After persistently avoiding a career in public education, Mollie Dickson could no longer deny her calling. Now with a Masters in Teaching from Lewis and Clark College, she’s sharing her experiences during her first years in the classroom. As she says, the challenges are tougher, the hours longer, the relationships stronger, and the rewards far greater than she has imagined. She’s thrilled to be living and breathing her passion every day—making a difference in the lives of kids. She hopes that her stories will offer inspiration and insights into the world of teaching, and invites everyone to engage: “Be honest. Be bold. Listen with a spirit of inquiry. Push the edge. Together, let’s discover a deeper appreciation and understanding of this work—this joy—that we are so invested in improving.”
“All children are born artists. The problem is to remain artist as we grow up.” ~Picasso
Ken Robinson agrees, “We don’t grow into creativity; we grow out of it. Kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll have a go. They’re not frightened of being wrong.” But something happens that shuts down this inherent spark. Robinson claims the classroom is to blame for crushing creativity saying, “We are now running national education where mistakes are the worst things you can make.” Listening to his bold interpretations, I cannot help but nod along with his words. Because yes, a magical quality exists within children—the willingness to try, to step into the unknown, to create from scratch—that allows creativity to thrive, and yet somehow, somewhere, it disappears.
Too many classrooms suck the creative spark out of children—suffocating with standards and structure, judging on numbers and ranking with letters—merely equipping students with the tools necessary to obtain the “correct” answer using minimal time, effort, and resources. While this may be optimal for industry—high accuracy and efficiency—it’s far from preparing students for who they can be: innovative, collaborative, authentic, critical-thinking intellectuals and creators.
But the story doesn’t end here, for the crushing of creativity is not confined to classroom walls. No. It’s contagious and running rampant throughout all levels of education in America. Teachers, administrators, board members, union representatives, educational leaders… we all face that fear of making a mistake, which drives us to choose the shortest, simplest, most familiar, most likely to be “right” route. We do what’s been done before—because it’s safe. (more…)
Last night I had the opportunity to represent first-year teachers on a panel at Lewis and Clark College. I told stories to capture my year of challenges and celebrations; I spoke to what inspires and sustains us in doing this meaningful work; and I shared with them my greatest piece of advice: listen to your students.
7th period yesterday, I told my kids I was going to be talking with a group of aspiring teachers, and because I valued their input, I asked them to jot down two things: one piece of advice they would like to share with a new Language Arts teacher and what they feel is the best thing about our Writer’s Workshop. I collected their words of wisdom, quickly typed them out (not changing a word!), and distributed these to the very grateful MAT students. (more…)
“When I say pencil, you say pushers. Pencil.”
And with 32 voices booming our chant, class begins.
You see, I began last week with an inspirational “pump-up” speech as a way to introduce the upcoming state writing assessment—a weeklong test that is often an exhausting effort with little incentive to perform to one’s potential. Yet the stakes are high, so I needed something to strike their spirit, to beckon their best, to bring this “test” to life, to awaken a purpose beyond a numerical score that’s to be filed away for the school’s statistics. That something leaped out of my mouth Monday morning, unplanned and uninhibited. I looked my students in the eyes, as I described our present circumstance in a language they could grasp: sports. (more…)
Okay, I hit it. That breaking point I keep hearing teachers talk about. The questions—What was I thinking? Am I really going to do this all over again next year? What other options do I have?—streaming on repeat through my mind. Panicked. Desperate for a way out. Because it’s just too much. Too high stress, too little support, too many grades, too long planning, too many classes, too many “shhhs”, and far too few hours to sleep each night. I thought I wouldn’t catch this bug, but here it is: just 5 months in, and I’m ready to run! (more…)
7:00 AM. I unlock my classroom, sit down at my desk, and pull out my stationary. Before checking my email, before sifting through papers, before twisting open the thermos lid to sip my sweet morning caffeine, I write a letter:
I want to let you know that you’ve been on my mind a lot this week.
