s a Question I Will Tackle Tomorrow.

Thank you for reading!

Practical Considerations for Returning to In-Person Learning

Has Anyone Thought about the “Bio Break”?

There isn’t going to be a bike monologue to go with this post. Since I’m curious, I am asking readers: Do you actually like the bike monologues or should I skip them?

In today’s post, I pose a practical question that has been on my mind ever since we as a nation started talking about returning to in-person learning. Has anyone considered that human beings need to use the bathroom? Not just to wash our hands, but to attend to biological needs? As a teacher in her late 40s, I can tell you this is a serious concern! (I don’t mean to be crude or too personal.) This question leads me to other questions. Bear with me.

Since it does not appear that this concern has been considered, I’m wondering how many other holes there are in the process. Project managers who review the the plans are probably wincing right now as they think about how human resources are being stretched, or over-allocated, as I believe it is called in Microsoft Project. In that software, you perform resource leveling and often find that your resources are overbooked – whether those resources are human or physical. We teachers are in desperate need to have someone perform resource leveling in the in-person scenario.

Consider This Scenario: The Transition

This is based on the scenario I know best, which is at the high-school level. It might not be similar to those that others are facing.

Transition (or travel) time between classes is typically five minutes. Some students are lucky enough to have classes in rooms close to each other, and those students arrive within a minute or so after the bell. Others have to walk across the school, so they might even be a minute or two late. While the students are traveling, teachers are supposed to accomplish the following things.

  • Clean all the desks used by the last group. If we are using the social distancing measures I think we will be using, that will be about 15 desks. What cleaning looks like is unknown to me at this time. Is it just wiping them down? Is it wiping with a disinfecting wipe, allowing it to dry, then wiping with water and drying that off? That is the proper way, from what I have been taught. Who knows?
  • Transition from one lesson plan to another. Bring up whatever bell ringers are planned for the day. I currently have five preps, so I have multiple bell ringers to plan for, although I think that I’m just going to use the same one for each group at this point. I do not plan to use handouts at all, so this would be an electronic thing. Perhaps I just have a PowerPoint (shudder) that covers all the classes and forward the last slide to the next to show the bell-ringer?
  • Archive the recording from the previous class, because we are going to have online students as well as in-person students during the same period. There is a benefit to this, too, in that students will not need to come to me if they are absent and ask what they missed. They can watch the recording.

Has anyone considered that students often walk into class, drop their books, and ask to use the bathroom within 30 seconds of arrival? With social distancing measures in place, will this be allowed now? Are we going to be able to track these students? Do we teachers have to do the tracking?

Has anyone considered that students often need to talk to their teacher upon arrival? How are we supposed to build rapport with our students this way?

Has anyone considered that there WILL be people in the building who consider this a joke? If my eyes are focused on cleaning properly, uploading video, transitioning to the next lesson, etc., and someone starts clowning around – am I responsible? How is that fair? How are we expecting kids to not be…well…kids?

Can all this be done in five minutes? My question to administration is: Well, have you tried? Have you done a role play? I am thinking all this cannot be done during a normal transition. If we make transition longer, though, how do we manage students in the hallway?

Some parents would be willing to have their child care for their own desk. Most would not. Personally, I think it fair to ask the child who used the desk to clean it, and that it is also fair to allow the next child to clean the desk again before sitting down, if requested. We will be out of disinfecting wipes before week three is over, however. How do we sort those students willing to clean and those who are not? Where do those unwilling to clean go while they wait for their desk to be ready for them? How do we maintain distancing this way?

I can see the parents’ point of view, also. Why should the child be responsible for sanitizing or cleaning? What if they don’t do it properly and someone gets sick? Will the students be trained to clean properly? Will the teachers? These are actual questions that I hope administrators are considering.

As a teacher, I’m terrified that I won’t clean things properly in my rush to clean everything before the next group comes in. I’m terrified someone will get sick on my watch.

Once everyone is settled, how much time will actually be left to teach and learn? Oh, don’t forget attendance! Don’t forget to start the next broadcast! We can’t keep the online observers waiting. Don’t forget to get attendance for those on the broadcast too!

Other Considerations

We need to prep students for their statewide exams, too, while we are trying to get used to this. How are we going to be successful? When do we really start our courses of study? If we return to school later than usual, how much time have we lost with our students?

