New Semester, New Role: Becoming a CET at the Writing Center

writing-828911_960_720.jpgBy Amanda Szramiak – As my blogs have shown, I am truly in love with working at the writing center here at Marquette. Not only is the work of helping someone with their writing rewarding, it is also intellectually demanding. I find myself using parts of my brain most campus jobs don’t require. I am constantly brainstorming new ways to get my thoughts across, developing a trusting enough relationship with writers where they are comfortable sharing their writing with me, and gaining immense opportunities to develop myself professionally. This semester, I have become a course embedded tutor (CET) for the writing center.

The CET program at the Ott is fairly new, and it is my first semester being involved in the program. Where some professors require their students to come to the writing center for assignments, this program offers something much more. The professors of the CET courses find the process of going through revisions imperative for developing writing skills. As a CET, I am extremely excited to work with a professor who values writing just as much as I do.

Different than a writing center appointment, the CET program receives the students’ drafts ahead of time. The CETs have about a week of reading and commenting on the drafts before returning them to the class. After the drafts are returned, the CETs conference with their students individually. From there, the students can make any changes to their drafts and turn them in the following week.

I am the CET in a criminology research class. The students will be writing a research proposal in which I will meet with them at two different times during the semester. There are three CETs in the course, so we each have about eleven students. One of my favorite things about the writing center is communicating with students from a variety of backgrounds, getting to know their specialties, as well as them as a person. I am really eager to work with the same students over the course of the semester. I think it is going to be a very valuable tool for their educational experience as well as mine.

While I am immensely excited about becoming a part of this program, I am a little nervous. The thing I am most apprehensive about is the number of schedules I need to juggle. With the professor, students, commenting mentors, librarians, and my own schedule, my organizational skills need to be spot on throughout the semester. Luckily, I have an incredible boss who is a great support system and my fellow CETs to keep me afloat during this chaotic semester. I will be sure to keep you updated throughout!

Social Studies Classes are SOOOOOOO Boring

history-998337_960_720.jpgBy Bill Waychunas – Here we go again. Without fail, each and every year, more than one parent will turn a parent-teacher conference into a confessional. Usually, it happens when a parent asks me to explain what my course (Civics) is all about. Sometimes, it comes after they tell me a story about how their child had really enjoyed one of the topics we had learned about and talked their parent’s ear off at home. On occasion, I’m completely blindsided by it, but usually it starts off something like this:

“I used to hate my history classes when I was in high school.”

Then comes my favorite part.

“It was just so boring.”

Great. This is going well. Then comes the curveball.

“But now I just love history stuff.”


Astounding. As a younger teacher, I thought the the adults who had this mindset or the students that weren’t particularly engaged by history just needed time to “come around” to history, as if it was an acquired taste.

Now, I believe that it has more to do with the way that the vast majority of social studies classes are taught. Just this week, I was riding in an Uber chatting with the driver and upon finding out that I was a social studies teacher, he said:”I always liked history classes. I’m good at memorizing things.” There lies the problem. Instead of teaching students to read, think, discuss, and write, we social studies teachers are focused on parading through as much content as possible. We can’t “cover” everything in our classes, yet when we try to, we are creating the “boring” class that’s just all about memorizing facts.

As more schools are shifting the emphasis of reading instruction into social studies classes, we have a great opportunity to teach less, teach it better, and teach social studies skills that will truly serve our students in their futures.

To renew my license this past year, I needed to take an additional course in reading instruction. So, I frantically enrolled in a course at a local public college and could only get into a Friday night course called Foundations of Reading Instruction. So, there I sat, the only secondary teacher in a class of future kindergarten and 1st grade teachers, learning about how to teach kids their alphabet and phonics. While I dreaded the class at first, I ended up learning more than just reading instruction.

To start each class, the professor would ask the class the seemingly simple question, “What is reading?” to which someone in the class would respond, “It is the interaction between the text, the reader, and their prior knowledge.” This is a powerful and important concept that has shaped my teaching of reading in my classroom but also has a related parallel to the work of social studies teachers.

If education and the study of social studies is about creating capable and engaged citizens and setting the foundation for a thriving democracy, then I would ask the question, “What is democracy?” Well, to borrow from my past professor, democracy is “the interaction between the real world, the citizen, and their social studies knowledge.” History and social studies are our “prior knowledge” which enables us to interact with and understand the world around us. Without background knowledge, students cannot use higher-level critical thinking skills that make history useful or relevant to their everyday lives. The problem that happens in most social studies classrooms is that we focus on cramming as much prior knowledge into our students brains as possible without ever showing them how to use it or why it matters.

