About Mrs. Tucker

NBPTS Secondary English teacher who is passionate about serving my students, building equity in my classroom, and empowering our combined voices. She/her

Acorn insights: My experience reading Q2

This summer I had the privilege of becoming a first-time reader for the Advanced Placement literature exam. This experience was the most influential professional development I’ve had to date. I spent the week reading (and reading and reading) student work, participating in collegial discussions, and soaking in the atmosphere at a poetry reading and Shakespeare in the Park with passionate educators I’m pleased to call friends.

All glamour aside, this process is grueling and stressful. We are reminded daily to remember the integrity of the test and the essays. As our chief reader David Miller reiterated, each essay represents someone’s student and someone’s child. Our Q2 question leader began the week reminding us to read the essay we’re given, not the one we hope we had received.

As I progressed through the essays, it was readily apparent to write down notes that began with “don’t”:

  • Don’t “paint a picture”; explain how this enhances the text.
  • Don’t define the literary devices; assert how they relate to the development of the text.
  • Don’t just stay at surface level; explore the complexity of the text.
  • Don’t, don’t, don’t.

Clearly, this experience can and should be transformative for my classroom, but focusing on what I “don’t” want my kids to do will not help them grow as writers. In addition, if I lead with what NOT to do, I can hinder their confidence and their willingness to experiment with finding their voice. The more I read and listened to the discussions, the more I began asking myself questions that I want to research and guide my future instruction.

  • How can I encourage depth within a timed setting?
  • How can we encourage or guide students to be concise without sacrificing content development?
  • How can we get students to clear their minds and focus to create a strong, academic essay in our class– not to mention 3 strong, academic essays in only 2 hours?

Although, I hope to enhance their learning experience, it’s important to remember that the majority of the students we teach will not pursue degrees in literature or aspire to become poets, fiction writers, or English teachers. I was amazed at how our students could push themselves to find insight in a timed setting for three separate essays after performing the section one multiple-choice exam. The foundations that teachers and students build for colleges/universities is strong, and no matter how the scores translate in early July, each examinee should be commended.

I’m excited to plan and begin working with my students this fall to continue to explore our writing together!

It’s no secret: Maintaining motivation

Source: Chen, Angus (March 4, 2016). “How to Turn on the Part of Your Brain that Controls Motivation”. KQED.com. Published by NPR/Mindshift.

The Moving Writers #100DOSW18 challenge has provided me with daily prompts, but more importantly, it’s inspired me to dig through my numerous saved links on my Pocket app. Initially, I tagged today’s article with “advisory”, “learning”, “motivation”, and “RTI”. Without reading the article, I felt the title held the secret to helping students tap into their motivation to succeed, not just in my class but at learning and within school. Unfortunately, the article left me with more questions than answers.

The article focuses on fMRI research of the central part of the brain where motivation seems to light up or trigger the greatest activity within the brain. The article details how participants and researchers would view the screen and give themselves pep talks. What they realized is that motivation can be exhilarating. Imagining teammates giving high fives versus coaches yelling at them produced different results. The study also admits that the process of activating, or motivating, the brain activity is “exhausting”. “‘The experience of the task was difficult…. It was very fatiguing for people.”

“People really are changing their mood when they’re doing this, Adcock thinks. They’re becoming more focused and eager. And it seems the effect begins reaching out to parts of the brain involved with learning and memory.” Obviously, the research is based on positive feedback. What happens with negative stimuli? Or how does this part of the brain relate to emotion? The study admits that no long-term or follow p study was conducted to find out if people maintained the motivation.

As a teacher, I KNOW that motivating myself and my students is exhausting. I KNOW that positive feedback generates engagement and motivation, but not always for the long haul. I wanted this article to share some scientific insight, to help me encourage and guide my advisory members and my future English students. How can I assist kids in seeing and discovering their value? How can we make a shift (or at least a nudge) from external motivation to internal drive, as Daniel Pink outlines in his text Drive: The Surprising Truth About what Motivates Us (2011)? Our school structure is set up to condition students to react, not generate their focus.

The bad news is that I am still in search of the Holy Grail that will help me guide my students. I’ll create my own long-term study with my next group of advisory students because we keep them all four years. Hopefully, I can design and amend different surveys for them and provide different resources to them to positively motivate them to succeed in high school and in life. The upside is this article and my reflection motivated me to write a blog post, a routine that I need.

Why I read & write

Today is NCTE’s National Day on Writing. This is a day where I can share my thoughts through writing, but lately, I have been pretty guarded. Lately, I haven’t wanted to share or write much at all. For the past 15 years, I’ve encouraged, goaded, and at times dragged my students into building their writing skills. My goal with writing instruction has always been to help them be effective communicators, to share their thoughts confidently, and hopefully, to help them achieve success through that communication.  At times, this instruction helped students find the “right” way to convey their thoughts for standardized tests, but more often this instruction focused on helping students make sense of what they read, write, view, and listen within the world around them. Thing is, I wasn’t practicing what I preached. I wasn’t writing alongside them, and I haven’t made a conscious effort to do so until this school year.

