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|

Students Speak: Labor Day

In honor of Labor Day, we’ve compiled 9 poems from our student Poet Warriors about how they view the work of their parents.  Take a moment to read through the collection and see your student’s parents through their eyes.

PWP Labor Day


Read the collection of poems:


The Poet Warriors Project is a Teach For America creative-writing initiative that encourages students to discover the lessons they have to teach about identity, community, place, and family, and then share their stories through poetry. Students sharpen their understanding of their world, learn to craft poetic narratives, and then publish for the nation to see in order to teach, empower, and create change.

By |September 1st, 2014|General|0 Comments|

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.