Let’s Save Education!

As I stood at the sink washing dishes today, I kept thinking: how can I make a difference in education? I had just scrolled through my Twitter feed, and it seems like everyone else in the world is thinking, writing, getting their voices out there and doing something. My inner critic, who shall henceforth be named Mr. Negative, sat on my shoulder and berated me: What do you know, anyway? You’ve been out of the classroom too long. You don’t have a PhD. You’ve spent most of the morning cleaning up after kids, and you think you can change the world in yoga pants? Please!

Then I summoned my inner self-confidence, which shall henceforth be known as Mrs. Do Something, and she told Mr. Negative to f-off. Next, I pulled from my O Magazine/Martha Beck/Jason Mraz/Taylor Swift mental tool box and tried to think about how I could turn those perceived weaknesses into strengths. Watch this:

1. Perceived weakness: I have no PhD. There are so many people smarter than me. New Strength: I’m good at communication, synthesis, and research. I can draw upon smart people’s ideas.

2. Perceived weakness: I haven’t been in the classroom for years. New Strength: I still have personal experience as a classroom teacher, I know a network of teachers, and I’ve had time to step away and see the picture from a different perspective.

3. Perceived weakness: I’m a stay-at-home mom, not a professional. New Strength: I’m a stay-at-home mom and I’m still a professional, so now I can talk about education from a teacher’s perspective and a parent’s perspective.

4. Perceived weakness: I always want everyone to like me; I’m not critical enough. New Strength: I take great pride in forming strong relationships. I’m a good listener, and I’m good at reconciling differences and finding the middle ground.

Ta-da! It’s like mental gymnastics! (The technique didn’t quite work on Perceived Weakness #5: Ability to eat half a bag of Milano cookies in 10 minutes.)

So after I’d Oprahed-myself, I thought, if I’m so hell-bent on doing something, what do I want to do? The answer: save education. Mr. Negative started to laugh derisively so Mrs. Do Something punched him in the balls.

But how? How to save education? Where does someone even begin? Like an angel, Julie Andrews melodic voice arose in my mind: “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.” But then I heard my favorite professor, Dr. Pace, speak up: “Start with the end in mind.” [I feel this is a good time to clarify that I am not on, nor have ever done acid or LSD. This is just me, people.]

A paradox arose: We can’t start at the beginning, until we know what we want at the end.

What do we want at the end? What do we want the U.S. system of education to look like at the end of the day? If we want to reform, what form are we trying to create?

Eureka! Ah-ha! Huzzah! I feel onto something, and not just my memory-foam mat (which I highly recommend to everyone who washes dishes five times a day, incidentally). I turned off the water, fed my kids lunch, put them down for their naps, and started this post.

My plan: today, while I’m playing blocks, trucks, and Strawberry Shortcake, I will also be thinking about my questions. Tonight, I will post my thoughts. If you (yes, you!), a reader of this post feel inspired to provide an answer, please send me a tweet or leave a comment so I can include your thoughts as well.

Enjoy a happy Friday!

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George the First: Thanks for lookin’ out, Mr. President


GW Portrait

Most students don’t know this, but until the ratification of the 22nd Amendment in 1947, there were no term limits for Presidents of the United States. Yep, we could have had 16 years of President Chester A. Arthur, folks. (The 21st president and the first to legally drink on the job. Joke.) When the U.S. began, certain rules were outlined in the Constitution, but many others we now take for granted were not. So let us all take a moment to thank George Washington for being humble, intelligent, and so frickin’ tired of working that “the shade of retirement is as necessary to me as it will be welcome.”

Washington loved “the people,” and we are the decedents of those people; if not by blood, than by the “love of liberty” beating with every “ligament of your hearts.” Like any good father, he worried about the future of the nation he helped birth. His Farewell Address is only briefly about his own retirement and his own service; mainly, it is a warning. It’s the dad in the driveway shouting “Watch out for black ice!” as his daughter drives away to college.

