About Blair Mishleau

Blair Mishleau came to Minneapolis by way of Chicago after earning a degree in digital journalism and American Sign Language at Columbia College Chicago. He teaches English Language Learners, and is still getting his sea legs as a 2012 Teach For America corps member. His educational passions include teaching conventional usage, media fluency, and grammatical symbols like the ampersand.

Think There’s Nothing We Can Do About Name-Calling? Think Again.

It’s no secret that bullying (be it at school, on the playground, or online) is a huge barrier to kids’ wellness and achievement. The data is grim, particularly for LGBT students of color or from low-income backgrounds.

The problem is clear, but the solution is murky. One big step in the right direction, however, is talking about it—more than once, and in a way that’s accessible and engaging to students. I know, I know, small task, right?

As a teacher, I’ve observed too many examples of bullying without having the tools needed to discuss and unpack this behavior with students. As my kiddos’ teacher, nothing hurts more than to be at a loss when one student causes hurt to another.

The GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network) and its national partners are helping remedy this with No Name-Calling Week, running Jan. 20-24.

Why Co-Teaching Is Twice the Work

(Photo credit: Hash Milhan)

(Photo credit: Hash Milhan)

For the start of Year Two, I found out I’d be co-teaching. After preening for a few minutes at my good fortune, I thought of all the time I’d be saving by having another person to shoulder the work. After all, I thought, having a second person by me every moment of teaching would cut my work in half.



If anything, having a co-teacher has made me work much harder than I did most days during Year One, and definitely not because my co-teacher is lazy. If anything, it’s because she is so much the opposite of that.

We’re doing a lot more with our kids, going above and beyond what would be possible with just one person. But from the typical measures of time and effort spent, having a co-teacher hasn’t really helped, because we feed off of each other’s desire to be excellent teachers.

Am I doing it wrong? Not necessarily. I think my co-teacher and I are leveraging each others’ crazy work ethic and devotion to kiddos, which is great. Nonetheless, I feel like I would have benefitted quite a bit from a good heart-to-heart from a veteran co-teacher before diving into this year.

So I’m going to save you a few dozen hundred hours of work, should you ever happen to co-teach (and heck, a lot of these are good for co-worker relationships in general).

The Final Stretch: Preparing for the Last Semester with TFA


(Photo credit: Sarah Reid)

Pro/con analyses have gotten me through some tricky situations. They’ve helped me move forward with things that scared me—joining TFA, applying to the Peace Corps, being in a long-distance relationship, etc.—and have pushed me to be brave.

The process gets much more complicated, though, when children are involved. As I near the end of my two-year commitment (side note: when did having 25% of a commitment left mean that I was near the end?), I am filled with too many thoughts, in and out of my own head, to make sense of it all.

“You don’t have to do anything for anyone. You’ve already given enough.”

“What would your school do without you?”

“Having a gay teacher—closeted or not—is a huge deal for your kids.”

“When are you going to have time to be a 20-something?”

“Mr. Mishleau… are you going to quit?”

Working Through The Noise: How to balance TFA criticism with personal success

When I was accepted into Teach For America, I asked around. I spoke with supporters and critics, and read more than a few critical blog posts (yo, Gary, this one’s for you!). I knew going in that there were a lot of viewpoints on the organization.

The debates continue to rage on, but I think that’s good. I see many things I want TFA to change, and some of the greatest advocates for kids have landed on both sides of the arguments over the program.

At the end of the day, though, I still have a class of students whom I’m responsible for. Being asked to represent all of TFA, to defend my choice for joining the program, and offer evidence that it’s not the worst program in the entire world is taxing.

This is all before I’ve started Long-Term Planning, creating Unit Plans, setting up my classroom, calling parents, texting kids about homework, grading or going to grad school.

So, I developed some tips for incoming teachers – 2013’s, listen up! – to both hear the very real concerns about TFA and be the teacher your kids need. Because both are vital for you to become a true educator.

By |September 19th, 2013|Perspectives|1 Comment|

The Power of Yes: Making Your Classroom A Happy Place

No this, no that, no nothing...

No this, no that, no nothing… (Photo credit: net_efekt)

In the urgency and stress of trying to run a college-bound classroom, I’ve often found myself acting as a small “no” factory. No bathroom breaks. No red ink. No choosing your own partners for group work. It’s like that scene at the beginning of Mean Girls, Lindsay Lohan’s character is barraged by negative answers.

Of course, I had a reason behind each one. We don’t have time to waste, I need to be able to grade work, and I know which “work partners” will get off task.

But the power of yes, when wisely used, has infinite potential. 

Institute 2.0: A 2012 gets an Institute re-do

Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist), National Galle...

Is your institute experience like a Pollock painting? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I finished institute last summer, I knew I’d be working at institute the first opportunity I got. That electric environment was calling my name, even as I swore I was so over it.

There’s something in the air around institute. Maybe it’s the fear excitement of the new CMs, or the supreme knowledge of the veteran faculty advisors and seasoned Institute staff. Or the feeling of community that can be fostered in the copy center at 11:48 p.m. (You know, the early crowd.)

That said, the biggest downfall I found in Institute was the sheer amount of things that were thrown at me. If I could remember half of what I was told, I’d be the world’s greatest teacher.

As a 2012 CM, institute felt like paining a house with a paintball gun. It can be a messy process, and some bruises are inevitable when you misfire. Some of the paintballs added a splash of behavior management or curriculum development to my teaching ability. Others just left painful welts after a critical observation went awry.