I believe that this is exactly the reason why so many people are drawn to history as they become older; the success of the History Channel can’t be completely attributed to Duck Dynasty, after all. When asked to describe their high school history experience in one word, most people chose the words “boring” or “irrelevant.” How is it possible that history-centered entertainment continuously tops the charts of best sellers and blockbuster movies, like Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States or Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln? Clearly, there is an untapped wellspring of interest and value in history that has been unfortunately overlooked or simply underutilized by social studies teachers for generations.

Students today are growing up in a much different world than the vast majority of their teachers, which is why we must adjust the way that we teach social studies. In the past, factual recall and content knowledge was perhaps generally more useful due to the effort and time needed to look something up. For students today, anything that they could possibly want to know is available at their fingertips through smartphones and the internet. The old-fashioned way of memorizing dates, names, events, and other facts needs to be “history.” Instead, what we should be doing is teaching students how to take on the truly massive amounts of information available in the world today by comprehending it, evaluating it, discussing it, and coming to rational conclusions about it.

This is why I’m imploring my fellow social studies teachers to ditch their textbooks (maybe not completely) and venture into the dangerous, exciting, and relevant world of controversy in the curriculum. As adults, we must navigate the treacherous waters of uncertainty, face down conflicting information, and grapple with varying points of view. Why aren’t we asking our students to do the same? By bringing controversy into our curriculum we allow student to practice their skills of interpreting information, considering the views of others, and evaluating arguments and evidence to come to reasoned judgements about a wide range of issues ranging from raising the minimum wage to whether or not 16 year olds should be allowed to vote.

In a history class, why not present students with some of the many mysteries of history where there is conflicting opinion about what actually happened? These are real world issues that are both relevant and interesting to students. Best of all, they give students the opportunity to engage and practice the skills they will need to support and thrive in a democracy before they are released into the world of adulthood. Each year that I teach, I find myself teaching less and less content while more deeply diving into a select number of topics.

But what about the mandated curriculum? What if student opinions get out of control and go beyond disagreements into full-out arguing or bullying of other students? These are valid fears. Teaching “by the (text)book” is certainly the easier and safer route to take. A big part of this is practicality, as going chapter-by-chapter through a book is efficient in terms of the teacher’s expenditures of time and energy. There is little thinking or preparing that needs to be done by the teacher, or by the students. Stepping outside of a textbook can also expose a teacher to possible conflict with students, parents, or administration if they don’t agree with the teacher’s particular presentation of a controversial topic. Staying within the lines of appropriateness isn’t always easy for a teacher to do, but should always be a large consideration when moving away from a standard, textbook curriculum.

The alternative is to stick too closely with the read the textbook, take notes, memorize, and assess cycle that has plagued many social studies classrooms. If we choose not to bring our social studies curricula and teaching closer to what is valuable and interesting to students through controversy and emphasizing the skills truly needed for positive participation in society, we’re not only cheating our students but we will forever be the teachers of just another “boring” course.

How Technology Could Solve the Make-Up Snow Day Problem

snow-246119_960_720.jpgBy Nick McDaniels – I know snow days are a very geography-specific occurrence, but, having just spent 6 full days out of work due to snow, I couldn’t resist blogging about it. In Baltimore, we got over two feet of snow from Friday through Sunday, closing schools on that Friday and for the entire following week, mostly due to hazardous travel conditions and, ultimately, no where to put the snow.

The Mid-Atlantic is prone to these crippling storms about once or twice a decade.  I can remember two or three from when I was growing up and I have enjoyed another two as a teacher.  For me, this means more time performing side-work as a plow operator and more time sledding with my daughter.  I can’t complain.  It also means, though, that I will likely have to work longer into the summer to make up the days we missed.

And while technology in snow-removal is improving to allow us to clear our streets, driveways, and sidewalks more quickly, our ability to keep students from missing valuable mid-year instructional time (this storm disrupted our mid-terms for high school students) seems to remain stuck.  Well, I think our current technology could solve the problem of “winter learning loss.”

With teachers everywhere “flipping” their classrooms, we certainly have the ability to ensure students can be provided with educational content outside of the school building.  Why then are we not building platforms and enacting policies whereby students and teachers can work remotely during snow days?  I am proposing, quite simply, that districts enact policies that utilize their current web-based learning platforms (all districts have them!) during days of weather-related closing.  Students would know, when school is cancelled, that teachers will post assignments and content, upload videos and podcasts, and even engage in live-chats with students at designated times.

If this policy could be successfully implemented, a work-from-home policy for students and teachers, then we can make a strong argument for not adding make-up days at the end of the school year.

Certainly, remote learning cannot replace face-to-face classroom time, but we are fooling ourselves if we think adding five days in June adequately substitutes for five lost days in January.

