Monthly Archives: March 2015

How a year off made a world of difference in my teaching practice.

I’ve been lucky.  When I graduated in 2001, districts were bleeding teachers.  I moved home from college and applied everywhere.  Miraculously, I found myself not with the difficult decision of which part time job I should take, but the pleasantly difficult decision of which ELA teacher position I should accept.

I don’t mention this to boost my ego, but to set the stage.  14 years later, I’m still in that same position and that’s a good thing[1]; but one can’t be faulted for thinking “what if…”

In the June of 2013 I took a leave of absence from the teaching position I held for the past 12 years.  It was the most difficult decision I have had to make in my career.  It didn’t help that, as usual, the entire school community knew before I had a chance to collect my thoughts.

Regardless of my second guessing and gnawing sensation of guilt, I was able to make a life changing decision a little more manageable with some help from my Union.  Thanks to contract language, I had the ability to request a leave for a year, knowing I could return in August and bring with me a year’s experience and knowledge.  In the normal everyday world of academia one might call it a sabbatical.

I spent the next 12 months working for a for- profit education consulting company, guiding teachers and admin in looking at their data more strategically.

While I brought back knowledge of data analysis, I returned with more pedagogical knowledge than could have been absorbed in 10 years of PD.

Without the concerns associated with evaluations and forms, grading and planning, etc.,  I spent quite a bit of time reading and thinking; necessities that I often considered luxuries as a classroom teacher.  I thoroughly read through the standards and my curriculum without the naysayers and over thinkers breathing down my neck.  I read more about pedagogy than I had in undergrad, or in my entire career for that matter.  I asked questions of teachers in classrooms and districts other than my own. My lunch was longer than eighteen minutes.  It was glorious, and the cynicism that had been creeping in over the past few years all but disappeared.

Despite being away from the classroom for a year, I never took off my teacher hat.  I kept thinking; I could do this, or we should do that, why are we working so hard when the answer is right in front of us? 

A day doesn’t go by where someone doesn’t ask me, “so are you glad you came back?” with a slight twinge of what the hell is wrong with you in their tone.  (I can’t fault them for both the question and the tone; things have been stressful the past few years in my building.)

My consistent, unwavering answer; I am.

I am glad I returned.  For every thought that may have led me to think of staying in the private sector, there were ten more which made me wish I was back in my classroom implementing new knowledge.  The energy we all have that month out of teacher prep or undergrad programs was back ten-fold.

That energy helped recommit myself to this profession.   I committed myself to being a reading comprehension trainer for my local; I committed myself to being a more active voice in my school.  I’ve committed myself to offering advice and sharing best practice.  I’ve committed myself to my students.  And while I know, not everyone feels that I am committed to my school, I suppose that is the price to pay for pursuing knowledge and taking chances.  In the end, I know that I am, and I’ll still be here teaching years from now and that’s a beautiful thing

[1] Recently, teaching seems to have an “entry level position” tag associated with it.  This bothers me to no end.  I like teaching, whether it’s children or adults,  I don’t have to “move on” after I’ve had a few years of classroom experience.


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My Love/ Hate Relationship with PLNs


I opened my twitter account in November of 2007 after an inspiring weekend at the JEA/ NSPA Fall Conference in Philadelphia.  I was hooked, and proceeded to follow everything and everyone I found interesting.  My life became awash with news, at first in a good way, then began a slow transition to what one might call a pedantic obsession with facts that most people don’t need to know. The overarching problem was, the more I followed the more I had to sort between whom was eating a delicious hamburger and the latest exploits of George W.  It became exhausting.  Finally after a few months, I abandoned it.

Two years later (roughly) the hashtag phenomena began,  and I, who considered myself an early adopter (for my age group) was busy with other things. I let my account remain in stasis while I chased other fads and my one year old son.

Long story short, I’m back and active.  However, that initial feeling of having this incredible knowledge base at the swipe of my finger is regressing to frustration.  The difference, it’s not so much news as it is the PLNs (Professional Learning Networks) of which I attempt to be a part.

The PLN craze is in full swing in the education world.  And while I have walked away with some outstanding new knowledge, I can’t shake the feeling that all too often I log off with the same frustrated feeling I have after a poor professional development training.

Educators in general love talking about themselves, we do.  I do it constantly as do many of my colleagues.  The issue is, that there are two general reasons for talking about ourselves, our classrooms, our students, or our buildings.

  1. We love what we do and want to share best practice.
  2. We feel the need to justify ourselves, or prove that we’re doing everything we can.

It is the latter that makes me walk away from my screen.  We’ve all been there, I love a “job well done” just as much as anyone else, but I’m here for the knowledge.  What is my, “take away” beyond more questions, and the restless night’s sleep that results?

It sounds harsh, but it’s the reality.  If I’m rushing through my other obligations to engage in a professional conversation, I’d like to leave with something, if nothing more than a new book to read, a new strategy to implement, or a new colleague to collaborate with, but too often I leave with questions, and a sinking guilt that I rushed the last two pages of Captain Underpants with my oldest son.

Note:  #aplitchat has always left me wanting to log in to Powell’s and buy books.  #edchatri #slowchatela and #totallyrossome have their brilliant moments as well.

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