Oh, and we should not give too much homework, either, even if we do not have enough time during class. That’s another situation that is left for another time, perhaps because it makes me angry. I had three hours of homework a night, because I was slower than the average bear, especially in math, and I was more interested in literature and history than the average bear. My friends had at least a couple of hours of homework a night. We turned out all right.

Finally, what do we do with the terror we feel? I’m not kidding when I say I’m scared. Other teachers aren’t kidding, either. I am afraid for my students and my family. How do we compartmentalize those feelings? We aren’t robots.

One way to figure out if these ideas are going to work is to actually walk through the process with intention. Find the holes and plug them. For example, districts might find that they have to hire more people to help: paraprofessionals, hallway monitors, and custodians, for example. For teachers to have just one paraprofessional to help would make a huge difference. For the school to have hallway monitors to keep us all safe would make a huge difference, too.

The role play is often revealing. It’s like putting code into a sandbox for stress testing. The bugs that fall out can be addressed, processes changed for better flow, etc. It’s possible that the fear of finding out this is not going to work might be too strong. That could lead to disaster.

Thank you for reading.

Social and Emotional Learning: A Critical Need in the 2020-2021 School Year

Today’s bike monologue video is my second attempt to create the video today. The first time around, I went down a rabbit hole about not intending to assault feminism and defend the literary canon of dead white males. Feel free to contact me if you would like to hear more about that.

Our nation’s body politic has endured a lot of damage recently. It lays upon the ground, bloody and bruised, gasping for air while the angry and disenchanted lean in on it. Bystanders stand by with their smartphones with 512 GB of storage, video recording the scene as they scream at those perpetrating assault upon an innocent. As the videos are posted to Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and YouTube, people express their rage at the perpetrators and everything they represent.

Meanwhile, the body politic is dying.

We Need the Madness to Stop

This is not going to stop right away. What is this? I can only sum it up as a lack of empathy, an inability to communicate effectively, a lack of confidence that translates to lashing out, and selfishness overcoming any sense of our interdependence. This aggregate attitude toward everything and everyone has to go disappear, dissipate like a chemical fog that has been hovering within our line of vision for way too long.

Just like the Portland Dads brought their leaf blowers to the protest to protect the Moms who risked themselves to protect the protesters in that city, teachers can provide students the “leaf blowers” that dissipate that chemical fog in our brains that clouds our ability to see what is happening around us clearly. Social and emotional learning strategies and curricula can help.

Students need support from teachers, parents, and the community to approach our nation’s issues more productively. Teachers cannot make much progress with students who go home to parents and community members who dismiss what they are learning. We cannot work on restorative practices, for example, only to have that student try something they’ve learned while they are home and face opposition instead of cooperation. If we are going to implement social and emotional learning, it needs to have the full support of everyone concerned or it might not work.

Some concepts that SEL supports include:

  • Empathy
  • Empowerment
  • Self-Awareness, Self-Confidence, Self-Discipline, Self-Control, Self-Defense, Self-Respect (Thank you, Hoover Karate Academy, for teaching me these; I will not forget them, nor you.)
  • Respect
  • Relationship Building
  • Decision Making
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Respectful Dialogue
  • Restorative Practices
  • Social Justice
  • Civil Rights
  • Citizenship
  • Digital Citizenship
  • Anti-Racism
  • Anti-Bullying

That is not an all-inclusive list. What we focus on depends on what our students need. This article is a good primer.

We May Need to Sacrifice Content to Support Our Students’ SEL Needs

Teachers don’t want to hear that they need to put aside their beloved content. We English teachers have to do this all the time, so we are used to it. Instead of teaching a novella, teach the college essay. Instead of working with students on a literature research paper, teach them how to write about their chosen career. Instead of fostering a love of poetry, proctor their senior projects. Here comes one more thing, but this time it’s critically important.

Just like COVID-19 is a life-or-death situation, so it is that the lack of social and emotional skills among many in this population is creating life-or-death situations on an almost daily basis. Which is more important? Every teacher knows the answer to that question.

Please Watch My Monologue

I don’t normally ask this, but today I am going to. I would love it if you would watch the monologue I created today. It’s not perfect; I will get better. But today my passion comes through. I got a little emotional, and it is hard to convey that passion through text.

Thank you for reading.

