Archive Page 3

Teacher: An Acrostic Poem for Studying

204073798_14109a55b3By Aubrey Murtha – I’ve been learning a crazy amount of material in my Literacy in the Content Areas and Exceptional Needs classes this semester at Marquette, and as a way for me to review the major concepts I’ve come across thus far, I am writing you a poem.

That’s right. Grab your Kleenex because you’re about to be swept away by my inspirational poetic genius. Ha!

So, are acrostic poems considered the highest form of poetry? Yes? Alright, then that is what I will compose. Buckle your seat belts, kids, because this is about to be profound:


“T.E.A.C.H.E.R.: An Acrostic Poem”

T: Teaches students to make real-life connections. After all, what is the use of writing a proof or analyzing Hamlet if students are unable to see how such exercises will benefit them in the long run.

E: Engages students using differentiated instruction.

A: Assesses fairly.

C: Chooses challenging texts for students to read in order to A.) promote literacy through the development of active reading strategies and  B.) help students to better understand the nuances of the content area lesson.

H: Has heart. A teacher is passionate about what he or she does. If you are not demonstrating enthusiasm for your job, you should reconsider your profession.

E: Encourages students to be responsible for their own education by creating a classroom environment in which the students can be teachers, too

R: Reassures students, praises them appropriately when they demonstrate progress or insight, recognizes their potential, and assures them that they can reach that potential.

The Many Blessings of a Marquette Education

9383042516_319497975b_zBy Amanda Szramiak – As a Marquette education student, we have immense access to such a wide variety of schools, resources, and people. While I constantly realize how fortunate am, I find myself realizing my fortune more with the little things.

My advanced methods teacher, Dr. Chubbuck, gives endless handouts. I try to feel bad for the tress, but I really, really don’t knowing I have a worksheet filled with academic terminology I need to use to complete an EdTPA assignment. During a lecture about smart boards, we received an access code that allows us to download the software to create smart board lessons. Marquette pays for us to have smart board software access, so go and get a code! When life is busy and the workload is heavy, little things like these make me stop and relax, even if it is just for a split second.

While I appreciate the little things, the big things of this program also make me stop and smell the roses. I have been extremely lucky with my field placements. The cooperating teachers I have worked with not only encourage my teaching passion, but they also ignite it. After hearing horror stories about cooperating teachers and field placements, I will leave my current field placement thanking God for this experience.

I received an email this summer from the field placement coordinator telling me my field placement was at a Milwaukee Public School, and I needed to fill out a background check. I had never been placed at MPS, so I was eager and nervous about starting my placement. After my first meeting with Mrs. Overland at Ronald Reagan High School, I was hooked.

I observe an English nine classroom and a senior literature and performance class, and the students are truly amazing. They are funny, insightful, smart, and dedicated to their IB requirements at this competitive school.

I taught Pat Mora’s, “Elena,” to the freshman class, and their responses to my questions were truly remarkable. I had never taught poetry, so I was a little worried that I would not be totally successful. The poem deals with the issue of cultural assimilation, and we discussed the downfalls of losing culture because of relocation. I asked the students if they could think of a time they felt discriminated against because of their culture. The students opened up and described detailed instances where they felt their culture held them back. The students also discussed being discriminated against because of other things such as socioeconomic status and having disabilities. I didn’t think the students would take the direction they did, but I was pleasantly surprised with their responses.

In addition to the amazing students, Mrs. Overland is equally incredible. Her classroom presence is filled with intelligence and care, which are difficult characteristics to embody all the time. She sets the students up for success by explicitly stating her expectations, but she also gives guidance through every step of the way. I have learned so much from Mrs. Overland thus far, and I feel immensely privileged to be able to work with such a passionate teacher.

Shock and Sadness: Losing a Student and Learning How to Cope

7942728236_c2f9b5c8ae_bBy Sabrina Bong – Throughout my life, I have gotten some scary phone calls. There was the time that my grandmother called to say that my grandpa had died. There was the voicemail my husband left me to say that he had been in a car accident. But none of the frightening phone calls I’ve received so far topped the one that I got just last week, where the principal of my school said seven, heartbreaking words:

A student from our school has died.

As an intern, hearing that a student had died was tragic. I hadn’t known what to do, or how to help the students around me cope. But there is definitely something different when you are such an integrated part of the staff. You feel closer to the students, almost protective. Those students become “your kids.” You worry about them at night, and keep a watchful eye on them during the day. Perhaps this is why my thoughts were so scattered immediately after hearing that one of our students had died.