Things We Just Don’t Do Anymore

Cumberand_Drive_In_Hearty_Welcome.jpgBy Peggy Wuenstel – One of the more challenging aspects of my current position as a reading interventionist is getting buy-in from my more reticent students. There are many ways to say it, but challenged readers really do need to believe that the most important road to improving their skills is practice, practice, practice.  I actually hear some of them explain that they don’t do because they don’t like to do it. I cannot even imagine saying that to one of my teachers. That got me thinking about all the things that are radically different than when I was sitting in the small desks, and even more narrowly, what we don’t do anymore.

Feed the Ducks – I know there are good ecological reasons not to do this, but it really seems like a magical moment of childhood is gone when these feathered friends don’t come questing and quacking for the discards of our bread drawers. Even stale things were good enough to share, and seeing nature up close and personal is a childhood memory I regret being unable to share with my grandchildren.

Take Food to the Drive-in Movie– I’m the oldest of seven kids and one of our summer activities was often loading everyone in to the car to attend an affordable film at the local drive-in movie. There was no need to smuggle in snacks, it was encouraged. I love our local movie theater, and realize much of the profit that keeps first-run films in my neighborhood cinema comes from concessions, and would never dream of sneaking in my snack. But, I do usually go on free popcorn Tuesdays.

Send thank you notes –Jimmy Fallon’s wonderful Friday night bits aside, it’s rare to receive a written acknowledgment of a gift given or a favor done. I have a project at school where students write the notes that are sent to volunteers and donors to school activities. They are usually greeted with equal parts astonishment and enjoyment.

Have Long Personal Conversations Over Dinner- We are in a hurry, and the leisurely mealtimes enjoyed by Europeans do not mesh with our results-driven culture. How sad for students who don’t first witness, then imitate, and ultimately participate, in a recap of the day, a discussion of world events, or a building of background knowledge by which they can understand the world.

Get to Know the Shopkeeper – Our local grocery store closed in December, a victim of the economy and the Super Wal-Mart that was built next door. These people not only knew me by sight, but were willing to support local school projects and serve as a place where kids could see their teachers out in the community.

Dance (except at weddings)- Watching my parents hold each other on the dance floor and move in perfect harmony, even in the living room, is one of my dearest memories. The music and their synchrony modeled a connection that nearly every young person hopes to find for themselves. My husband doesn’t dance, except when we are alone, and then only because he knows I love being held in that same way.

Memorize Phone Numbers, Addresses, and Business Names- Technology has made much of this unnecessary, but also leaves us without back-up when the battery dies of there is no coverage. Kids aren’t encouraged to know their personal info, and don’t see memorization as useful tool for thinking and learning. Spelling words, multiplication facts and studying for tests are all more challenging as a result.

Talk to Our Neighbors, Except to Complain – no more over-the-fence conversations, coffee after the school bus pulls away, or catching up on the neighborhood gossip, and posts on Facebook are not equivalent sources of connection.

Use Candy, Cookies or Sweets as RewardsI do believe this is a good thing, and I do miss baking for my students and the joy of a holiday party.

These are the things that I mourn the loss of the most deeply: We don’t

Believe the Teacher When a Child Complains. Parents call school loaded with anger without knowing both sides of the story.

Want the Best Possible for Our Kids Regardless of What it Costs. Tight budgets mean program cuts, larger class sizes, fewer of the bells and whistles that can make school a magical place to learn.

Respect Public Servants.  We now see them as a drain rather than a service or resource.

Teach Topics or Lessons for the Pure Joy of the Learning. We only have time to cover what is going to be on the next assessment, factored into our school’s performance report, or meet a Student Learning Objective.

Assume that Teachers are Effective, and Only Require Extensive Documentation in Cases Where There is Concern. A lot of times this feels like “prove that you are not a failure.”

Volunteer.  Parents’ jobs are less flexible, and more families require two incomes. Although we have seen a welcome uptick in dads on field trips, it is harder than ever before to find chaperones, PTA volunteers, or the manpower to complete the things we dream about for our students.

Expect a Reply from Our Elected Officials, or a Change in Their Vote Based on Public Opinion. We seem to have lost our representative democracy. Most Wisconsinites favor increased support of public education, but this is not reflected in budget or policy, and legislators are reluctant to release the contacts to their offices that bear this out.


Nostalgia is not the only reason to hang on to things past. If we don’t think about what we do, and what we don’t do, we run the risk of letting others decide what is important in our personal and professional lives. We may be passing on lives to the kids that we share that are seriously stripped of joy and wonder. That is something I don’t intend to do anymore.

Planning for the Future: Why I Love Individual Planning Conferences

3721809183_847a705f0c.jpgBy Sabrina  Bartels – From December until February, my fellow counselors and I find ourselves consumed by individual planning conferences. During these months, we meet with every single 8th grader and his/her parent(s) to discuss high school classes and potential plans after high school. We also show parents how to use Career Locker, which is a website that we use in our 7th grade Career Pathways class. To say the least, it is a somewhat exhausting process: We each complete about 120 conferences, doing upwards of four to five conferences a day. Some days, we have so many conferences and meetings, it is difficult to meet individually with our students.

