Pop Links 9.16.14: Teacher Diversity; Most Educated Country; Hispanic Heritage Month

  • As America’s students become more diverse than ever, Teach For America’s Co-CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard explains why it is important that the nation’s teaching force reflect student diversity.
  • Russia holds the distinction of being the most educated country in the world according to data compiled by the Organization for Co-operation and Development (OECD). Find out where the USA stands in this list!
  • Yesterday marked the start of Hispanic Heritage Month! Celebrate with your students using resources from Teach For AmericaScholasticTimeSmithsonian and PBS.
  • TFANet Resource: Context Clues
By |September 16th, 2014|Pop Links|0 Comments|

Pop Links 9.11.14: Documentary Websites; FLOTUS Writes About College; Why So Few Male Teachers; Importance of 9th Grade

  • Looking for a good documentary to show your students? Try one of these 10 sites that carry educational documentaries!
  • First lady Michelle Obama wrote a guest post for the popular curating site Upworthy and the topic was education! Obama references some of the challenges she faced in college as a first generation college student.
  • With the recent Dream.Rise.Do campaign, Teach For America sought to get more men of color in the classroom, but as the New York Times points out, there are very few men of any race in the classroom. The newspaper explores the profession’s gender imbalance.
  • Ninth graders are at the bottom of the high school totem pole, but they are a top priority for school administrators. Researchers have found that 9th grade is a key year in determining student outcomes.
  • TFANet Resource: Cause and Effect
By |September 11th, 2014|Pop Links|0 Comments|

Over My Head


(Photo credit: Bermi Ferrer)

Here I am, safely nestled in a three-day-weekend after the whirlwind of the first two days of school. After chronicling my journey since induction, it’s amazing to think that first day of school has already come and gone.

Everyone I’ve talked to since then wants to know the same thing: “How did your first day go?” I find myself stumbling over my words in an attempt to answer in a way that’s positive, honest, and actually encapsulates everything that the first two days were.

I adore the ocean. I grew up in Eastern Washington, and I took every chance I had to get to the coast and put my feet into the Pacific. If you’ve ever stood in the ocean, you understand the feeling of waves coming in and lifting you up. Sometimes when the waves recede, your feet are still under you, braced against the sand for another wave. But more often than not the sand has shifted, or you are no longer exactly where you were standing, and you aren’t standing anymore.

That’s what the first days felt like to me. I came to the ocean prepared to get wet, ready and excited for the power of the waves, but that didn’t stop me from occasionally feeling fear. I already adore my students, and I think I came to the classroom prepared for the hard work it would take to harness their energy, but there were moments I lost my footing.

Whether I acknowledge it or not, my students are so powerful. The main difference I’ve felt between the classes I have now and the groups of students I’ve worked with in the past is that these classes are bigger. All these students together have a lot of force. As a teacher, I think part of my job is to ride the waves and laugh when I get sprayed with a faceful of water. But I have a greater responsibility to these students than that: I owe them a productive direction for their combined energy and a lens through which they can see how powerful they truly are.

It’s not going to be easy. On Thursday I could barely keep my feet under me, and I know I missed opportunities to connect with every child on the first day of class. That frustrates me because I don’t have time to waste with my students. They deserve to have an exceptional teacher all year long.

On Tuesday I want to do a better job than I did this week, but I don’t think that grounding my feet more firmly is the way to do it. After all, trying to stand up against the waves is futile; the best way to navigate the power of the ocean is to accept that you’re bound to be in over your head and swim.