I cannot describe how refreshing it was to start the new trimester with you in my class. Your passion, independence, strength, and willingness to expose your heart are an inspiration to me, as you model confidence and individuality for your peers. Your smile, energy, and love for writing are contagious… I guess I just want you to know how much your presence brightens my day and keeps me inspired to teach. (more…)
“When bankers train to identify counterfeit money, they study authentic bills. For it is in knowing intimately the genuine, that one is able to identify the false.” ~Deanna Eaton
You shuffle into Algebra just before the bell, slide into your seat, and search for a blank piece of paper for today’s notes. Mr. Matthews wastes not a moment, immediately delving into a complex quadratic equation for you to ponder—gaze upon—as your brain visualizes the process and connects how the given formula leads to z=0.25. (more…)
Last night I returned home after an intense, fun-filled week at Outdoor School. It was a blast! I have about a hundred stories I could go on and on about—campfire skits, lightening storms, mystery meatloaf, catching fish—but there’s one that stands out above the rest, one that I will remember and be sharing for years to come. It is a story that proves ALL kids can and will learn when provided the necessary, high-quality support and ample opportunities for authentic and interactive engagement. It is a story of transformation. A story of possibility.
Meet Christopher: a 6th grade boy, academically disengaged, low confidence, apathetic, defiant, a behavioral disturbance in class, barely getting by with D’s, a difficult home life, and permanently labeled “at-risk”. Chances are, you know a Christopher. And if you’re like me, you’ve expended an enormous amount of energy hoping to tap into his psyche—figure out what stirs his curiosity and ignites his fire—to help him find value in learning so he may benefit from his education. (more…)
Last night I had the privilege of sitting fourth row, wide-eyed and all-ears, soaking in the wisdom, humor, tragedy, and truth of Chris Crutcher’s words. Speaking at Lewis and Clark, to an audience of new and aspiring teachers and counselors, he gripped us with his stories of childhood and what brought him to be a writer, stories of children who have inspired and changed him, stories of grieving, of hope, of impossible challenges, stories of revival and reconciliation. Real stories. Chris Crutcher looked us in the eye and spoke the truth, filling the room with our laughter and tears.
Captivated, I hung on every word. Yes. Yes! The voice in my head continued to shout, confirming the messages he expressed with conviction. Like when he looked around and declared, “We all have secrets. Every kid in your class has a secret. And they’re hiding it from you, from the world; because the last thing they want is for you to see their vulnerability, their fears.” (more…)
8:55 AM: students walk in, grab their Writer’s Workshop binder, settle into their seat, and look up at the board to scan the day’s agenda and learning objectives. At the top, TRY THIS is written in bold, blue letters, welcoming students with a prompt: We all have memorable “firsts”—my first day of 6th grade, my first airplane ride, my first school dance, my first heartbreak, my first puppy, my first big fib, my first crush—make a list of your “firsts”. Feel free to keep it in the form of a list, or if a strong memory is triggered, go with it; follow that energy; tell your story. Without another word of direction, students dive in: pencils gripped tightly, shoulders hunched over, heads leaning forward, some hands moving swiftly across the page, some eyes squinting in deep thought, a chuckle, a smile, scribbling from one line to the next, flipping the page, a nudge then a quick peek at the “first” written by the boy sitting next to him—followed up by the satisfying head bob and “niiiiice”. Enjoying what I see, a community of writers, I pull up a chair and join in. Soon I, along with my students, am swept up in the many fond (and occasional wish-I-could-forget-that-time) memories of “firsts”—and students see that I am a writer too. (more…)
The stack of state-writing-test booklets stare at me from the corner of my desk, flaunting their power. I scowl back.
Picking up the top one to glance over prompts and format, I freeze when my eyes catch the scoring chart: 6 boxes, a numerical judgment of the student’s mastery in each of the six writing traits—ideas, voice, word choice, organization, sentence fluency, and conventions. But wait, what is this in fine print? Voice and word choice do not count?! Conventions are counted twice? No. There has to be some sort of mistake. What exactly are we expecting from our young writers? What message does this send them? No voice… No word choice… Says who? (more…)