Curriculum and Instruction

My “Where I’m From” Poem

Summer, for me, consists of a lot of consuming: consuming books, consuming coffee, consuming blog posts that other people write (guilty). I always forget how easy it is to consume and then basically have nothing. Why not do some creating?

Some creating, this summer, has been: lesson plans, blog posts, and poetry. Now, it’s very difficult for me to share poetry with people, much less the whole internet.

Every year I teach the “Where I’m From” poem, championed first by George Ella Lyon—the form being copied in classrooms, anthologies, and blogs everywhere. I even wrote one in high school, then college, now as a teacher. Every year I teach this form, and every year I write a new one.

Here’s this year’s:


“I’m From”

 I’m from fried wild mushrooms picked with dad,

earth and fat in one bite.


From gym class in 6th grade when the planes hit the towers—

the sadness of a hundred thousand strangers.


From garden tomatoes

and ice cream Spongebobs from music-box trucks.


I’m from vising my grandparents faithfully, because they are the strongest.


Saturday morning house-cleaning, picking vacuuming so I could sing loud.


From the last 20 tear-stained Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pages signaling the end

of childhood.


From learning how to walk away from the bad

And how to trust God

And feel capable of it all. 


This will keep changing, I’m sure, because that’s what happens when you write anything. It’s pretty difficult to share you deep dark thoughts (in poem form at that) with snarky teenagers. But I keep doing it.

I think I like the I’m From poem because anyone can write it—we are all from something, whether we like it or not. With the kids I teach, some of them don’t like where they’re from. They hate where they’re from. So I don’t ask them to think about their childhoods, but ask them what are some things in front of them right now that impact them. Like cell phones. Whether we like it or not, we’re all from cell phones. Cell phones have shaped our human culture. This could definitely make it into a line somewhere.

It’s also cool to have them counter it with a “Where I’m Going” poem. A great way to end a unit.

Teachers, have you taught the ubiquitous “Where I’m From” poem? What are you favorite strategies/ideas?



OCTELA 2014: Part 1

A couple weekends ago, I had the opportunity to once again go to the OCTELA (Ohio Council of Teachers of English Language Arts–a mouthful!!) conference in Columbus. My decision to go was solidified when I saw that one of my methods block instructors, Tom Romano, was giving a keynote. Dr. Romano was one of the teachers I had that made me understand that I was a writer–even if I had a lot of crappy first drafts.

Dr. Romano asked me to go to an OCTELA conference while I was at Miami University as an Honors Program project. There I was an observer, and I ended up using the conference as a subject for a narrative non-fiction piece. I was participant-observing, which I think produces the most exciting kind of writing.

Yeah, I’m a narrative non-fiction nerd. Jon Krakauer is my jam. Born to Run gave me chills.

Back then, I was a kid. I had little experience to really have a teacher’s point of view. Now, I’m a real teacher–being at this conference was useful to me in a different way. A more pragmatic way. I’ll share those parts, but I also want to share it in a narrative non-fiction way.

Saturday, March 1st

I roll out of bed at 7:12 in the morning after lying there for 45 minutes, on a Saturday, thinking what most teachers do on the weekends: I want to sleep later, but I just can’t.


February slump

I am sitting on a spinning bike anticipating a very rough class. Today was rough in the classroom too: long periods, not a whole lot of inspiration, whiny students, whiny teacher. I am about to start a poetry unit focused on hip hop, which could either fall flat or be successful, depending on quite a few factors. Any tips or inspiration, teachers and language arts enthusiasts? For poetry and/or for beating the tail-end winter blues?


The day my students squealed in delight as they published a blog post

Sometimes I don’t believe I can be as entertaining as a cell phone, but today I did it. 

As my creative writing class published its first blog post, the uproar of joy was pretty ridiculous. I certainly don’t jump off tables when I post. Maybe I should? Eh, I’m just going to guess it’s because they haven’t had school for two days. 


snow days = cooped up kids


My classroom: contained chaos and wonky laboratory

Something you do all the time in student teaching is reflect. It is a daily requirement that you you sit down with your cooperating teacher and formally/informally discuss what went well, and (in my case) what went terribly wrong.

Like that one time I was teaching some Romantic fireside poetry and had no freakin’ idea what was going on. I think I literally said “I have no clue” during the lesson. I still don’t think I know (or care, really).

But anyway. In student teaching you’re a baby. A baby that has to ‘goo’ and ‘gaahh’ and babble through whatever your curriculum might be—-but at least you have an adult there with you, verbally processing it all. Not to mention your supervisor AND your mentor professors. Reflect, reflect, reflect. It helps you not repeat whatever gawd-awful act you put on the teacher stage.

Something difficult (on most days) during these first years of teaching is to methodically reflect. To specifically replay it all, saying “What didn’t work? What did? How can I change that?” Most of the time I’m like, “Dear lord I don’t even want to think about what just happened.” So I don’t. Bad move.