As exhausting as this process can be, there are also some fantastic benefits to doing these conferences.

  1. We get to meet with EVERY 8th grader! Yes, this leads to a lot of conferences. It leads to some stress. At the same time, we get to do individually tailored conferences for every student. We talk about THEIR plans, THEIR hopes, THEIR dreams. As easy as it could be to do one, blanket meeting about graduation requirements, being able to work with each student on an individual basis gives us the opportunity to help them figure out the best path for high school. Whether that means taking a lot of tech ed classes, or working to fit a cooking class into their schedule, our students know they are individuals and are treated accordingly.
  1. We get to meet parents! For some parents, I have always just been the voice on the phone, or a figure that their son or daughter mentions. Now parents can put a name to the face, and I am able to do the same! Also, a lot of my students have younger siblings, so I get to see some parents again and again!
  1. We receive feedback on our conferences (and, occasionally, our counseling). Our parents get a chance to fill out evaluations about their conference, as well as the counselor they met with. It is surprising how many students know you, even when you are not their primary counselor. This year, since the 8th graders are “my” students, I get a lot of comments about my counseling from students and parents. This includes one very kind note from a parent, who wrote on her evaluation that I have been a “great support to my daughter and our family for the last three years.” It feels awesome to hear that!
  1. We help our students pick their high school classes. Having parents involved in their students’ schedules not only reduces anxiety on the parents’ parts, it also shows the students that they have a support system. Parents feel better knowing their student is not taking five gym classes and two study halls; students feel empowered because they get to choose which classes they prefer; and both the parent and I get to help guide our kids to making smart decisions.
  1. We get to shower our students with compliments. We have our students do a self-reflection that asks about their strengths, talents, and what they are looking forward to in the future. This is the time when parents get a chance to tell their children how they would describe them, as well as give me a chance to compliment my students on their smart choices, good behavior, and excellent grades. So many times, I don’t get a chance to individually tell all my students that they are doing a good job; this is a wonderful opportunity to do so!

Six Tips for Classroom Management

classroom managementBy Nick Rocha – One of the most important aspects of the teaching profession involves effective classroom management skills.  After teachers plan out their lessons and curriculum, being able to properly implement the lesson within a classroom is crucial for engaged learning and to minimize disruptions.  Dave Foley, a retired teacher and counselor from Michigan, suggests six tips for classroom management.

  1. Take charge of your class: Before you start the lesson, make sure that you have everyone’s full attention and everyone is in their seats.
  2. Focus on disruptive students: Make sure to address instances of disruption through either non-verbal communication, pausing while giving a lecture, or specifically calling out the student’s name in class to answer questions or to give their opinion.
  3. Let students choose their seats: Dave argues that allowing students to decide on their own seating arrangement gives them “ownership” of their spot and often encourages students to behave well so that they do not get moved.
  4. Give incentives to do their best on assignments: Sometimes assignments are either not graded or collected from the students. One strategy is to tell the class that all of the activities will be collected and one response will be randomly selected to be evaluated on the board.  If the response is well done, the teacher can give incentives such as smaller warm-up assignments.
  5. Keep an eye on your students: When you are teaching, make sure that you are in visible site with all of your students within the classroom. This allows you to make eye contact with all of your students and address concerns before they become disruptions.  Another recommendation is to vary your position in the room when you teach.
  6. Establish consequences for misbehaving: It is important to explain expectations and consequences of actions in the early days of class. One tactic is to write a student’s name down on the board if they are misbehaving and mention that if they do well for the rest of the class, they name will be erased from the board.  A consequence of having the name on the board could be staying after class.  Dave recommends that teachers should follow up with their consequences of misbehavior to show students that you are serious and as a result they will be serious with you.

What I would have done with my powerball winnings…

download (35).jpgBy Nick McDaniels – As you may have guessed from the fact that I have not become a daily contributor to the Marquette Educator as part of my retirement schedule, I did not win the powerball, though I did buy a ticket, because, well, if buying a ticket was good enough for Alex Ovechkin, it is good enough for me.

But if I had won… here are a few broad statements (my pet education projects) about how I would have helped public education.

200 million dollars (about a third of the after-taxes winnings, because I would probably have taken the cash), would go immediately to a nationwide, state-by-state campaign to cap ALL public education class-sizes at 20 students.

200 million dollars would go to a campaign to end the privatization of public schools, bolstering unionized work-forces, and cutting the legs out from under the text-book/testing machine.

100 million dollars would go to supporting youth advocacy and civics initiatives so that we can begin again to invest in the civic literacy and the voices of students.

That would leave me with me with about 100 million dollars in cash.  I am pretty sure I could live on that.


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