YA Lit: Book Review of Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver

Last Saturday, I wandered into the book aisle in the grocery store, searching for something to keep me preoccupied for the evening as my husband was working overnight—all in an effort to avoid devolving into a Netflix binge. The pickins were slim, (so many Harlequin romance books. Not my thing.) but my eyes fell on Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver. I read the back and right away knew it was something I’d like— with the words ‘death’ and an endorsement from Jay Asher, author of Thirteen Reasons Why, I was sold!

I gave it three stars on Goodreads because it did take me awhile to get into. There are a lot of high school cliches (popular girl in a relationship with insensitive boy, division between the haves and have-nots, annoying but well-meaning parents), but those start to melt into the background once the conflict begins to unfold. True to YA lit form, your heart feels for the loss the characters experience, but seeing the growth in Sam, the protagonist, is well worth it. I think that many of my students would enjoy reading this book, as it explores the question—“if you know you’re going to die, how do you spend your last day? And what happens when it keeps repeating?”

It’s a quick read and definitely worthwhile to highlight effects of bullying, as this is a major theme throughout. And guess what? It’s being made into a movie this year, so read it before you see it!



Being an Introverted Teacher in an Overwhelmingly Extroverted Profession


Collaborative structures.

Team-based learning.

Parent meetings.

Group work.

Are you getting anxious just thinking about these words? I am.

These past few weeks have been very trying on me, to the point where I considered not teaching. Just…stopping. And doing what? I don’t know.


Guest Post on Cult of Pedagogy

Happy Wednesday! Sunday, “A Day in the Life of an Alternative High School Teacher” went up on Cult of Pedagogy, which is one of my favorite teaching blogs/sites. Eight months ago I contacted Jennifer Gonzalez, asking to post and share about the school where I teach. She was so kind to let me write for the site. It is my first guest post, and I can truly say that it was a great experience! I have already heard questions and comments from various educators/education fans–even a former student. The internet is such an interesting place sometimes.

I’d love for you to check out the post and Cult of Pedagogy!




The Road to National Board Certification Part 8: Using Goals to Refocus

Raise your hand if you find yourself wandering through a chaotic, scattered, metaphysical crisis lately! Haha!

We all are. And if you’re not, you’re missing out.

While National Board updates are slow-moving, (I have to take Component 1 potentially in April, and the National Board email fairies haven’t sent whatever Pearson generated (grrr) code I’m supposed to have #stillhateyoupearson) I thought I’d share one way that this certification process is keeping the ball rolling on my year.

As a recovering perfectionist, I swing from bursts of productivity and motivation to ‘I am doing absolutely nothing tonight, even if it makes me stressed out tomorrow.’ Some may call it procrastination. At this point, I tend to have no proper judgment at all. What should I teach?  Let’s just eat cotton candy outside all week because IT’S SPRINGTIME.*

The solution? Enter: GOALS.

National Board is giving me a mechanism to keep it all in perspective.

I am a huge proponent for teachers to set professional goals because ultimately, they will transfer to the classroom. Not every single piece of work you do has to be directly related to what you’re teaching right now, at this moment. It’s why I write this blog and why I decided to go for certification. My goal is to be fully certified by December 2017. It’s lofty, I know. But it helps me put my day-to-day in perspective. I’m not just working at a job, but I’m building a career that will ultimately make me a more effective teacher. Don’t we all have days where we feel like we’re spinning our wheels? National Board has helped me take my teaching and look at it systematically. If I felt like a lesson went poorly, I need to look at my evidence to see if that is really what happened. Sometimes I surprise myself. Sometimes I don’t.

I am continuing to use the Architecture of Teaching model that I’ve got to show evidence for in my student work as part of the Component 2 that I’m currently writing. In the flurry of a day, I usually try to take some time (a few minutes, even) and look at what we did in class. Collect it, observe it, evaluate it. There is something calming about grounding my head in what is there and not what I think is there. Then, I can make adjustments to my goals for my students and for myself.

If you can identify with feeling stagnant at this time of year and want to take a step to overcome it, I highly suggest you consider starting NB certification. About this time last year I was just contemplating it, and now I’m all in. The requirements are that you’ve been teaching for three years and you’re full-time.


(*update: we didn’t eat cotton candy).