Gallantly, I tried to soldier on as knowledge washed over me, and I tired from the game. Eventually, I hit the finish line, feeling like a more fully-realized portrait of a teacher, albeit slightly bruised.

Are You Failing Your Queer Students?

English: Rainbow flag flapping in the wind wit...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Take a mental picture of all your students. Say you have 25 students per class and five classes: that’s 125 students. Let’s say, conservatively, that you have 10 students who fall under the LGBT title, and maybe another 10 are perceived to be LGBT by their peers. These students are more likely to have a lower GPA and less likely to aspire to college than their heterosexual peers.

In short, we are failing our queer students. Multiple, recent studies show that they’re less likely to aspire to go to college and they miss school due to victimisation. This is even higher for students who live in rural areas, are of color or are transgender. In total, eight out of ten queer students face harassment.

While there is still no (read it: no. Zip. Nothing) federal legislation protecting LGBT students from hostile classmates or, worse, administration, we as educational leaders have the greatest opportunity for impact.

I recently attended the Creating Change conference, the nation’s largest gathering of GLBTAQQIA folks. (That’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and allies.) As a gay dude, I felt relatively well informed as to what challenges queer students face in the classroom. After attending some of the nearly 300 sessions, Creating Change showed me just how little even I knew.

I attended a half-dozen workshops and caucuses that covered these issues exactly, with organizations like The Trevor Project showing just how devastating these statistics are, and the true cost of them: lost young lives and lowered aspirations for those who make it out alive.

You may be asking what such a conference has to do with teaching. It turns out, a hell of a lot.

Lessons From a Laid-off Corps Member

You're Fired!

You’re Fired! (Photo credit: billypalooza)

In the craziness of first-year teaching, losing my job wasn’t something I had much time to think about. Quitting my job, yes. But losing the job that I spent early mornings and late nights at? That thought hadn’t crossed my mind. Not while I led yearbook club, or when I helped a student re-design the school website. Not as I was shuffled to three different classrooms or taught classes when the school was completely out of paper.

I guess I was too busy putting out the small fires.

Either way, I did lose my job, about two weeks ago. My school faced a budget shortfall and laid off two teachers, myself included. The reason I was chosen came down to the fact that I taught the only elective content classes. They couldn’t get rid of any other position without getting in trouble with the state.

Before reading further: Don’t freak out. I’m one of three people I’ve ever heard of being laid-off midyear, and all of us have figured it out (and grown from it, I’d say). If you find yourself in this position (or if the thought of getting laid-off keeps you up at night), here are five takeaways I’ve gleaned from the experience:

1.) Stay hopeful

I’ve truly been blown away by how supportive the educational community is, inside and out of TFA. A day after I found out I was laid-off, my region’s staff was already hard at work finding me another placement. Everyone I’ve reached out to as I’ve observed other schools has tried their best to help me. This includes strangers with no prior experience with me. The team teacher of a corps member sat down and spent her prep to give me advice, a 1991 TFA alum took time from his job at Minneapolis Public Schools headquarters to help with the job search, and I’m convinced that the TFA regional staff told anyone willing to listen how fancy I am.  It’s humbling, and makes me excited for my next educational opportunity.

2.) Think Bigger

It’s easy to take a layoff personally, but remember our educational system has very, very big issues that extend beyond the classroom

I’m not the only teacher to be let go at my school or in my region this year. While getting excellent teachers into the classroom is the quickest way to help students, we need job stability and fair-paying jobs for teachers if we expect them to make a career of it.

3.) Reflection Is Action

While I’m very frustrated to not be in the classroom, I’ve taken this as time to take stock of where I am as a teacher and where I still need to go. It’s given me time to apply for Institute, for scholarships and to observe other corps members in my region.

This isn’t the “fervent note-taking as soft jazz plays” kind of reflecting you may have done to death at Institute. It’s more real-life: In the half-dozen observations I’ve done in the past week, I’ve been able to put into practice many of the skills I’ve been trying hard to master over the last semester. It’s shown me that even if I don’t have “my students” at the moment, I can still make a difference in students’ lives.

4.) Reignite Your Passions Outside the Classroom

Another task I’ve taken to in my newly-found free time is travelling about! I just got back from Atlanta, attending the massive LGBT conference, Creating Change. I was able to meet up with Atlanta and Chicago CMs, as well as talk to a few prospective TFA applicants and talk about LGBT inequality at TFA with some national staff. Win! A week from now I head to MBLGTACC, a queer college conference, acting as advisor for my graduate school. No doubt I’ll run into more folks there who have Teach For America on their minds! It’s a nice reminder that it’s important to make time for your interests when you get back to the classroom.

5.) Remember, You’re Making a Difference

In the average span of five minutes, my students made me feel: shame, joy, rage and a desire to quit. Students broke my supplies, they stole from me, they told me how awful I was. After I came out to my kids, many of my male students refused to shake my hand as I greeted them. Some called me “faggot” under their breath.

But the second they got wind I was being let go, my most-challenging students were the first to give me hugs, behave and ask me not to leave. Since I’ve left, three students – three very, very challenging students- have e-mailed me, telling me how much I’m missed.

Long-story short: You’re making a difference, wherever you are. Leaving at semester showed me this in a super-fast way.

[Postscript: Eight days after losing his job, Blair was hired as an ELL push-in teacher and reading support teacher for a 6th grade class.]

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