WVCTE Excellence in Teaching Award

WVCTE believes teachers do the most important work anywhere. And in West Virginia, we want to honor you.

Applications are now open for the WVCTE Excellence in Teaching Award. Celebrate your work!

Share with colleagues and consider applying.

Our mentor Bob Dandoy, WVCTE’s Obi-Wan, retired educator and affiliate leader for the PA Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts (PCTELA), former Region 2 Representative for NCTE’s Standing Committee on Affiliates and now Butler City, PA Council member, once said teachers should toot their own horns and celebrate their education and achievements. Bob is a teacher’s teacher, and he firmly believes in the expertise of educators. And he believes that expertise should be shared and celebrated.

And I agree. There are so many incredible teachers I work with/have worked with who are deserving of praise and recognition for making the impossible possible with their students.

Just this week I received an email from our school’s Family and Consumer Sciences teacher, who runs a professional-scale cafe with our students during the school day, and her enthusiasm is infectious. “Working with yeast is my jam!” she exclaimed when describing this week’s menu. These are the things that remind me how special teachers are and the talent and joy they bring to our young people.

I’m betting you know a teacher like this. I’d say there’s a good chance you are a teacher like this—one whose enthusiasm, expertise, dedication, and commitment to students and learning is infectious.

If this sounds like you or someone you know, let’s celebrate this important work.

Applications are now open for the WVCTE Excellence in Teaching Award. We have had a tremendous pool of nominees and finalists these past two years, and have awarded two extraordinary West Virginia teachers: Tia Miller of Chapmanville Regional High School, and Andrew Carroll of Elkins High School the WVCTE Excellence in Teaching Award.

Winners receive $100.00 and a pretty sweet engraved glass apple and are recognized at our annual awards luncheon at our state conference WVELA, co-sponsored by NWP@WVU.

Applications are simple. All you need to submit is an updated CV, a 2-page teaching philosophy, and 2 letters of reference. GO HERE to share this opportunity with colleagues or to submit your application.

WVCTE believes teachers do the most important work anywhere. And in West Virginia, we want to honor you.

Applications are due by Monday, March 2. Finalists will be notified by Monday, March 16, and the winner will be announced at the awards luncheon at WVELA20.

Celebrate your work! Share with colleagues and consider applying. Do what Bob Dandoy says…toot your own horn and celebrate the work you do with students each and every day.

On Getting Better: Teacher-Friend Resolutions for a New Year

Four resolutions to revolutionize and rejuvenate your teaching.

By Adrin Fisher

January is a natural time for Americans to reevaluate our lives.  We all know the mantra: New Year, New You!  Many of us make New Year’s resolutions. The most popular revolve around health and appearance: to eat healthier, to exercise more, to lose weight. We all want to get better.

However, according to a January 1, 2019 article on Inc.com, while 60% of us make a resolution, only 8% achieve it.

So, why bother making those resolutions in the first place?

Well, for one thing, you’re not dead yet. One day you will be (Memento mori), and then it will be too late to improve or to change or to finish that bucket list. But TODAY it’s not too late!

I’d like to offer my suggestions for you—a busy, harried teacher. Some days, you’re on top of the world: all your students are cooperative, engaged, and really learning. Other days, your plans go sideways and you spend whole periods putting out fires and holding on by your fingernails. I’ve been there. Many times. And in that spirit, here are my 2019 Resolutions for you (and me), teacher-friend.

INVEST IN SELF-CARE

ivy 2019
My new ivy looks so festive!

  • Accept that it will all get done eventually. It’s ok not to work through your lunch. It’s ok not to spend your entire weekend or break grading papers or planning. Teaching is like laundry. There’s always more to do, so set limits and stick to them.
  • Do things for you. Polish your nails. Go to the gym. Take a walk. Tree bathe. Schedule a movie date with your mom or your kids. Watch garbage TV.
  • Upgrade your environment. Buy a new plant. Take some time to straighten up your desk and throw away dead pens. Light a lovely candle while you’re working at home.
READ
  • Reading is not optional. Right after my first son was born, I thought, This is it. I must be a good mom-teacher-wife-friend so I have to give up somethingReading has to go. Bad plan. Not taking time to read SOMETHING of my choice every day left me feeling unmoored and unbalanced. Read to live.
  • Don’t just read for school. Read books or poems or articles you might want to use in your classes—sure! But read MORE for joy.
  • Read because you expect your students to, and good teachers can do everything they expect of their kids. Reading new things—hard things—reminds us of the struggle of working through text we don’t like; and this struggle is something our students face every day—even in our class. Read to empathize.