Teachers and parents share the goal of trying to prepare students for their adulthood. Though the conversation is dominated by talk of academic success, there are other elements to preparing someone for adulthood. Teaching students to be active, engaged, and knowledgeable citizens strikes me as incredibly important.To that end, we can use Washington’s Farewell Address to achieve a number of goals:

  1. Develop students’ reading skills of complex, pre-20th century texts
  2. Develop students’ abilities to analyze rhetorical argument
  3. Develop students’ abilities to understand the relationships between subject, author, occasion, purpose, speaker, and tone
  4. Deepen knowledge of American history and significant American texts

[highlight]This lesson[/highlight] was created with the high school English classroom in mind. However, collaboration between an English and Social Studies teacher would no doubt allow for more depth of thought and discussion. If time is an issue (If! HA!), there is an excellent pared-down version of the speech in Caroline Kennedy’s great collection, A Patriot’s HandbookI also highly recommend reading the Prologue of Francois Furstenberg’s book In the Name of the Father: Washington’s Legacy, Slavery, and the Making of a Nation, which focuses entirely on the creation of the Farewell Address. (Fun fact: the Senate has been reading his address aloud on his birthday every year since 1896.)

You can download the lesson as a PDF, which also includes a copy of the address with room for students’ annotations. Finally, if you would like to see my annotated copy of the speech with notes and anticipated student stumbling blocks, send me a tweet.

On his birthday, as his present, and as a gesture to all the presidents we honor on President’s Day, let us honor his memory and service by sharing his words with our students. Happy Birthday, Mr. President. Thanks for lookin’ out.

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Give it a whirl, girl!

Red bicycleOne of the things I love most about living in the Metro DC area is the sheer number of academic, cultural, and political activities taking place all the time. Thanks to a small feature in the local paper, I found out about an annual event called the Women’s Legislative Briefing hosted by the Montgomery County Commission for Women. It took place last Saturday and featured city, county, and state elected officials, plus leaders from organizations related to women’s issues.

The keynote speaker for the event was Ann Lewis, a Senior Adviser in the Hilary Clinton Runs For President Campaign: Part I. Here’s the short version of Ms. Lewis’s biography: smart, witty, prone to sarcasm, advocate for female power, involved in American-Israeli relations and (this one is my favorite), she once taught a class called “The West Wing and The Real World.” Here are a few of the most thought-provoking points from her address:

  • “If you know history, you know women weren’t ‘given’ the right to vote.”
  • “The fight for suffrage began with a meeting.”
  • “The right to vote is a fundamental building block of democracy.”
  • “Social Security is more important for women. They are more likely to earn less and live longer, and less likely to have retirement benefits.”
  • “When women bring our life experiences to the table, we get more common sense policies to build healthy communities.”
  • “More women in leadership is better for businesses.”
  • “More women among decision makers mean better decisions are made.” (New York Times article she reference called “Why Some Teams are Smarter Than Others.” An article from The Atlantic that I found is called “The Secret to Smart Groups: It’s Women.”)

To my male readers (shoutout to my husband!), I feel compelled at this point to say, don’t be afraid. Neither the WLB nor this post is about putting down men. I also don’t like to play the victim. What I really liked about this event was that the message wasn’t “replace men, they’re not doing a good job,” it was “women have points of view that matter and that aren’t being represented by women themselves.”

One particular fact was emphasized over and over again: women constitute only 19% of the recently sworn-in Congress. In the Senate, we’re talking 20 out of 100, and in the House of Representatives you’ll find 84 ladies mingling with 351 men. That’s what we at the University of Florida would call a Sausage Fest. Not sure that phrase would be acceptable in the Hallowed Halls, but this is my blog, so there it is.

All the discussion about women in government also made me think about women in education. How does gender play a role in educational leadership?

