Pop Links 8.28.14: Low Income Students At Elite Schools; APA Warns About Students’ Sleep; Student Documentary Competition; Parody Of ‘Baby Got Back’ For Back To School

  • While there are more students from low income households attending college than ever before, the number of poor students attending the nation’s most elite colleges has plateaued. The NYTimes explores the scarcity of low income students at top universities and why this matters.
  • Tired school children gained a major ally by way of the American Pediatric Association. The Association warns that that early school start times unhealthily interfere with young students’ important sleep cycles.
  • Inspire creativity among your students with CSPAN’s Student Documentary Competition! Find tips on incorporating preparation for the competition into your curriculum and view last year’s winning entries on the site. Deadline: January 2015
  • The award for “Most Excited for the School Year to Begin” goes to two overjoyed parents who have racked up over 4 million views on their video parody of Baby Got Back, made in celebration of their children heading back to school! Check it out!
  • TFANet Resource: Unit Plan
By |August 28th, 2014|General|0 Comments|

Fear Is A Lie



“For this year, I fear nothing, fear is a lie.”

I get this from one of my eighth graders on the first day of school while they are doing an activity that requires them to write down their hopes and fears.

I wasn’t exactly scared about coming back home and starting this new school year—I wasn’t even as nervous as I thought I should be as I set up my classroom and finally greeted my students for the first time—but fear still stops me in my tracks. In all its forms—anxiety, terror, worry, panic—fear stayed with me through most of my three years teaching, and ultimately, drove me to take my hiatus from the classroom.

This past year, despite having rappelled down waterfalls, taken questionable motorcycle taxi rides, and shown up in multiple foreign countries alone, I’ve come to the conclusion that nothing is scarier than standing up in front of a vaguely organized mob of hormone-driven teenagers and trying to shove knowledge into their brains.

Because retrospect tends to do a great job of packaging up personal bad experiences into neat, unassuming anecdotes—the unexpected charity from strangers on the night my purse got stolen in Laos, the deep well of strength I found when I crashed my motorcycle in Vietnam, the contagiously optimistic attitude during the crummy packaged tour I overpaid for—but retrospect is never that generous to teachers. Kids will always remember their favorite teacher, but they will also always remember the teachers who failed them. The ones who tried too hard to be chummy with the varsity jocks and neglected the rest of the class, the ones who spent day after day sitting behind their desks while a textbook or a movie delivered the lesson, the ones who are labeled as “jokes” because they never seem to fully understand their own content area.

Even abroad, my biggest fear was that I am one of those teachers: a failure because no matter how hard I try, I can never push my students far enough. (One night in Thailand last winter, I had a nightmare about classroom management.)

I don’t think that fear will ever completely go away, but my student’s response reminded me that now, on this first day of the new school year, fear is not what drives me anymore—hope does.

I don’t know what my student wrote as her hope for the year, but I think she already figured out the hard part anyway. If fear is a lie, I think we can find truth in hope.

So for this year—for my students—I hope to be better.

And I have 179 days left to prove it.

Pop Links 8.26.14: Travel To School; Tech For Teachers; Tennessee & Cursive; Celebrities Speak Education

Lily’s Victory


(Photo credit:  Simply CVR)

“But today, as I moped and wished and regretted and hoped, I remembered Lily. The way she always works hard, even if it is not appreciated and even if her classmates are causing chaos. The way she smiled at me and promised to work harder. The way she didn’t let a disappointing grade crush her spirit. Individual EOG data has not been released, so I don’t know Lily’s final score. I do know, though, that she will eventually overcome her struggles. And I hold onto the same hope for myself.”
From Lessons from Lily

The floor in the school was shiny, freshly waxed with barely a footprint to mar it.

“You ready for kids to come back?” I asked Mr. Stanly, the custodian who is always looking for a snack and some soda.

“Yeah, Ms. Freeman, I am. It’s too quiet in here.”

I’m coming to ask my new principal a question about pacing for the school year. I’ve spent the last week and a half making a curriculum for social studies and science.

“Hey, Ms. Freeman, I’m so glad to see you today!”

I took a seat in the maroon chair across from his desk. We discussed pacing, I made my request, and we discussed students and the coming school year. As the conversation naturally rolled to a close, I thought to make a second ask:

“Could I see the broken down data for test scores?”

‘Sure Ms. Freeman!” he said, pulling out a bright yellow folder, “it wasn’t what I hoped for, but we’ll work on it.”

I nod as he hands me a folder with my information. I’m shaking as he hands me the list – I already knew my average wasn’t what I hoped – but looking through the list I’m struck with the scores attached to the names. Students like Devon and Robert grew. Others stayed low, and I want a do-over of the year.

And then I saw her name: Lily.

At the end of last year, I saw my overall EOG data, and I was devastated. Less than half my students were on grade level in science. I had never worked harder and I felt that I deserved more than scraping by. I stress ate while some of my roommates friends’ eyed me, noting that I was “going to town on that popcorn.”

But last year, I stopped pitying myself when I remembered my student Lily.

She worked hard in the midst of disappointment and never gave up, even when over and over again the results weren’t favorable.