By |September 10th, 2014|Corps Stories|0 Comments|

Pop Links 9.9.14: J. Crew Student Design Contest; Transgender Women Gain Acceptance; Teachers Celebrate 1st Day of School; 25 Best Websites For Teachers

  • Calling all student artists! J.Crew wants students to help design the new J.Crew Teach For America tee. Your student can win the once-in-a-lifetime chance to have their design featured on the J.Crew Teach For America tee, a $1,000 J.Crew gift card, and a $1,000 donation to their school. Please see the complete rules and entry form here.
  • One of the nation’s most prestigious all-women’s college took a major step in the LGBT movement in announcing they will now accept transgender women. Read more about Mount Holyoke College’s new policy.
  • A group of Wisconsin teachers bottled up their excitement for the first day of school in a fun video that is quickly making rounds on social media. Check out the exciting video here!
  • Scholastic recommends the 25 best websites for teachers!
  • TFANet Resource: Plot
By |September 9th, 2014|General|0 Comments|

Grit vs. Resilience: A Buzz Word for 2014


(Photo credit:  The U.S. Army)

After my first year of teaching I have revisited many of the words I wrote down in my leather bound Teach For America journal during my time at Houston Institute. At Institute we used buzz words. Lots of them. As much as I resisted using common language, I found myself evoking our buzz-word-language out of a desire to operate from a shared archetype. And as I sat down to revisit the words, I back-filled my journal with the meaning of my own experiences and the experiences of my students. In doing so, I’ve created new words that fit the reality of what I think my students need, now that my consciousness has been awakened. There is, however, still one word that lingers with me, and that I think it is important to examine. And that word is the Houston Institute Buzz Word of 2013: grit.

In its purest connotation, grit is an embodiment of tenacity, fight, and determination. The word conjures images of a crass, spunky John Wayne in True Grit or of a clenched-jaw athlete during a drive at the ten yard line during a tied game. Grit is certainly something I like to think that I have; and judging from the number of fellow corps members who included the word in almost every spoken and written reflection, most everyone saw it as essential.

Certainly, grit is positive. It’s about digging deep and giving it your all; but, the word also misses the boat with its images of gutsy cowboys and grass-stained offensive linemen. The connotations of grit missed what our students really need, which is to consider circumstance, lean into their feelings, and adapt after failure or in the midst of difficulty. I think our students would be better off if they learned to embody consciousness, feeling, and adaptation. In short, when they think about grit, I think our students would be better served to embody the idea of resilience rather than the idea of fighting back.

In her book “The Gifts of Imperfection” Brene Brown, a researcher and social worker focusing on resilience as tool for overcoming shame and living a whole-hearted life, writes about the importance and inherent connection between resilience and hope.[1] Brown discusses the increasing cultural belief that “everything should be fun, fast, and easy.” This cultural ideology has produced disastrous self-talk during difficult encounters, experiences, and tasks. Self-talk like, “This is supposed to be easy, it’s not worth the effort” or “This should be easier: it’s only hard and slow because I’m not good at it.”

Although I can’t be in the minds of my students, I know them well enough to know this negative self-talk is likely how they talk to themselves when I hand them a text a few levels above their diagnostic level or when I give them an assignment that takes longer than usual. They lack resilience. They lack hope.

Brown describes a lack of resilience and hope as a sense of entitlement and hopelessness, a sense of “I deserve this just because I want it,” not “I know I can do this.” As a result, that hopelessness leads to a feeling of powerlessness, which is something far greater than educational efficacy; it is political and social efficacy that limits communities’ voices in the most important public discourse. In other words, our students who don’t have resilience are sitting in a pressure cooker that creates another vicious cycle of self-doubt, powerlessness, and ultimately silence.

Resilience and hope, on the other hand, give tolerance to disappointment, adaptation as a response to frustration, and a firm belief in what the self is capable of–not what one can’t accomplish. When my students are faced with this parasitic self-talk, I want their response to be “It’s okay if this is hard. It’s okay if I find this challenging. I am capable and I am enough.” I want them to understand how they feel, understand that it’s okay if they fail, and believe that their success in one endeavor is not indicative of their success in many others.

So how is resilience different than grit? Why should we be weary of solely focusing on images of digging deep and fighting for success? Because these images don’t account for how our students may feel during a challenge. There are certainly moments for grit—when they want to give up mid-stream, or when they don’t think they can do one more annotation—but these are moments, not a mental framework. Grit asks that they dig in and fight back, not lean in, re-frame, and positively evaluate their self-worth. Our students need to understand that things aren’t always going to be easy and that if they aren’t successful in an endeavor, they shouldn’t always hunker down and fight through it. Rather, they need to feel, adapt, and remain hopeful in their abilities.