Letting Students Give Me Writing Feedback

I would have to say my ‘writing roots’ didn’t really get started until college. I got the writing bug in college, alongside some inspiring teachers-turned-professors who were passionate about helping their students inspire their students. In that environment, writing was democratic—anyone could do it, anyone could teach it, and everyone is a writer. Not all educators have that mentality. I’ve spoken to quite a few who would not call themselves writers, even though they have things to say and stories to tell.

As I bounce along the road of teaching, one concept that stays with me is to repetitively tell my students, “You are writers. You’re writing. That makes you a writer.” It is important for them to see themselves in that way, because the mindset that what they have to say isn’t worth the simple act of writing it down is ridiculous. Recently, I’ve decided that instead of me giving them the feedback, that I would let them give me the feedback. I should have developed a pretty thick skin by now, right?  I thought that I was going to hear, “It’s good. I wouldn’t change it.” That is not what I heard (well, from most of them).


We need books!

My class is reading Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers, next session. It’s a fabulous story, controversial, and connects well to what’s been going on with racist comments about Muslim Americans from certain politicians.

I have a Donors Choose page where you can donate and help us out! If you donate by March 2nd with the code EMPOWER, your donation will be doubled!

Click here to see the Donors Choose Page. 

**UPDATE: The Project is FUNDED!! Less than a day. You guys rock.


The Road to National Board Certification Part 7: 11 Ways to Talk Yourself Out of the Dark Place

What is it about February that makes us deplore it? Is it the long-haul to spring break? The fact that Valentine’s Day somehow makes teenagers spontaneously reenact Days of Our Lives scenes at all hours of the school day? It may be the shortest month, but to teachers, it is definitely the longest. And it always makes me question my career: I call it, The Dark Place. 

I’ve written about this before and how to prepare for the storm. My February is no exception. I prepare for it like the best of them, but it still doesn’t matter. I will never love February. I am working on my NB Certification and my students and I cannot afford to check out. Therefore, in a quest to make this profession sustainable, I present to you:

11 Ways to Talk Yourself Out of The Dark Place

  1. Come up with the most menial list and feel proud of it 

My to-do list gets ridiculous. “Plan out the rest of the week” is ALWAYS at the top. I never get that far, honestly. I just don’t. Something more urgent always comes up. So, I make a menial list. “Empty the small trash by my desk into the big trash can” is perfect. Really. Get something done and feel good about it.

2. Fight the urge to sit

I have an adjustable desk, so I raised it to a standing desk this week. If I sit down while kids are working I get into a rut of sitting. Being sedentary does no one any good, and it really diminishes the interactions I have with my kids. If you don’t have an adjustable desk, then remove your chair from your desk. (But not like this).

3. Don’t play into people’s negative B.S. 

Negativity is catchy. I am great at catching negativity because of my charming yet cynical personality (so my husband says). One word: EMAILS. Delete those passive aggressive missives like they have the plague.


Snow Day Musings

After being told we never have snow days in Denver, this has been proven wrong TWICE this year!

Being stuck inside prompted me to do two things:

1. Work on the various projects I don’t get to tackle during the week (National Board, library building, grant applying)

2. Plan my spring break and summer!

Last week, I had a little existential breakdown about teaching and learning; particularly about the ‘sit in the classroom and learn’ model. It doesn’t always work too well for who’s in my classroom. It feels stagnant and one-dimensional. I have quite a few boys in my classes this session and am struggling to make the curriculum relevant to them. I also feel like there is a lot of untapped potential in getting students writing and interacting with their community! A colleague and I are going to be starting a library here at our school, and I’m excited about the possibilities that will have for students to read, share, and connect with the community in that way.

So, today I’m making myself more aware about what opportunities there are in getting students out of the classroom and into the ‘real world’ in a way that goes beyond the linear field trip model (not that field trips aren’t wonderful!) I can’t believe how many grants are available that we don’t know about as teachers! I will hopefully be able to compile a list and share ’em on here soon. Teaching Traveling has been an inspiration so far, if you’ve got the travel bug and want to live vicariously through others 🙂

Dreaming back to student teaching in Belize and planning big things for the summer! Where should I go, guys?