The Featured Image of this post is an example of the great work of Gabriella Clare Marino, who posted this photo on

Alternative Assignments and Assessments during the COVID-19 Crisis and Beyond…

Bike Monologue 2 – July 22, 2020

The first four miles of today’s bike ride was devoted to discussing alternative assignments and assessments; helping students learn how to question themselves, each other, and the world around them; and some flowery comments about how we can protect our nation’s precious First Amendment.

If you don’t want to watch the video, see the following paragraphs for the highlights.

We Need Alternative Assignments and Assessments Now and in the Future

I said before that if necessity is the mother of invention, then it is going to reinvent the nature of assignments and the notion of assessment during this crisis because we need, desperately, to redefine what good assignments are and what good assessment is. I mentioned in the video that cheating is already a big problem, but with virtual learning it can become more common (if that is possible). Therefore, we need to eliminate the opportunities to cheat as much as possible.

Yesterday’s post delineated the suggestions I am posing. They included portfolios, projects, essays, design-your-own products, research papers, seminar development, and quiz design. I discussed them briefly in today’s monologue, but veered off onto another topic: the importance of questions.

Help Students Learn How to Ask Good and Great Questions

Think back to high school. Did you learn more about how to find “the answers” or did you learn more about how to ask the right questions of the text in front of you? It was a mix for me, but I learned more about questioning from rigorous electives like “Contemporary World Conflicts,” in which we wrote our hands off every day, than I did in U.S. History II, in which we took Scantron test after Scantron test. In English class, we spent most of our time finding answers in the text or copying the answer down that our teacher gave us. Research papers afforded us the opportunity to expand our thinking, but they were assigned once a year. In the late ‘80s, education looked dramatically different from what it does now.

In the core courses, there were few discussions, no Socratic seminars, little differentiation, no personalized learning… You get the picture, I’m sure. Today, these teaching techniques are used regularly to help students deconstruct what they knew, integrate new knowledge, and build a new knowledge base. Constructivist principles are more prevalent today, for which I am thankful.

We need to spend more time helping students learn how to ask good questions, and the techniques mentioned above DO help. Yes, it takes longer to “grade” the work product that results, or the “grade” might be more subjective than the results of a multiple choice and short answer test, but that forces me to question what the purpose of education is. Is it data collection or student development? Data collection is important, but student development is more important.

Help Students Have Difficult, Yet Constructive, Conversations

When students are able to create good questions, they can engage in conversations with others that might become difficult but can remain constructive. We need to be able to do this today, in this polarized, politicized, environment, or we will continue to see videos of Karens who have lost their grip on reality. We will continue to see protests devolve into something decidedly NOT peaceful. We will see more Federal officers descend on cities to “maintain law and order.”

We will see this happen because people cannot control themselves.

They cannot control themselves because they do not have the confidence and the tools to support their position.

They cannot engage in nondestructive confrontations because they do not have the confidence and tools to be restorative.

When people have the tools: questioning expertise, restorative practices principles, deescalation techniques, and confidence girded by deep thought about their values, then we will no longer need “officials” to manage our behavior. We can manage it ourselves. We can protect our First Amendment rights.

Teachers can help students learn how to protect their First Amendment rights and the First Amendment itself. Teach them how to ask good questions and have constructive conversations. Teach them to check their impulses to lash out at those who disagree with them and instead engage in peaceful dialogue. Teachers can partner with other adults in this effort too: parents and other older family members, clergy, community leaders, and behavioral health professionals.

Necessity is the mother of invention. We NEED help.

This Is Why I Teach Literature

Image Credit: Posted by Michelle Argo Parker, an AP® Literature teacher in Minneapolis

One of Mrs. Parker’s students created this peaceful protest message using apropos quotes from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. This is why I, and thousands of my colleagues, teach literature. As Mrs. Parker noted in her post: “He gets it.” We study literature to understand the human condition. It’s not all about the key concepts we are supposed to teach so that students understand literature better; it’s about the understanding. For more information on the six facets of understanding, as proposed by Wiggins and McTighe, check out this article.

Words Matter.

If you want to know how one lunatic managed to take over an entire country with his words, which were eventually backed up with military might, in the 1930s, take a look at tweets and hours upon hours of video showing history repeating itself. In recent months, Mr. Trump has been tweeting things like “Liberate Minnesota!” He’s also called for liberating other states which just happen to have Democratic governors. He held rallies where he riled up his followers, calling the press the “enemy of the people” and “human scum.” He called the protestors “thugs.” He hasn’t denounced the police officers who murdered George Floyd. He hasn’t called for their arrest either. Top law-enforcement officer? I think not.