Here are some statistics I researched regarding women in education, specifically:

  • Of the 4 million teachers in America, 76% are female.
  • As reported in the 2010-2011 Schools and Staffing Survey published by the U.S. DOE, about 52% of administrators are female overall: 64% in primary, 42% in middle, and 30% in high school.
  • In the “2013 Superintendents Salary and Benefits Study” published by The School Superintendents Association, “respondents arrayed by gender favor males over females in a slightly more than three to one ratio.” Those numbers were similar to 2012 and 2010 surveys.
  • Nationally, the average number of women on school boards is 44%, according to the National School Board Association. That’s not a bad number when compared to the others, but then I found a recent article on Education Week reporting on a study that basically says women on these board don’t speak up nearly as much as men.

Clearly, females still aren’t the majority or even the equivalent in key legislative or decision-making positions, whether we’re talking government or education.

Now, I’m not a sociologist, economist, or really any other –ist, so if you’re looking for a study to support the following opinions, I don’t have that for you. I’m an –er: blogger, teacher, homemaker, mother.  Here’s what my observations and experience lead me to foretell: A rising number of women will rock the world of education in the near future.

Women my age ruled our high schools and colleges. We took on leadership positions in our jobs. But then we all started having kids and “me” time turned into “feed me, cloth me, play Frozen with me” time. We had to cut back or hold back. We did not lean forward. We are too busy trying not to keel over.

For my part, I know I’m lucky to have been able to stay at home with my kids. I would never change my choice. But sometimes I have the overwhelming desire to put on my black pants (not of the yoga ilk) and sit down at a conference table with other adults and make some shit happen. I don’t think I’m the only woman in her early 30’s who feels that way either. I think women around my age will, in the next 10 years, start stepping into the ring in much larger numbers than we’ve previously seen.

Does this mean I’m going to just sit back and wait for my kids to grow up? No. I do not ascribe to the “Waiting for the World to Change” coda. (Seriously, John Mayer. Let’s play hide-and-seek. You hide, and I’ll come get you when the rest of us change the world for you.)

After attending the WLB, I realized I need to do more. I can write letters and editorials. I can speak at school board meetings and local hearings. I can support other women leaders whose beliefs align with my own. Councilwoman Ingrid Turner asked us how much we spent on our purses we had with us. “$200? $300? $500? Take that bag money and commit to funding a person to further your cause.” Even though my Macy’s clearance-bin purse seeeriously lowers the numerical average of this point, I agree with her message.

It’s hard to be an advocate for your profession when the demands of your job leave you little time to do much else. (I can eat lunch, run 100 copies, and go to the bathroom in 20 minutes. That’s a skill, people.) I think that’s one reason why teachers, the majority of which are women, feel so frustrated. But what we lack in time, we make up for in numbers.

If every over-burdened, over-worked female teacher was able to spend 1 hour a month on an activity related to advocacy, our efforts would equal 3,040,000 hours each month. Can three million hours a month change the world?  I think it can. John Mayer might be able wait, but I’m more a Newsies “Seize the Day” kind of person.

Before WLB, I’d never heard of the 6 P’s statement: “Proper preparation prevents piss poor performance.” Councilwoman Helen Holton, who has been on the Baltimore City Council since 1995, gave us a more positive principle to follow: “Preparation and planning produces powerful progress for people.”

I admire and am inspired by that idea, so I’ve created a 6 Ps Planner for myself and for others to use in their advocacy efforts. It’s a place to organize information, specifically all the details that derail us and seem like obstacles at the outset. The 6 P’s Planner can be used as a reference sheet, a reminder, and a record of our efforts.

In 1850, women were ridiculed for wearing pants underneath their skirts, and the rise in popularity of bicycles in 1880 meant the fashion continued to catch on. Songs were actually composed about this revolutionary moment, including one called “Eliza Jane.” The first four lines read, “Eliza Jane she had a wheel, its rim was painted red; / Eliza had another wheel that turned inside her head. / She put the two together, she gave them both a whirl, /And now she rides the Parkway sides a Twentieth Century Girl.”

Maybe Eliza Jane received the first “Go, girl!” I don’t know. But I’m ready to put my wheel to use and give it all a whirl. I hope you’ll join me.

