About Me

I can't think of anything I've wanted more than to be a good teacher. Okay, so maybe in fifth grade I said I wanted to be a zoologist, but somewhere in my teenage years, I set my mind on teaching. The summer before my senior year of high school, I even got a taste of what it would be like to be a real live teacher when I spent five weeks teaching students at risk of repeating and migrant students in the Lancaster City area. It was a rare opportunity for someone my age. I planned and taught lessons, received feedback and observations, and felt the thrill of connecting with students and making a difference.

After that summer my focus was even more sure. I made my college decisions based on the quality schools' education programs and the opportunities I would have for hands on practice while I worked toward my degree. Five years later I graduated from Temple University with a Bachelor's in English and American Studies and a Master's in Education. Because of my great love of reading (also the reason you'll find tons of book reviews here on my blog), becoming a secondary English teacher was a natural subject choice. I completed my student teaching and accepted my first teaching position with the School District of Philadelphia. Like so many of us at the start of our teaching careers, I was young, idealistic, and ready change the world.

And during my first years as a teacher, it all seemed possible. Although I worked at one of the worst performing schools in the district, once known nationally for its violence, the building had been recently rebuilt and as a staff we were building a new school community a grade at a time. I was also blessed to work with a group of like-minded, motivated educators who shared high expectations for staff and students.

This is not to say that things were anywhere near perfect. We struggled to raise student test scores and engage students who came to is with a myriad of problems (hunger, gangs, abuse, pregnancy, negligent parents, etc.). The violence that plagued the old building did not magically disappear. One particularly terrible incident sparked a Pulitzer Prize winning series on school violence in The Philadelphia Inquirer. But as challenges arose, we could count on each other to try to solve them. During that time, I had to contain my excitement as not to skip gleefully from the parking lot into the school building each morning.

However, near the end of those two years, we learned that our school was being handed over to a charter organization. I was lucky enough to be reassigned to a 7-12 all boys school, the only one of its kind in the district, with several of my colleagues. But as this was another poor performing school, soon after the new school year started, we learned the school would be closed at the end of the school year.

I was then reassigned to my third school in four years, this time alone. I forged new relationships with students and staff hoping that I'd finally found a school where I could stay. During that time period, the school district's financial crisis and its impact on my newest school were crushing. In one years time, our staff was reduced by 50% with no significant decline in student enrollment. Previously smaller class sizes of 20-25 maxed out at 33, sometimes more until leveling occurred, and any "extras" were cut: dance, music, drama, counselors, the librarian. Halfway through my third year teaching there, I reached my breaking point when one of my ninth grade students murdered another of my ninth grade students just outside of school. I decided that if I didn't take a step back at that point, I would never be able to return to teaching.

Following my departure from the School District of Philadelphia, I worked briefly in educational publishing and then took a long-term substitute position in the suburbs, but neither felt like a good fit for me. Then just before the summer ended, a friend told me about an open teacher assistant position at the K-8 charter school down the street from my house. I applied and accepted a position as a Response to Intervention (RTI) assistant. Despite the part-time hours, significant pay cut, and my qualms about charter schools not being truly public schools, I found a school where I could begin to be happy again.

The position allowed me to work one-on-one and with small groups of students, designing lessons tailored to their needs and celebrating their successes, the things I loved most about teaching in a classroom of my own. It drew on my years of experience teaching reading interventions (in addition to regular 7-12 English courses) and differentiating for the many levels of learners in my classroom (from high school students unable to read or write to gifted students). The position led to a full-time one this year working in a similar manner with students, but also supporting the ELA teachers at my school as a literacy coach. On a more personal note, I am now able to spend more time with my family and friends, and leave work at work. I have time to read things other than student work and I'm physically and mentally healthier.

I'm telling you the story of my career as an educator so far not to elicit pity or sympathy, or to shock or disparage you. I'm sharing with you my journey as a teacher so that you know teaching is challenging and whatever your struggle is, you are not alone. I hope this blog can be a place of solace for you, a place where you can find easy to implement ideas that will impact teaching and learning in your classroom, book titles to recommend to your reluctant readers, and maybe even a few you'd like to read yourself.

Beyond my blog, I've found a supportive community of secondary English Language Arts teachers in the #2ndaryELA Twitter chat I co-host weekly with Kristy Avis of 2 Peas and a Dog, and in our 2ndaryELA Facebook group. We'd love for you to join either, or even better, both! Our Twitter chat and Facebook group are made up of middle and high school English Language Arts teachers looking to share ideas and best practices. We collaborate, ask questions, and share encouragement. You can read up on past Twitter chats here.

Please don't hesitate to leave a comment on my blog or send me an email. I'd love to hear from you. Happy reading and even happier teaching!