Yesterday, he topped all this off by sending in a huge law enforcement presence, complete with tear gas and rubber bullets, to disperse peaceful protesters from a park, so he could walk through it to do a photo-op at a church while holding a Bible. A picture is worth 1,000 words, they say. Here’s one that I think tells the tale well. Granted, it’s the words in the picture that also matter, but it’s still a picture.

Here’s another one of a very unfortunate headline from The New York Times. Do better, NYT; you totally missed the point.

Then, this morning, I read that Representative Matt Gaetz posted a tweet that Twitter found to be glorifying violence.

New York Times

On the same day, Trump gave a speech in the Rose Garden in which he said:

I am mobilizing all available federal resources, civilian and military, to stop the rioting and looting to end the destruction and arson and to protect the rights of law abiding Americans, including your second amendment rights.

From; emphasis is mine.

Coincidence? Hunt down people with our second-amendment-guaranteed weapons? Again, I think not. That, dear reader, was a ‘dog whistle’ if ever I heard one. Someone is going to get killed and it will all be traced back to these messages coming from these people. Hopefully, that will be today and not twenty years from now.

Words Matter.

During World War II, John Steinbeck wrote a propaganda piece called The Moon Is Down at the behest of the U.S. Government. It was meant to support those under Nazi occupation. It was so important to people that it was copied and distributed in Norway to bolster the morale of the Norwegian people in World War II. Steinbeck was awarded the King Haakon IV Freedom Cross for his work. The book was also distributed in numerous other territories occupied by the Nazis. Churchill was quite enthusiastic about the book as well. I highly recommend it. It isn’t the greatest piece of literature, but one of the more important.

Free men cannot start a war, but once it is started, they can fight on in defeat. Herd men, followers of a leader, cannot do that, and so it is always the herd men who win battles and the free men who win wars.


Take that and choke on it, those who think that we should just take their word for it.

Words Matter.

We literature teachers look for the messages writers send in their works. Sometimes, we’re right and sometimes we are imposing our own reality on theirs, but that doesn’t mean we are necessarily wrong. When Charlotte Bronte wrote about many of the students in Jane Eyre’s school dying of typhus, was she not recalling her childhood and making a comment about the poor treatment of indigent children? When Toni Morrison wrote about Pilate’s complete capitulation to the police while in the station trying to retrieve her property, what message was she sending about the lengths that African Americans have to go to get any cooperation at all? What about Charles Dickens? Surely he was sending many messages about social disparity. And what was Alice Walker trying to say when Celie let loose on Mr. ___ and his son? That was a classic scene of a woman standing up for herself. My final example refers you to the first picture I posted. It will be the first novel we read in AP® Lit this year. Those are a few examples that come to my mind as I write this.

Somewhere, there is a writer crafting the first COVID-19 novel that touches poignantly on all the problems we have today: systemic racism, high unemployment, cuts to essential services to bolster “industry,” class disparity – and the list that goes on and on while one’s heart breaks. I can’t wait to read it.

3 Ways Crisis Teaching Is Different and Just as (More?) Difficult as “Regular” Teaching (Whatever That Is)

This post could have been entitled “5 ways…” or “10 ways…” or maybe even “100 ways,” but the power of three is strong. It craves concision. It requires streamlined thought. It also makes it more difficult to write, but that’s a different post. Before diving into the big three, I have a message for anyone who reads this blog.

If you think teachers aren’t working, boy are you wrong.

There have been reports in the teaching community that parents and community members have questioned why teachers were getting paid during the shut down period, and they are even questioning why teachers are getting paid now that most of us have returned to the classroom, albeit the virtual one. It’s not just my community questioning it; communities nationwide have heard these questions and school boards nationwide have had to respond to them. It stymies the imagination, really, especially if you have any experience with working from home (more on that in a minute).

The facts are simple: Teachers who found themselves at home and not actively working with students did not take a vacation. Well, perhaps for a day so they could figure out how life was going to work with a full house every day. Shortly after that, however, teachers did what teachers do. They picked up their curriculum and started building an online classroom as they hoped that school would reopen. They called each other to discuss strategies and tools they could use to work with students in an entirely new way. They attended professional development webinars hastily created to help teachers transition. They joined Facebook groups of fellow teachers to share ideas, post “I miss my kids” posts, and get and give encouragement to each other. Personally, my AP Lit syllabus (a 40-plus page bear) is 90% complete now, and my summer reading materials (a 60-plus page bear) is complete. I created enrichment activities and a calendar that I shared with my students. I sent out ideas for keeping their skills sharp. I also wrote one of the most candid letters I have ever written to non-family members and sent that to my students. I would say that I was still working 50-hours a week while schools were shuttered, a *few* hours less than what I was working before. I wasn’t doing the stand-up aspect of teaching and I missed it, but I was still working as a teacher.