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Tone-up using the State of the Union

The President’s State of the Union address is tonight, which presents a great opportunity to engage students in the on-goings and up-comings of national policy with a text that lends itself perfectly to the analysis of tone, diction, persuasive appeals, and other rhetorical devices.

If you can, engage students in the live event. Use Twitter, Blackboard, or other ways of connecting to your students to create a group record of the rhetorical devices students notice in the speech. The White House has created a specific page of their website for the State of the Union, on which people can watch a special enhanced version “featuring live data, graphics, and charts that explain the issues and policies he’ll be discussing in the speech.” Partisanship be damned – that’s just cool.

Another resource is The Atlantic, which has an article about the importance of Pres. Obama’s tone tonight. They also have a phenomenal feature on the Language of the State of the Union with lots of graphs (visual analysis opportunity!) to enrich the written information.

If you don’t have a means of connecting tonight or want to do more, you can analyze the speech tomorrow or later in the week by printing out the text and giving each student a copy to read, annotate, and then use for your lesson.

I posted my chart for activities to use with speeches in an earlier entry, but here it is again: TeacherSoup Activities for Using Speeches

Here’s a specific, simple lesson: give students copies of the speech to read and annotate (either in class or at home); in the meantime, you divide the speech into even sections. Then, get students into groups of 3-4 and let them choose the section they would like to analyze specifically for tone. I’ve created a graphic organizer that you can give to each group on which they can record their observations: TeacherSoup Analyzing Tone in Speeches. After the groups are finished, they can present their findings by explaining their organizer on the document camera or overhead projector. Hold the rest of the class accountable by asking them to add the annotations to their own copies of the speech and collecting the speeches for a quick classwork credit check.

Let’s get students thinking, reading, and engaging in the issues that will affect their adult lives. Enjoy!

Change Quiz-No’s to Quiz-Yes’s

For the first several months of my teaching career, I struggled with finding a method of assessing students’ at-home reading assignments. I couldn’t seem to create multiple choice questions hard enough for the kids just reading Cliff’s Notes and not so hard as to resort to asking about minutia. I discovered the foundation of my answer in Carol Jago’s fantastic book, With Rigor For All (now updated as a second edition).

Before I explain, here’s a downloadable sample for To Kill a Mockingbird: TeacherSoup TKM RQ Ch. 18-19 . It ain’t flashy, but it does its job well. (A motto I use for many things in life: cars, kids’ diapers, my hair.)

For the first reading quiz, I take extra time to explain to students the format, rules, and my expectations for their answers. The rules are simple:

1) Students create a four-square box on their paper. Some kids fold their papers and use the creases as their lines, some kids draw boxes. Either way is fine with me. There’s something about having each answer in its own quadrant that makes reading the answers fast and easy. (Another motto I use for many thing in life: cars, dinner, my hair. Your mama.)  Students should also write the title of the quiz at the top of their paper.

2) I always give students six questions and they can choose four questions to answer. Don’t you hate it when you read something and someone else asks you a question about the one part you can’t remember? So do kids! I wanted to hold kids accountable, but not punish them for lacking a photographic memory. I was also selfishly motivated. Four short-answer questions takes time, but not an unreasonable amount of time.

3) All answers must be written in complete sentences.

With short-answer questions, I could get at the how, why, and what (which normally indicate a deeper understanding of content), as opposed to the when or where (which typically reply on details or basic facts). These questions made students think about their reading and could preclude further whole-class discussion. I could also ask students to identify the speaker and context of a quotation and explain its significance. Every so often, I would ask students to draw a picture and label the details (one of Jago’s ideas).

The four-question format simplified the scoring for each answer: 25 points means you thoroughly answered the question; 20 means you proved you understood the reading but left out an important point; 15 means you read but perhaps forgot some aspects or didn’t fully understand; 10 means your answer shows a partial understanding (scoring lots of “10″s was usually indicated a student was simply skimming, reading Cliff’s Notes, or only completing part of the reading); 5 points means you didn’t read but maybe lucked into getting credit for some small detail; zero means totally wrong or left blank.