Fail of the day: Playing an NPR story

I am writing this right now because I have little to do because my students are asleep. Well, one has her headphones in, refusing to do anything, but she’s awake.

I played this NPR radio story just ten minutes ago, after I had them do a journal write answering the questions:

“When you speak, do you use “ax” for “ask”? Do you know others who do?

Explain a time you remember saying it or hearing it. What happened?”

I thought this would engage my students and they would have many personal connections! Nope. Not at all. They vaguely knew of the switch. Kudos to me for being presumptuous. I guess I get too excited about linguistics.

Then I played the article ( a 3 MINUTE LONG RADIO STORY) and it was like Ambien. Sadly, I tried to wake them up but defeatedly set the grammar practice we were going to do on their desks. I guess when they wake up, I’m going to have to tell them to get more sleep at night and have fun trying to do the practice on their own as homework. I hate walking the fine line between no nonsense teacher and caring teacher. It’s a nuanced one for sure.

An infusion of technology, and why teachers need to run and do yoga

Things have been pretty cray in room 102 lately. 

In a good way, of course. Except these lovely responses from my most colorful class, my middle schoolers: ImageImage



Never a dull moment. 


Our school recently received a grant that got us interactive whiteboards, so I am anticipating learning to work with a new classroom toy. In the meantime I’ve been reveling in the wonder of using an LCD projector—I am doing a rhetoric unit with my high school students, and I’ve been using Prezi to deliver content (you can look at my presentation for Rhetoric here). We are having some great discussions and the kids are learning how to identify fallacies in their daily lives. Pretty beautiful stuff. Soon they’ll be examining the Declaration of Independence and writing their own declarations from something in their lives. For some reason I get really pumped to teach the Declaration…which is something I would have never believed if I knew that part about me when I was a high schooler.   


Year two of teaching is more difficult and more easy in many ways, but I think the most important thing to calibrate is balance in all areas of life. This goes for everything—housework, church, workout routine, social time, family time*, errands, cooking. For me the easiest to fit in is workout routine. If I feel like I’m letting my body go, then my mind goes right along with it—I need to exercise my body when my brain is being fried all day. Yoga has allowed me to rest all judgements, all the lies I hear and believe, and worries at the mat (in addition to relieving the lower back pain I get from…) 

Running! Oh running, you terrible tease. One day I’m feeling great, knees don’t feel a thing, and the next day I feel like I have arthritis. And my ankle hurts. And my foot does this weird crack thing. And sometimes it doesn’t. And when I’m having a twenty-something running day and not a senior citizen running day, it is truly a blessing. I got to run with coworkers last night and it was wonderful (even though it was about 35 degrees). Our conversations are pretty cathartic, as is the icy air. Also when I run I get lesson plan ideas, so…double whammy.  

Long day at school, heart full. 



*I got to see my mom, dad, sister, and dog this weekend. So rejuvenating. 

The Honeymoon’s Over


The honeymoon period.

All teachers know what I’m talking about. It’s glorious. Students sit obediently in their seats, eager to learn. They write. They ask questions. They play the game of school wonderfully.

My students rarely play the game for long, then the honeymoon’s over. Which doesn’t mean that I totally lose engagement, but I just have to work harder to get their attention. It’s pretty exhausting, meaning that I am also out of my metaphorical teaching honeymoon. New Post-it notes can only get me pumped for so long. I already feel jaded; I’m trying to look at it as “experienced.”

This school year has opened with many ups and downs, but I have a GREAT group of kids this year. Many of them are leaving public schools around the area to attend our school by choice for the small group instruction, not because they have to be there.


Some cool things that are happening this year:

We have a student council! I am one of the advisors, and we had our first meeting today. We’re planning a Homecoming dance, which will be later this month.

I wrote the SLO for my department of one.

We are reading Animal Farm in class. I am so pumped. Dystopian nerds unite!

My students can basically TPCASTT any poem they encounter.

AND they’re doing homework this year! (I think that could be honeymoon too.)

My LCD projector project is up on! Donations are matched up to 20 dollars until October 31st by Kenwood Towne Center, just enter the code MALL20 at checkout!


That’s all, folks. I have to go grade a bunch of papers now. Peace.


The Joys and Sorrows of “Winging It”

I had about a week and a half to move to Cincinnati and start teaching grades 7-12 (and a Creative Writing class) when I snagged my job last August. A week and a half to mentally prepare and get my classroom in order (which was easily a week-long endeavor) and plan curriculum for my classes. I had no time to properly unearth materials from English teachers past (apparently I was the third one in three years), no time to understand the students I am responsible for, and no time to thoroughly lesson plan. Not for six preps. Six! For those of you not in the education sector, the average teacher has 2.5-3 preps. However, I have only a fraction of the students in an average school, so I guess it evens out. Or it’s supposed to even out.