Unfortunately, my world recently turned upside down, and I haven’t turned to writing. I didn’t even read a page for almost a week. I shut down, became numb, tuned out. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by people who encourage, goad, and at times drag me out of this state — or at least do their best to keep me moving.  For today, I’m choosing to write. I’m choosing to share and to convey my gratitude for those around me who inspire, question, challenge, and uplift. I’m choosing to write to process the senselessness of life events. I’m choosing to write to demonstrate to my students how fortunate I feel to know them and to grow as a writer with them. I’m choosing to write because maybe, just maybe, this is a way to honor and to remember.

“Grief, I think, signs you up in a separate, invisible club, members selected at death’s awful randomness. ‘Gone forever’ is our password, lingering sorrow our secret handshake. If you haven’t lost someone important to you, you can’t begin to know the rules. Truth is, you don’t even know the club exists” (92).

I’ve always liked Susan Carol McCarthy‘s debut novel Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands (2002) published by Bantom Press. The young narrator Reesa has to navigate her loss amid the chaos and fear of Florida during the nine months of terror. I’ve used this text to engage students in discussions of tolerance, injustice, and grief. I just never imagined that McCarthy’s words would rise to my thoughts in my quiet house early this morning. I know that the ache I feel will soften but not disappear. I know that my memories and photographs will remind me of stories I can share. For now, though, I am just choosing to write, to reflect, and to keep a careful watch for others who are in my new club. Empathy is a skill that can be painful to learn, but it’s important for us to keep trying. So, today, I choose to write and hopefully pay forward the love, support, and kindness I’ve received in this past week.

My life in four books

Per my 2017-18 teaching manifesto, I pledged to write alongside my students and to offer more choice in reading and writing. One of my many virtual PLN heroes through #APlitchat and Voxer Adrian Nester gave me a great idea for my second blog. Her challenge is to find four books (or series) that helped readers shape their lives. So many titles and authors came to my mind as I started to draft this blog on paper last night. Before I knew it 2 hours had passed, and I was left with bullet notes, random titles and author names, question marks and a pseudo sense of ranking. This. Is. Tough.

I mean, I honestly feel guilty when I make these selections because I believe my obtuse measuring scale left out a “better” work. I also feel hesitant and anxious to publicly state that these works helped to shape my identity as a reader because, well, what will others think about my choices? What do my choices reveal about who I am? How do I define who I am when I am so many people: teacher, mom, wife, daughter, sister, Lutheran, etc. Do these works jive with all of these roles? And, then I got over it. I LOVE to read. I love to share what I read. I’m the kid who deliberately walked around with more books from the library because I wanted to be seen as a reader. Reading defines who I am, not just these works. Yet, the four I’ve chosen seem to have had a lasting impact on me.

The Secret GardenBook #1: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I grew up in a house with four siblings, and I shared a room with both of my sisters. I was also very physical and demanding when I was younger, believing that the louder and more forceful my personality, the easier life would be/people would see my point clearly. Is it any wonder then why I quickly identified with Annie Lennox? True, I could not empathize with her parent’s loss, but the idea of having a 100-room house to wander seemed wonderful and peaceful. Once Annie discovers the garden and befriends Colin and Dickon, the manor doesn’t seem so lonely. Perhaps the language is flowery, but I felt like a grown up reading “real” stories in early elementary school. This was my first big chapter book, and it gave me a sense of accomplishment and a place to escape.

Book #2: Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

Similar to Burnett’s Garden, Salem’s Lot made me feel like an adult. I “borrowed” my dad’s copy of the novel. He started a membership into a book-of-the-month club, and he quickly acquired several King titles. My dad’s interest in King peeked my curiosity, though maybe reading my first adult horror novel at age 11 wasn’t the best idea. The creepy novel about the sinister town of Jerusalem made the hairs on my neck stand up. The scandal, violence, and language shocked me, but I also understood the courage and frustration of Ben Mears when he refused to leave this mystery unsolved– even more so when he chose to do something about it. Salem’s Lot was the first book I read under the covers with a flash light, and it started a life-long appreciation of King’s style and candor when crafting his stories.

Book #3: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

Oh, how I love Irving’s narrator, characterization, and story line. I was in my early 20s the first time I read this novel.  It was not assigned for my English literature classes; I just happened to notice it at a friend’s apartment. He simply said, “I think you’d like it.” That was an understatement. At first the chunked timeline frustrated me because I didn’t see how or why Irving was taking me along so far into one portion only to shift gears to another. In the last 60 pages when the finished puzzle started to form, I wept and wept and wept. This novel is so beautiful. I ached to know more, to be friends with or to take these characters out for coffee just to talk. Irving is a master story teller who creates complex characters. He demonstrates heroic qualities in ordinary lives. I’ve ready several of Irving’s works, but my first love will always be Owen Meany. Just writing this reflection inspires me to read it again!