When students finish, they turn in their work and start a new assignment or get a head start on that night’s reading. If a kid isn’t writing anything down, that’s a good opportunity for me to have a one-on-one conference about why he hadn’t read or why she didn’t understand the reading and discuss how we can solve the problem next time.

I gave my students a reading quiz nearly every day following a reading assignment. The quizzes were meant to reward students for doing the reading by giving them the opportunity to prove their work and also to underscore the importance of the reading. How could I teach the book if the kids weren’t reading the book? In that vein, I also used the quizzes to guide my instruction. (“Why did half of the class miss the question about the fire at Miss Maudie’s house?”) If I decided not to give a quiz, I didn’t tell the kids beforehand; for the next quiz, I would just combine two night’s worth of reading.

These quizzes really reveal who knows the text, who’s struggling, and who’s trying to yank a teacher’s chain. I’ve been known to write “Don’t waste my time” on a few quizzes that were full of Grade A Horse Manure. Alternately, I’ve congratulated kids on answers that taught me something.

Whether you teach English/Language Arts or not, I hope these ideas assist you in your teaching and your students’ learning.



“The Test” provides insight and provokes further questions

Since Tuesday, I’ve been reading a new book called The Test: Why Our Schools Are Obsessed With Standardized Testing – But You Don’t Have to Be, by Anya Kamenetz.  I ordered it after noticing in the newspaper that she would be speaking at a nearby bookstore called Politics and Prose – an event I attended Thursday night. Kamenetz spoke briefly about the book and how it came to be, then opened the floor to questions. I would have enjoyed hearing more about her experiences researching and writing the book – a “behind the scenes” look at her writing process – or  alternately, where she envisions or hopes the discussion will go from here. Still, I’m really glad I had the opportunity to meet her in person, ask a question, and have my book signed. (Meeting some of her colleagues from NPR, where she is the Lead Education Blogger, was an added bonus for this public-radio-loving nerd.)

The Test cover pic

I’m halfway through The Test, but I’ve already learned fascinating and important information regarding the politics behind the test and the tidal wave of money flowing into testing and test preparation. I asked Ms. Kamenetz at the book talk whether she had discovered in her research to what degree actual teachers were involved in creating the tests or their questions. She answered that the tests were mainly created by psychometric specialists – that is, people who specialize in test creation. Ok, but I’m still left wondering – what is the background of the test-creators? Do they have degrees or experience in K-12 education? Is their work assessed, tracked, and used for their evaluations as test-question creators? Do the same people write questions every year or do the companies (mainly just Pearson) hire new employees? Where is the transparency on the creation of these tests?

I spent 7 years teaching in Florida, so I’ve administered dozens of standardized tests, dozens of times: computer-based reading tests (several throughout the year), FCAT, FCAT Writes, SAT, and AP practice tests, to name a few. When you’re in the thick of it, you are annoyed at some tests and accept others. You don’t have time to research the validity of the tests, to examine their origins, their makers, or their backers. You’re cutting down each tree that’s planted in front of you, without the time to climb to a vantage point and view the forest.

I’ve been a supporter of using test scores as part of a teacher’s evaluation. I still am. I’ve also been a critic of the kinds of testing currently in use and the degree to which these scores are used in a teacher’s evaluation. I still am – now even more so.

In The Test, Ms. Kamenetz has given readers a lot of information, some possible answers, and perhaps most importantly, a great deal of questions left to explore. I’ll leave the review writing up to the professionals (The Boston Globe, Kirkus Review), and simply say I highly recommend this book to teachers, parents, students, school board members, and politicians.

I look forward to doing more reading, research, and writing on this topic and sharing my thoughts and findings with you.

Me at The Test talk



Welcome, new Congresspeople. Speech! Speech!