 

christmas books 2019
Turns out, my husband’s warnings about a “book-heavy” Christmas season were correct…

KEEP LEARNING
  • Reflect on your practice. Being a reflective practitioner is a key part of teaching well. Think about your strengths as a teacher, but—more importantly—think about your weaknesses. Try keeping a journal or—something more my speed—quickly jotting ideas for improvement on your planning calendars.
  • Attend a conference or professional meeting. There’s something about being in front of an excited presenter that just gets the teaching-blood flowing.
  • Read a professional book or follow a professional blog or podcast. Even better, do it with a friend. Talk about your classrooms and what you can realistically put into practice. Remember, no matter your accolades, you can always get better.
CHECK THE ATTITUDE
  • Be a #MondayTeacher. #MondayTeacher is a term coined by motivational speaker Danny Brassell and adopted by my husband to describe teachers who are invested, not just working for the weekend or summer break. Don’t just mark time. Be the teacher who’s lively and excited and engaged, who strives to make every day a personal best!
  • Surround yourself with positivity. Someone at the lunch table bringing you down? Skip lunch for a day. Always near the hecklers at Faculty Senate? Try a new seat. It’s a lot easier to manage your attitude and expectations when you’re with like-minded folks.
  • Remember, teaching is your job, not your life. Writer Anne Lamott reminds us not to be crushed by demands for perfection. In Bird by Bird, Lamott encourages writers to just write, to just get that first draft done one page at a time. Later, there will be time for improvements. Even though we live in an Instagram world, real life is messy.  As my great-Aunt Frances used to say, “And that’s ok, too.”

Now, if you’re like me, you might want to wait for THAT DAY to begin your resolutions.  You’ve already missed January 1. Does that mean you have to wait a year? Of course not!  Lunar New Year (celebrated by over 1.5 billion people worldwide) happens on February 5, 2019.

Or, you can be like my cousin Patrick, who recently wrote, “I don’t really believe in New Year’s Resolutions because we are free to make changes to ourselves whenever we want to.”  Yes, we are truly free to improve ourselves any day–every day. No matter when you choose to begin, as indie-rocker Frank Turner says, “We can get better, because we’re not dead yet.”

So go forth, teacher-friends, and resolve to get better!

 

WVCTE wants you to contribute to the conversation. What resolutions do you have for the new year? How do you plan to get better?  Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!

Adrin Fisher is a contributing blogger for WVCTE. When she’s not answering pointed questions about in-text citations, helping students relate to the ever-angsty Hamlet, or conferencing with budding writers, you can find her whipping up a batch of Turkish Delight, tree bathing, or pounding through a good novel. You can follow her on Twitter @fisheradrin

The Dash Hunt: Injecting Variety into Writing

Born from a pile of generally well-written but boring essays, The Dash Hunt is a fun way to remind students about sentence variety and to promote the development of voice. 

By Adrin Fisher

A typical high school student struggles with several aspects of writing.  Some students are still fighting through the basics:  punctuation, fragments, and agreement.  Others have graduated to more advanced issues like parallelism, sentence variety, and voice.

A typical high school teacher struggles as well.  I struggle with chaining myself to my dining room table in the hopes that *this time* I won’t get bogged down in twenty minutes’ hard labor over each of the seventy essays I collected yesterday.  Maybe *this time* I can do what veteran teachers have been advising me to do for the last two decades:  narrow the field and resist correcting every spelling error and every comma splice, and refuse to write all those helpful questions encouraging development.  Fingers crossed!

Another struggle—perhaps one more easily solved—is the glum feeling that students already know the things I want to teach them.  There’s so little novelty by the time they’re in high school.  They were introduced to sentence types in first grade and metaphors in second, after all.  When I find a way to access some mostly-forgotten piece of information, I am totally game.  Turns out, students are, too.

Let The Dash Hunt Begin!

Born from a pile of generally well-written but boring essays, The Dash Hunt is a fun way to remind students about sentence variety and to promote the development of voice.    

 

  • First, find a few pieces of mentor text that incorporate the dash.  The first time I did The Dash Hunt, I used local newspapers.  Last week, I used the Up Front magazine that I had on hand.  I tell the kids, “If a writer for the Associated Press or the New York Times is doing it, you can, too.”
  • Next, do a two-minute review with the class.  Hyphens are short and they CONNECT words. Dashes are long and they SEPARATE words.  If you’re feeling fancy, discuss en vs. em dashes.
  • Next, pass out your mentor texts.  The hunt begins!  Instruct students to scan the text, highlighting or otherwise noting the sentences that use dashes.  They should stop to analyze the purpose of each dash.
  • Then, as a whole group, discuss the purposes they discovered.  You’ll be amazed at how right your students are!  Wrap up with any nuances they’ve missed.
  • Finally, set those young writers loose to incorporate dashes into their drafts or final copies or a journal or whatever bit of writing is handy.