And, so, as I revisit my journals and think about the buzz words we all use, I have decided that I want my students to have a buzz word that accounts for their feelings just as much as it accounts for their agency. I want a buzz word that takes them as a whole person. Here, I suppose, begins my campaign, “Buzz Word of 2014: Resilience”


[1] Brown, Brene. “Cultivating a Resilient Spirit.” In The gifts of imperfection: let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, Minn.: Hazelden, 2010.

Pop Links 9.4.14: Teacher Discounts; Music Helps Achievement Gap; Letters of Note

  • Use your teacher ID to save money year-round! Check out this comprehensive list of retailers that offer teacher discounts!
  • Teaching low income students how to make music over a long period of time can eliminate education disparities between them and their more affluent peers. Find out how researchers came at this promising conclusion!
  • Letters of Note is a fountain of primary sources that can be used in your classroom! See which one of the letters penned by important historic figures will interest your students!
  • TFANet Resource: Density
By |September 4th, 2014|Pop Links|0 Comments|

7 Things I Wasn’t Prepared For


(Photo credit: Niklas Morberg)

I’m officially counting down the days to my first day of class and waiting with bated breath. I have a (mostly) completed classroom library, my “writer’s corner” is starting to come together, and I’ve managed to staple a lot of things over my head. I figured out the set-up of my room and planned my first couple of lessons. But during the past week, I’ve also encountered a lot of surprises, and a lot of things I wasn’t prepared to field.

  1. Health insurance. This is a part of being employed and a fully-grown adult, but I wasn’t prepared to decide which of eight different plans I should commit to.
  2. Retirement plan. Same idea—somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that I would have to think about a retirement plan as part of the employment process, but it wasn’t until I got the choices in front of me that I started to panic. Not about making the choice this time. No, I started to panic about the brevity of human life. Classic job orientation stuff.
  3. Classroom Financials. In all the conversations we had about finding resources for our students, I didn’t realize how many steps there are to any fundraiser, grant, or donation solicitation. Summer school didn’t include a tutorial on filling out purchasing forms.
  4. The time it takes to organize a classroom. I am pretty sure I spent 90% of my time on Thursday finding the die cut at my school and punching out letters. On the bright side, the other 10% of my time went to meeting a couple of parents of 6th grade students.
  5. Stapling things higher than my shoulders. I end up stapling a lot of things crooked when I’m reaching up to staple them. This is a skill I hope to grow in during the coming year.
  6. The surges of doubt. Throughout summer school, I didn’t experience a moment of uncertainty that I was doing the right thing. In the past week, though, I’ve experienced a couple of surges of doubt. Am I ready for the year to start? Did I pick the right career path? Ultimately I know this is exactly where I’m meant to be, but as I get closer to the first day, moments of questioning work their way in.
  7. The support of my fellow teachers. On Friday we had our first literacy PD. By the end of the afternoon, my brain was melting out through my ears, but I was blown away by the support from the other teachers. People offered me phone numbers where I could call them to ask questions, promised to email me templates and schedules, and reassured me. It’s overwhelming, they agreed, but you can do it.

With the support of my fellow teachers and help from some older and wiser sources like my family members, I’ll figure out the details and ride out the pre-teaching jitters. I’m sure there are more surprises to come, but I’m so grateful that there will be happy surprises mixed in with the tough ones.

By |September 3rd, 2014|Corps Stories|0 Comments|

Pop Links 9.2.14: NFL Fantasy Football in School; Women Silent on School Boards; Read Works Website

  • The NFL is confident that it holds the key to making American students better mathematicians – fantasy football! Read more about the league’s plan to get football on the curriculum.
  • In a study of male vs. female behavior on school boards, experts found that while women make up 40% of school boards nationally, they are hesitant to voice their opinions unless the board is composed of a women majority.
  •  Read Works makes it easier to plan your reading comprehension class lessons.  Though the free site, you can find texts, evidence-based question sets, and Common Core aligned materials to help improve student comprehension.
  • TFANet Resource: Point of View
By |September 2nd, 2014|Pop Links|0 Comments|