House chamberToday was a day of firsts for me. It was the first time I drove my daughter to preschool. It was the first time my husband realized halfway there that preschool was cancelled. It was the first snow day for my daughter. It was the first time my daughter went sledding. And it was the first time I went sledding. (I consider it a personal accomplishment that I didn’t eat it in front of all the other kids. Like I did my first time skiing. I’m from Florida, you know.)

Today was a first for a lot of politicians too. Freshmen congresswomen and congressmen were sworn in today and took their place in American political history. I admit, I’m jealous. When I was in 5th grade, two high school guys visited my class and gave a presentation about careers. As an adult, I realize this activity had “extra credit” written all over it, but at the time, I was impressed. When they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I excitedly and sincerely answered, “President of the United States.” They smiled. Again, as an adult, I realize now their smiles were based on their knowledge of the far-fetched nature of my aspiration. As a 10 year old, I felt belittled. And pissed. I didn’t have the vocabulary at the time – those lessons would be learned the following year on the bus  - but I’m pretty sure my expression read, “Watch me, a-holes.”

Turns out, they were probably right. I say probably, because you never know! If people live to be 100 now-a-days, I may still have a shot. While awaiting my own Town Hall meetings, I’ve turned my own political interests outward and tried to emphasize the importance of intellectual citizenship in my teaching. I want my students to think, research, analyze, listen, and engage in their government. I want them to be aware of the manipulations, pratfalls, fallacies, and steaming piles of horse-manure that dot the great American political arena, so they can find people and ideas to genuinely support.

One of my favorite genres of texts to use with students is speeches. They’re often examples of powerful, poetic prose, and they serve to inform students of either the past or present. The chart I’ve created and included for you is just a place to start when considering how to use speeches in your classrooms. The activities are suitable for middle and high school students of any level and align with multiple Common Core State Standards. Some of my best teaching moments happened during these activities, so I hope they are equally meaningful to you and your students.


TeacherSoup Activities for Using Speeches

Score big with verbs in sports

Ice_Hockey_sharks_ducksBefore I met my husband, Oliver, my knowledge of hockey was limited to what I learned from Disney’s Mighty Ducks movies. (You mean real hockey players don’t actually quack?) A confession: While dating, I actually brought a book to the first hockey game I attended with Oliver. And read it. It’s a testament to his love for me that he didn’t dump me right then and there. (He says it was close.)

This morning I stumbled across a story entitled “Hockey’s Doc Emrick and His 153 Verbs.” A story that combines my home-grown appreciation for hockey and my innate love of language? Quack!

As sports writer Frank Deford explains, Doc Emrick is a long-time announcer for hockey who is respected for his work by fans around the world. Deford writes, “he is that rare play-by-play man who is both an authority on the game and a connoisseur of the language. The eloquence he brings to such a bombastic activity is the sort of giant contradiction that even overwhelms irony.” (So many great words in Deford’s own writing.)

In 2013, someone wrote down 53 different words Emerick used to say “pass.” A different fan wrote down all the verbs Emerick used to announce the USA-Canada game in the 2014 winter Olympics – 153, to be exact.

The story got me thinking. Kids love sports. Teachers love great writing. Great writing loves a variety of verbs. Quack, quack, quack!


Most Likely Chefs: English teachers, Physical Education teachers, or Journalism teachers

Variety #1

  1. Play the NPR story for students and show them the lists of words.
  2. Watch 2-5 minutes of a sports video – could be the high school team, a college team, or a movie scene (G, PG, or Kosher, of course).
  3. Before hitting play, ask students to write down all of the verbs they think of while watching the action of the clip.
  4. At the conclusion of the clip, compile a class list on the document camera or whiteboard of all the verbs they wrote down.
  5. Watch the clip again, allowing students to raise their hand to pause the video and add their commentary.
  6. Possible assignment: Ask students to select their own 2-5 minute clip for narration. If the technology is available, students can create their own play-by-play audio with the selected video. The clip does not necessarily have to be sports-related, as long as it has action (i.e. a fashion runway show. NOT Victoria Secret’s.)
  7. Long-term goal: Students keep a running list of the action verbs to use in their own writing. The teacher actively reminds students to refer to their list and add to it.

