Happy New Year: A Look Ahead to 2015

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To look ahead I need to look behind a moment first. 2014 has been a good year as well as a mentally draining one. Academically, I hit my first motivation wall where I struggled for a semester and a half to fully embrace what my doctorate program was asking of me. The good news is I’ve come out the other end better for the struggle. In large part, this struggle was catalyzed by me moving teaching positions and taking on a teacher-leadership role for the first time. Looking back I have to admit I put so much of my time and effort into my new position that I nearly burned myself out and some of my classroom instruction suffered for it as well. Still, I felt accomplished. I took on a role that I was initially scared to take on; I came into it uncertain of what the role would ask of me and questioned how I’d fair in the endeavor. Now I feel I know that I can do the job. Moving forward it will be about striking a balance among my many professional hats–doc student, teacher, and academy lead.

In 2015 my classroom goals center on continuing to stretch myself and my students to understand literacy on multiple levels and to continue to fend off the political voices pushing for test preparation. I want to continue to trust that genuine learning experiences will help my students reap good testing rewards for their sake more than mine. Test scores and teacher ratings are now inevitable, but I refuse to buy into the hype that these scores will really define me as a teacher. Honestly, I rest well knowing that my alternative teaching approach has continually demonstrated moderate to high testing performance by my students. Teaching what I believe and that various research supports is my number one priority in my classroom.

That being said, I plan to start the semester with poetry. This is–honestly–par for the course. The difference for me this year is that I want to pair it with two new approaches. The first is completely inspired by Sheridan Blau (I’ve admitted many times before that I am a ‘Blauite’.) I want my students to write through their reading experiences with poetry. I’ll have them read a poem of their choice (two in the case of honors/gifted) and approved by me. They’ll read the poem multiple times (I’ll ask for no less than four reads), and after each read, they will write about the experience noting changes in understanding, noticing what had gone unnoticed, and adding some critique along the way. The critique will be hard, but I want them to provide evidence for what ‘works’ in the poem and what doesn’t. If a student hates the poem after four reads, then why? If they slowly fall in love with the poem, then why? The second approach is visual. I’d like to have students pair poetry with art–in any form–to express privileged text in a more multimodal approach. This is only being formulated now. I do not know what this looks like yet, but I can see myself calling back on my Banksy project to inspire it.

In my doctoral pursuits, this year is all about really nailing down my theoretical framework/lit review and finally developing a sound methodology for my hopeful study. In addition, I’m looking to take my comps by this summer and develop my proposal (prospectus) by the fall. If all goes as I hope, I’ll conduct my study on student agency and identity development by early 2016. While that date seems so far away now, it will be here before I know it. In the meantime, I’m working with my protege, Nick Thompson, to study an alternative approach to teacher professional development by utilizing the medical journal club approach. I’m excited to see what results we may obtain from such a study, and I’m thrilled that I have some colleagues willing to participate.

Outside of class work itself, I will continue to present and attend conferences and look for opportunities to network. I’ll be presenting at GCTE again this year, and I’m already looking to participate in a few NCTE presentations for the national conference next November.

Finally, in my teacher-leadership role, I’m hoping to continue to grow and build relationships with teachers I’m getting to work closely alongside. I have the opportunity to provide my school’s teachers with some PD when we return to school on the 5th. Honestly, this scares the dickens out of me, but that is really predicated on how desperately I want it to go well. If you’re in education, you know one-and-done PD never really works out and just builds animosity towards teacher PD, so I have a big task in front of me. While I only get an hour, I want the hour to be worthy of their time. More importantly, I want to build in opportunities to follow up with teachers and support them. This next semester we’ll be kicking up our project-based focus up a notch.

On a final, final personal note, I hope to start writing and reading a bit again for my own pleasure. I’ve relegated myself to saying I don’t do much of either because I’m so busy reading and writing for research and my professional pursuits. I don’t want to use that excuse any more. I want to hold onto why I’m an English teacher to begin with.

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