Book #4: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

I’ll admit. I never enjoyed history when I was young. It’s not that history isn’t interesting; it’s more so that my educational experience was simply skill-drill-and-kill. Rote memorization of places, people, and events without context does not breed interest. Thus, as a teacher, I became a history student in order to build context for my students, making the experience richer. Golding’s allegory about the fall of man and the dangers of war gave me an opportunity to extend our learning about World War II and the effects of the Cold War. The first few times I taught this text, I enjoyed learning alongside my students as they built more connections. After several years, I still love watching them hunched over the novel as I read aloud. I am even more excited when a student asks to read a cold passage aloud, trying on their best British accent. The excitement, the shock, the anguish, and the relief on their faces most often translates into their passage analyses, allowing me to engage them in how literature and history are symbiotic.  I’m also a sucker for Dystopia!

Honorable mentions

Yes, perhaps, having this honorable mentions portion is a bit like cheating because I get to list more books and authors, but seriously, there are so many that give me fond memories. At one time or another these rejuvenated my love of reading because of the great experiences attached to them. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss, and Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak were the go-to picture books for my sons when they were little. I read them so frequently that even now I can recite them by heart. Both the Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter series reminded me of how fun and fulfilling suspending my disbelief can be, and the beautiful characters and themes are timeless and universal. As an adult, I’ve also become more interested and deliberate about my nonfiction reading. In the last decade, I’ve read several titles that have had a definite impact on my classroom, my instruction, and my reflection about how we shape our identities: Sir Ken Robinson’s The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, John Elder Robison’s Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s, Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success, Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, and Jonathan Bergmann’s Flipped Learning: Gateway to Student Engagement.

In the end, reading is about discovering more about myself. Reading affords me the opportunity to research and connect, to live vicariously, and to entertain others. I LOVE it when I can share that experience with my students and my children. And, I’m always looking to make my to-be-read pile even higher, so let me know which titles you’d recommend. Happy reading! #MrsTReads

New beginnings: My goals for the 2017-18 school year

All too often, I find myself focusing on what I’ve done wrong or how I could have done something better. Rather than objectively reflecting on my teaching and learning, I tend to fixate on what I’m NOT doing/saying/reading/writing. As a result, more things get left undone. I encourage my students to find balance, and ironically, I help them develop a plan to better manage their time. Yet, I place myself (e.g. my writing, my physical health, my hobbies, etc.) as the very last priority of an ever-growing list.

My inspiration to begin anew comes from several places. This was my 14th summer as an educator, but it was the first time in a LONG time where I didn’t have several long-term obligations (i.e. recertification, conferences, graduate classes, extensive travel, or family events). As a result, I feel more refreshed, creative, and excited to start year 15. In addition to more time – which in and of itself is HUGE – I read two books and a blog post that challenged me to grow.

Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The story of success (2008) reinforced my belief that teaching and learning is a communal experience. The anecdotes and examples he provides made me think about how I can arrange my classroom, group my students, and tailor my teaching. Simon Sinek’s Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action (2009) made me realize that I’m more of a WHY person who needs to seek more feedback and guidance when I start to plan HOW to get things done. I’ve taken on some new roles without dropping old ones, and I have to continue to reflect and seek guidance from my colleagues and administration to help me find balance for things to run smoothly. I also need to learn to let things go. Finally, Susan Barber’s blog post about her 2017-18 teaching manifesto convinced me to make some commitments to myself, my family, my students, and my profession this year. (I feel rather happy about the fact that I’ve just put my goals in that order to start!)

For myself

  • I will enjoy time to sew, making at least three new items per semester.
  • I will select my reading based on my whims, rather than my guilt that I’m not getting enough of the canon or “right” kind of reading.
  • I will seek out new recipes to cook and bake more at home.
  • I will make my physical health a priority to model healthy habits for me, not just for my sons and my students.

For my family

  • I will treat them to new recipes they’ll enjoy and surprise them with their favorites.
  • I will play games, unplug, and encourage them to spend more time outside.
  • I will smile more often and pray before I respond – especially when I’m hungry and/or tired.
  • I will laugh more, at myself and just to be silly.

For my students

  • I will intentionally find ways to develop our classroom community as a positive, respectful, and trustworthy learning environment.
  • I will encourage students to reflect and revise by delaying the grade and calling attention to the feedback.
  • I will support student choice in reading, focusing on universally applicable skills and setting aside in-class reading time without worrying about loss of instruction.
  • I will incorporate more journals for student choice in development and submission of writing.

For my profession

  • I will journal and reflect on my teaching practices, sharing thoughts with colleagues and administration to be more transparent and intentional about my teaching philosophies and practice.
  • I will embrace my new role as a mentor teacher, coaching and supporting my charge while learning with and from her.
  • I will welcome the messiness and chaos of co-sponsoring our school’s first student-led writing lab to better support all content areas with instruction and enhance a positive culture for quality student writing.
  • I will print and post this manifesto in my classroom to seek continued feedback from students, colleagues, and administration about my progress.