Variety #2

  1. Play the NPR story for students and show them the lists of words.
  2. Bring in copies of articles from ESPN magazine or other sports-related texts. Let students choose which article they’d like to read.
  3. Before they begin reading, ask students to highlight any action verbs they find. Also, ask them to star or underline any parts they believe to be an example of good writing.
  4. After students are done (or the next day, if you give that step as homework), compile a class list of the verbs they found.
  5. Ask students to create a simple t-chart on their paper. One side should say “Verb” and the other should say “Effect.” Ask students to pick five of the verbs and, in the “Effect” column, explain how the verb choice affected the text. (Push them beyond anything banal like “the words creates an image.” Right. But why that image? How does it connect to or affect the meaning, tone, or purpose of the text?)
  6. Next, ask students to replace their five chosen verbs and replace them with others they select from the class list that would also make sense in their article. Add the new five words to their t-chart and explain how those new choices affect and/or change the meaning from the original words.
  7. Finally, if there’s time or as a follow-up activity, engage students in discussion by asking them to share a part they identified as great writing, and (this is the important part) ask them to explain why the writing should be considered great. Did others identify the same moment? Why? How can we use these techniques in our writing?
  8. Long-term goal: Students keep a running list of the class’s action verbs to use in their own writing. The teacher actively reminds students to refer to their list and add to it.

Great connoisseurs of language are out there in every field, on every field, and apparently on ice too. Happy New Year’s Eve, be safe, and enjoy!

Ole Posole!

Outside, the sky is gunmetal gray and the temperature is barely older than me. If I still lived in Florida, I’d be sporting flip-flops and a tank top and considering whether to buy a Chocolate Elvis smoothie from Planet Smoothie. (If you don’t enjoy the ice-cold blend of chocolate, banana, and peanut butter, you are no doubt from another planet, maybe even one ironically called Smoothie.) But here in Maryland we’re in the midst of perfect soup weather, and since I fatefully named this blog after soup, I will honor its namesake by recommending one of my favorite recipes.

Being a teacher is emotional fulfilling and draining at the same time. Soup is only fulfilling, so it’s a great medicine to administer for the draining part. It’s warm, (usually) nutritious, and one recipe often makes a butt-load of extras you can save or freeze for another day. Butt-load is an actual measurement. It’s in the latest issue of Martha Stewart Living. Ok, I’m lying. I’ve never had time to do anything in the Martha Stewart Living magazine.

Real Simple magazine – that’s another story. I’ve made many of their recipes, all of which have turned out quite good. I’ve burned instant rice, instant potatoes, and managed to cook a pre-made rotisserie chicken WHILE IT WAS STILL PACKAGED, so “quite good” is a testament to RS’s recipes. One of my early favorites was a recipe for Chicken Posole that ran in the Oct. 2009 issue. Thanks to the magic of the interconnected tubes, here’s a link to the original recipe:


A few notes and tweaks from my experience:

1) If you buy a pre-made rotisserie chicken, don’t put it in the oven to stay warm. Three hours later you will pre-heat your oven to make rolls and, well, you know how that ends up.

2) Purdue makes a great uncooked rotisserie chicken you can cook yourself. Doing so adds an extra step, but for only a few dollars more than the pre-cooked, you end up with a butt-load more chicken.

3) I am not keen on kick, at least in my food. (David Beckham? Kick away with your fine self. A Tribe Called Quest? Yes, you can kick it. My soup? No, thank you.) The crushed red pepper called for may only be 1/4 teaspoon, but I lowered it to about 1/8. My husband can add more if he wants.

4) Everything is better with pasta. And goat cheese, but there’s really no room for that in this recipe. I highly recommend adding pasta to give this soup a little more umph (here, being used as a synonym for carbohydrates). Wagon wheels are my favorite, but any shape is good. If you choose to add pasta, add more of the chicken stock because the pasta will soak that junk up like an alien enjoying his first Chocolate Elvis smoothie. You can cook the pasta in the soup or separately – your call.