The-Dash-Hunt-1291633910-1541812095770.jpg
The discoveries one class made during their Dash Hunt.  Photo by Adrin Fisher

My Dash Hunt strategy can be modified to cover any grammar issue you’re working on.  Why not an Indirect Object Hunt?  What about a Synecdoche Hunt?  Create a hunt for any “move” a writer makes.  And then—most importantly—have the kids use it.

The dash can do so much—change the tone of a sentence, replace other punctuation, or elaborate on a topic—and, since it’s not usually emphasized by teachers, it’s fresh to students and to you, helping you all struggle just a little bit less.

One thing’s for sure.  That giant pile of essays seems a little less daunting when I can look forward to reading seventy unique and varied voices.  Happy Hunting!

 

WVCTE wants you to contribute to the conversation. Try this strategy out and let us know how it worked!  What ways have you found to inject novelty or develop voice in your students’ writing?  Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!

Adrin Fisher is a contributing blogger for WVCTE. When she’s not managing lively discussions, developing teaching strategies, or conferencing with budding writers, you can find her talking video games with her kids, walking through the woods, or pounding through a good novel. You can follow her on Twitter @fisheradrin

 

On Being Best: Teacher Competition and the Tabula Rasa

By Adrin Fisher

So, I’ve been thinking about claiming credit.

It seems to me that teachers have a tendency to claim credit when things go well, but to disavow all knowledge when things go sideways.  I saw this at my first high school job.  Teachers sat at lunch and complained about all the knowledge gaps/bad habits/mistakes those darn middle school teachers had created in OUR students.  Then I became a middle school teacher, and guess what?  The middle school teachers blamed the elementary teachers with the same vehemence.  Nobody is really doing their job.  Nobody can teach quite like we can—or quite like I can.

Last week, the parent of one of my former 10th graders told me her daughter’s ACT Reading score.  It’s pretty fantastic.  “It was all me!” I said with a laugh. “I take total credit for teaching her everything she knows!”

Of course, I was kidding.

How could I possibly take credit for this student’s achievement?  She’s been in advanced classes for years.  For years, teachers have been pouring their lives into her.  Her family has a high expectation of achievement.  Her friends are honors students.  Her home life, heredity, nurture, and nature—plus the fundamental good luck required in standardized testing (got sleep, felt healthy, ate protein)—all conspired to make the ACT seem like a cake walk.

Who should really claim the credit?

We teachers have been conditioned to believe that we go it alone—to believe that a student’s achievement is our success.  After all, we set learning goals and analyze data points and measure mastery.  We teach testing tips and we are diligent, checking off the standards as we attack them purposefully.  And things can get really competitive.  Who did that kid have last year?  Oh, that explains everything, we say, and we shake our heads.

But this spirit of teacher-competition has a dark side.  It’s where we push back against anyone who doesn’t adopt our preferred program or protocol.  It’s where we point fingers at teachers down the hall or in the previous building rather than celebrate students for what they can do—and who they are.

Teachers are not the sole arbiters of learning.  Students are not blank slates.

Cairn with acorn
    A student’s life is built on experiences, both in and out of the classroom. [Photo: Adrin Fisher]
 

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I am not trying to take anything away from our labor, the very many hours we plan, correct, and prepare outside our contract, the way we facilitate and direct learning all day long.  I like to think I had something to do with my former student’s ACT score.  I’m proud that she worked hard in my class and I’m confident that I reinforced a lot of skills and taught her a few new ones.  But when it all comes down, it’s her claim and her success.

I’m reminding us—I’m reminding me—that our profession gains when we work together, when we share the credit.  Obviously, we teachers pour our lives into our students.  Obviously, we are not the only ones who do.

Let us not waste our energy competing with one another, teacher-friends.

Let us not focus on making ourselves look good, but rather on helping our students look great.

Let us focus on being the best for the world, rather than trying to be the best in the world. 

 

WVCTE wants you to contribute to the conversation.  How can you be the best for the world? What advice can you offer your colleagues? Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!

Adrin Fisher is a contributing blogger for WVCTE. When she’s not managing lively discussions, modeling assignments or conferencing with budding writers, you can find her talking video games with her kids, walking through the woods, or whipping up a batch of chocolate chip scones. You can follow her on Twitter @fisheradrin