And so, as I scanned the list, the name I was looking for was hers. When I saw Lily’s score, my heart turned up like a gospel choir.

Level IV: Students performing at this level consistently perform in a superior manner clearly beyond that required to be proficient at grade-level work.

And suddenly it didn’t matter so much that my students had not done well as a whole. Suddenly it didn’t seem like such a crushing defeat. And I don’t say that to absolve myself of responsibility or insinuate that they are unimportant. But when a student like Lily does well, a student that has experienced barrier after barrier after barrier, that has been projected to fail and still works hard and overcomes all of that … that makes the struggle of last year seem very small.


If you want to help out in my classroom, check out my Donors Choose project. Every time I attend professional development, I start daydreaming about chart paper, post it notes, dry erase boards, and laminators. Enter the code INSPIRE when you donate, and Donors Choose will match your gift dollar for dollar.

Motivation Monday: Opportunity


The Fear of a Blank Classroom


(Photo Credit: Erin Schulz)

In college, I double-majored in education and creative writing, so I’m familiar with the fear of a blank page. For me, facing a blank page is difficult not because I don’t have any idea about what to write, but because I have so many ideas that I care about. And until I start writing, they’re perfect. Once I put my fingers to the keyboard, things get a lot messier.

I was struck by that same feeling on Thursday, when I went to check out my classroom. I have tons of ideas about what I want and need in my classroom. Thanks to this post I have a thousand books to move into my new class. I have a whole list of procedural posters to create, not to mention tracking systems. I’m not an interior decorator! I can’t even keep my bedroom in an organized state of chaos.

I created a Pinterest board a few weeks ago, solely to pin classroom organization and decoration posts. I’m not sure if this was a good idea. I’ve got lots of inspiration now, but also a fair dose of intimidation. Where do people find all of these boxes? Or these ideas? My handwriting does not automatically look like an artsy Microsoft font, and I’m sure some of my students will be better at cutting straight lines then I am. I could spend days on Pinterest, staring at the creative work of other teachers. It’s only helpful until it turns into blatant procrastination.

The empty classroom terrifies me for the same reasons as a blank page: I have so many ideas and I’m paralyzed by my inner editor. The inner editor, a concept I was introduced to by Chris Baty’s book No Plot No Problem, is the voice that critiques my best creative efforts. The inner editor expects perfection immediately. And that’s a problem, because first drafts are never pretty. Instead of making me a better writer, the inner editor stops me from writing at all.

I’m headed into my classroom in a few minutes to start assembling bookshelves and wrangling tables, and I’m not taking my inner editor with me. I’ll bring her later, when I have a rough-draft of the room laid out. I’m sure it won’t start off perfect, but one thing I learned from being a creative writing major is that it’s easier to make something great when you have something to start with.

Wish me luck, and feel free to reply with advice, pictures, or links about how you create your perfect classroom!

Back To Being Ms. Garvey


(Photo credit: Vero Villa)

Just about this time last year, I was hiking over the Pyrenees, starting a 500-mile walking pilgrimage across Spain. Eight months ago I was dancing on the beaches of Thailand with thousands of strangers under the full moon. Five months ago I was taking shots of snake blood and motorbiking down the coast of Vietnam a la Top Gear. Three months ago I was watching the sunrise from a hot air balloon over the fairy-chimney-shaped rocks of Turkey.

No job, no responsibilities, no deadlines.

And yet for some reason, in April I signed away that life of travel and freedom so I could spend last week in a meeting room in hot and humid Houston, attending sessions on the planning and execution of middle school history objectives.

People told me I was crazy when I left the classroom at the end of the 2013-2014 school year to backpack solo around the world…and an equal number of people told me I was crazy when I decided to come back.

But the children were waiting, the job offer was there, and here I am.

At my KIPP onboarding (terrifyingly called KIPPnotizing—but that’s another story), Mike Feinberg referenced Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken to symbolize the difficult choice our students make when they choose the long hours and high expectations of attending a KIPP public charter school.

While I believe in Mike’s interpretation, I think it’s just as important for us to remind our kids that not all decisions are as binary. Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—as a 2010 corps member and a world traveler; as a new-to-the-classroom Big KIPPster and an experienced teacher with three years under my belt; as a Connecticut Yankee and a lover of all things Texas—I’ve been taking both roads my entire life.

I went on an incredible adventure last year, but that doesn’t mean this year will be any less incredible. I am back to being Ms. Garvey, and I can’t wait to share this year’s adventure with you.

Pop Links 8.19.14: Pay Kids To Go To School; Discuss Mike Brown; Teacher-Led Administration; Behavior Management App

  • To break the cycle of poverty, a Memphis school district is banking on the idea that paying students to go to school will produce better results. Read more about the controversial incentive system.
  • The Michael Brown shooting and its aftermath have dominated the news media for the past few days, but how will you discuss this complicated topic with your students? NPR offers guidance for broaching the topic in class.
  • At one Boston school, teachers are given a say in all aspects of running the school. PBS explores the inner workings of this innovative teacher-led school administration.
  • Have some unruly students in your classroom? There’s an app for that! Manage class behavior with ClassDojo, an app and website which allows you to easily keep track of individual student’s actions.
  • TFANet Resource: Tracker