5) I interpreted RS’s inclusion of the lime slice as their secret message to enjoy this soup with a Corona.

Let’s be real – the third nine weeks is a bitch. Everyone’s annoyed that winter break is over, teachers feel overwhelming pressure to cover material before the Testing Season opens, and spring break is a loooooong way off. Soup doesn’t solve any of those problems, but it should at least make you feel warm and full, which is a start. Enjoy!



New Year for Teacher Soup

I considered deleting some of my previous posts because they represent my halting attempts at launching this blog. But then I reconsidered. Probably because I’ve spent too many years reading O Magazine and definitely because I’m on a self-confidence kick brought on by reading Amy Poehler’s book, Yes Please. Poehler shares words of wisdom from one of her mentors, Del Close, who wisely advised everyone, “Don’t think.”

“Don’t think” sounds like the opposite of good advice, especially when read by a former high school English teacher who relishes the analysis (re: tearing apart) of a 19th century poem or an episode of Downton Abbey (Just one more week people! One week!). We of the over-analytical mind sometimes stop our own progress with mental moats. We stand on the banks of “How Do I” for far too long, instead of just jumping into the water. Now that I live in Maryland and don’t have to worry about Florida alligators, this advice sounds much more reasonable. (Disclaimer: I do not advise people to jump into Florida moats. Seriously. There is some weird shit growing down there.) So I’m leaving the previous posts as a reminder that I can’t let a few moments of regression stop me from moving forward. Onward, I say. Onward!

My husband gave me a long-desired birthday gift and one I had to move hundreds of miles to receive: a subscription to The Washington Post. (To the people in their 20s, yes, I realize I could have gotten a digital subscription years ago, but I am also a former journalism major who loves the snap of a fresh page of newspaper, so when Kindle/Apple/BillGates can reproduce that effect, then we’ll talk.) The Post is a goldmine of teaching material, so expect to see lots of links and ideas from that source.

I love a good laugh, and we have far too few of those in our classrooms today, so I’m starting the new year with a link to a funny cartoon called Frazz that ran in the Post on Dec. 21. Since I don’t want to violate any copyright laws, I will provide you the link:


Great teachers know how to take ideas from other teachers and adjust the ingredients according to their students’ needs. Here’s a potential recipe (lesson plan) from my kitchen (theoretical classroom, if I still had one). Don’t you just love analogies?


  1. Print out comic and have it displayed on your document camera before students arrive. (Or copy the comic onto an overhead transparency and then ask your students to bring in baked goods so you can host a fundraiser to buy a document camera.)
  2. Once the bell rings and the kids have all read the comic, open up the discussion. “What do you notice?” “What’s funny here?” Honestly, those questions are probably all you’ll need to get the kids to start discussing tone, diction, imagery, and organization.
  3. A few elements to discuss in case they don’t arise organically from discussion:
    1. How do we know immediately who “they” is in the first frame? Why didn’t Jef Mallet (the comic) use “adults” or “parents” instead? What is the effect of the use of “they”?
    2. Discuss choice of phrase “hopped up.”
    3. Discuss organization of frames. How does the bubble in the middle help or hinder the flow of the comic?
    4. Bonus points for kids who get the allusion to 1984!!! Teachable opportunity for all those who don’t!
    5. What is the full reason for why the boy on the bike isn’t worried about discussing “Big Clause”. How do we know and how would the humor be affected if the little boy explained his thinking fully.
    6. Mini-mini discussion on punctuation and purpose:
      1. the colon in the middle bubble
      2. use of telegraphic sentences in last frame
  4. In my kitchen, this activity would be considered an h’ordeuvre. No need to fill up an entire period with it, and don’t worry about every last crumb. My main objective would be to wake those little brains up from their holiday stupor, get them to pay attention, laugh together, and learn a little something.

So there it is. Just add students and you’re ready to get cookin’. Ok, after three cups of coffee, but you know what I mean.

Happy Halfway Point in the School Year!