On top of that, of course, teachers needed to deal with family logistics, just like everyone else. In our house, we had to figure out which floor everyone was going to be on and we stressed about our Internet connection supporting a programmer, a teacher, and a college student at the same time. My friends have even more troubles, since they have more children to worry about, or they are suffering from job losses — or both. We are blessed, really, and I am thankful and grateful each day, as well as mindful of those who need help from our governments and each other.

So, how is crisis teaching different? Read on.

(1) Working from home is an acquired skill, and many of us have had to acquire it quickly.

After six years of working from home while my son was young, I have mixed emotions about finding myself working from home again. There was freedom one cannot enjoy while working in an office, to be sure, but working from home is also desperately, terribly lonely. By the time I went back to commuting to work (actually, it was to start student teaching), I was craving human-to-human contact beyond my own family. I wanted face-to-face colleagues again. I wanted face-to-face friends again. I was tired of being on video conference and dealing with Internet connectivity issues. Well, here I am again. And yes, I am desperately, terribly lonely. As much as I love technology and love to hate technology, I would go back to my classroom and remove all the tech there if only I could be with my kids and colleagues again.

(2) Crisis teaching is NOT Online Teaching, nor is it Brick-and-Mortar “put” online

Teaching online is COMPLETELY different from brick-and-mortar teaching. To my colleagues who teach in cyber charters and online campuses, I salute you. My distance/online learning experiences started in 2006 and while getting those degrees I can honestly say I worked harder as a learner than ever. My instructors worked hard to master the skills of asynchronous instruction and the “live lecture” that could go FUBAR at any moment. Most of them came from brick-and-mortar campuses and had mixed emotions about the change. I can’t blame them. It’s difficult and paradigm-shifting.

Teaching during a crisis is even more different. My friends talk about time limits on assignments, the focus on social and emotional learning, and the equity issues. Their hearts are broken for their kids, for their families, and for themselves. They can only imagine what is happening in the lives of these young people who are so important to them. Yes, these issues abound in brick-and-mortar teaching too. Being trauma-informed and culturally-responsive are so very important, no matter how you function as a teacher. In my previous teaching experiences, those issues always trumped learning opportunities, so perhaps I am more prepared than others; it was like flipping a switch.

(3) Our “Spidey Senses” are useless when teaching this way.

Observational skills are critical skills for every teacher to hone and develop. In September, you may not know your kids and be able to read their expressions or body language. By October 1, you can predict how most of them will react to something. Take the visual away and it is like September all over again. In essence, we have to develop those “Spidey Senses” required to read the room when the room is in the ether.

To connect with point number two, then, all the extra stuff that goes into explaining a simple assignment without being able to read the room makes the limitations and SEL considerations feel like tourniquets. Everything takes longer. That probably sounds counter-intuitive for some reason. Let me put it this way. Today, I woke up at 7:00 AM and worked until 2:00 PM. It’s Saturday. However, I had to do that to generate the documents I think will help my students to navigate the virtual learning room before our next conference. My classes no longer meet every day, so the students have to have instructions that can help them get started or continue assignments. I had several emails to respond to about assignments coming in late, too (What do I care about due dates? What’s more important now: your health or my due date? Please, if you do not know the answer to that by now, you haven’t been paying attention.) . Then, of course, there are the emails about professional development opportunities, AP® Exam updates (don’t get me started), and the emails from the education associations.

Tomorrow, I will probably work more, but darn it, I’m going for a bike ride. I will go to sleep tonight wondering if I explained something correctly and will have to resist the urge to rush to my computer. Issues that could have been resolved in a 30-second conversation during class now require multiple emails or LMS messages. Every time I get something wrong, I want to kick myself for wasting their time.

So, yeah, it’s different. It’s way different.

I’m going to do something completely out of character now and publish this without too much proofreading. Why? I have run out of time. Thank you for reading and leave a comment if you like.

Be well. Be safe. Be good to you.