Enjoy the snow day, Denver area teachers! The perks of this job are for real 🙂


Flash Fiction

I’m in the middle of teaching a multi-genre unit with my students. Here’s my first draft of a flash fiction piece I wrote to add to the multi-genre research paper I’m writing alongside them. The topic is teaching–how I got there and how it has impacted me (and vice-versa). This particular piece connects to a poem that precedes it (maybe I’ll share it next time :P)

My teeth hurt. Cold but warm sweat under my clothes, I don’t notice it until later. Like a fledgling bird, I gasp for air. I don’t know the answer, I don’t know the answer is the monologue like ticker tape across my brain. Parallel moments in time hit me hard: Me in Biology class in high-school, scanning through my head to remember what an action potential is/standing in front of students of my own locked into place after they asked me a question, a flurry of but it doesn’t matter overwriting the old code and students still watching me, silent but hungry. Like wolves, they can rip into you, teeth hidden but yellow-sharp. Letting this teachable moment pass feels like throwing away an unscratched lottery ticket.

“What do answers serve us?” I ask them. I am asking them for an answer not needing answers, and I realize that, but I slowly start to feel the sweat cool as their wolfish mouths begin to chatter, alive and wondering.


America’s Grimmest Past-time: School Shootings

Students will be in my room tomorrow come eight a.m. Some will be groggy, dragging backpacks as if they weighed hundreds of pounds, while others will be zooming from one desk to another, relaying only the most sensational tales of what happened over break. I’ll probably have to learn ‘who’s dating whom’ all over again.

I’m at school for the afternoon, racking my brain for first-day-back procedures and how to introduce this session’s classes. I’m teaching multi-genre writing, primarily—my favorite. I really, really want to think about multi-genre writing right now, but I can’t. Not because I’m tired, or uninspired, or even distracted, but because of America’s grimmest past-time: mass shootings (particularly of the school variety).

I never imagined it until I moved to Colorado, home of Columbine, the Aurora Theatre, Planned Parenthood, (and many others that weren’t as news-worthy I guess), but it could happen to me, to my students, to my school. A student, a parent, a random psychotic person, armed with whatever-the-hell-gun/explosives and doing god-knows-what to god-knows-whom.

My school is located about 15 minutes away from Columbine High School. It is 12 minutes away from Arapahoe High School, where in 2012 a student was shot and killed by another student. The proximity makes the tension tangible; the “what ifs” swirl about like an unactivated poison. I have students who went to that high school and transferred to ours for reasons maybe or maybe not due to the shooting. They have panic attacks, PTSD, and fear. I’d like to think that our community helps them feel safe–we try to. But for the past year almost every day that I walk into our building–our beautiful, shiny, welcoming, loved building–my head drifts to, what would I really do? Would I run? Would I be so brave and courageous to shield students with my body like that teacher at Sandy Hook? Am I really going to lock myself and my students in a room, like sitting ducks? Am I treating every student the way they need to be treated so that they wouldn’t dream of inflicting harm on us?  I don’t know. How can you?

For me and for many others, this topic is so difficult to talk about because there is not an easy rationale for all the things that go wrong and why they do. A lot of times I think What have we learned since Columbine? and the answer sometimes feels like not a damn thing. But from what I learned today during our 3.5 hour long training involving Standard Response  Protocol (SRP), maybe we have learned how to prepare and react, since it looks like we’re going to have to just keep dealing with this s***. I won’t go on about what it is or why our district has adopted it, but today at our training I had the opportunity to hear from Frank DeAngelis, Columbine’s principal at the time of the shooting and up until last year. Columbine had no system or protocol in place for events like mass shootings. I don’t think many schools did back in 1999.

As DeAngelis relayed what happened on April 20th without breaking down (I am assuming he’s told the story so many times by now) I couldn’t help but still feel disbelief. I remember seeing Columbine on the news. I remember reading a book about one of the victims a few years later. But I still can’t believe it happened, and so close to my new home. With passion, he explained that fear and self-pity cannot replace the fact that as educators, those are not the actions we stand for. In everything we do—teaching students, fighting for them, challenging the public’s sometimes overblown attitudes about our jobs, it is always about the upside. Hope, futures, good things. It is not about getting terrorized when we walk into our buildings, and we have to learn how to fight back in every way possible (and no, I don’t think it involves hiding guns around the school for teachers to use). It takes systems, protocols, transparency. Kids knowing exactly what to do and when. Teachers and staff knowing exactly what to do and when.

We even talked about how to prepare for bathroom use if on lockdown for multiple hours (the solution is buckets, by the way–not a conversation I intended to have today). I hate that this is what we have to spend a day talking about, but it is our reality.

Teachers or anyone else, does your place of work use SRP? I’m interested to hear about it.