Oh my God, was it Tony? Or Billy? What about Penny? Is it one of the Student Ambassadors? How did this happen? Who was sick? How does a kid die? They are too young to die! The poor parents! I can’t imagine being in that position. Boy or girl? One of my eighth graders or younger? The poor teachers! I can’t imagine getting that news.

As the principal slowly filled me in on the few details he knew, and outlined a plan for us to follow the next day, I found myself descending in a state of shock. The student was a 7th grader that I somewhat knew. He would help the teachers in the cafeteria, whether that meant pushing in chairs or helping empty the trash cans. I remember just a few days before his death, he had shown me a toy that he had earned for all of his help after the lunches. I think it was a dinosaur. He was so excited and had showed all of his friends and several of the teachers. He had the biggest smile on his face. How could such an outgoing, enthusiastic student be gone?

I walked into work the next day, scared of what to expect. This was one of my first experiences with a student’s death. Immediately, all of us counselors and the principal sat down and came up with a list of what needed to be done, as well as a timeline for when everything should be completed. That was a little overwhelming. We knew that we had to make a staff announcement, but also wanted to give the student’s teachers a heads-up before dropping the news on them.

We called down all of his teachers and had them meet in one of our offices. No one knew what to say. The principal announced it to the rest of the staff during the meeting. We called counselors at the high school and asked if they could be on “stand-by,” should we need them. We composed a speech for teachers to give, informing students of his death, and wrote up a letter to send home to the parents.

As a counselor, here are some tips I think are important to remember when a student has died:

  1. When talking about death with your students, be open and honest. It is okay to say that someone died. Using euphemisms for death (“he went to sleep and didn’t wake up”) may scare students, or make them believe that they will die as well. Though most of my students understand the concept of death, this is still something that is foreign to many of them. Also, be sure that you talk about death at their level. Reading stories are helpful, but ensure that they are age appropriate. And be ready for the discussion that may ensue as a result!
  2. Be available as much as you can for your students AND your teachers. Remember that it’s much more difficult for teachers to reach out to you when they need help versus students. We told teachers that if they needed a break, to give us a call downstairs and we would cover their class for a while.
  3. Death can re-traumatize students. Not only do you need to be available to console the kids who knew the student really well, there may be a host of students who needed to be consoled because this triggers them to remember another event in their lives. Of all the students I talked to in the past week, I would estimate that 2/3 of them remembered a tragic death in their past, and had to talk through their feelings.
  4. Self-care. The death of a student affects everyone, whether they realize it right away or not. Since you, as the counselor, will be one of the sole sources of support in the rough days ahead, make sure that you take time for yourself once the school day is over. Get that pedicure, or enjoy your favorite TV show.

I remember as we were all moving around the school, checking on teachers and consoling crying students, one of my teachers and I were talking in the hallway. I made a comment that I hoped to never get a phone call like that again. She said to me that she had experienced two deaths at the previous school she worked at, and agreed that those types of phone calls were the worst. I distinctly remember her saying, “You never get used to those types of calls. Even when you’ve heard it once or twice before, you still feel sick to your stomach every time it happens.” Then, she gave me a tiny smile. “This is a learning experience,” she reminded me.

This week has been a learning experience, but this is one that I hope I do not have to repeat any time soon.

How Technology in the Classroom is Destroying Education Part II

7068816953_31435606c5_bBy Nick McDaniels – Nearly 5 years ago, I wrote a post called “How Technology in the Classroom is Destroying Education.” I finished that post with these words: “One thing is for sure, no matter how well a teacher can engage students with the use of technology in the classroom, until legislatures, parents, schools and teachers find an effective way to keep cell phones out of schools, one little piece of technology will out-compete the rest for the attention of students, and thus work to destroy education as we know it.”

I then proceeded to argue about this proposition with Ed. Tech. advocates. I was ed-tech-born-again and integrated cell phones into lesson plans. I admitted that I was wrong about cell phones.  I even wrote this post in 2011 about my transformation.

But, now, I think I was right the first time. Because, you see, now student cell phone use is no longer an act of defiance, but an act of need. Students today (born after 2000!) do not know a world without SmartPhones. The phones are appendages. They are a part of their ability to be social creatures in this world. The students check and use their cell phones habitually, not defiantly. They “need” the phones!

And herein lies the problem. My cell phone management plan used to be fairly successful, because I was limiting a want and not a need. Now though, when I correct a student’s phone use, the reaction is perplexingly different. Before, I would get a lot of push back. Now, students politely apologize, and temporarily redirect. But 30 seconds later… the phone again. Now when I ask to take student phones, I get way more push back than ever before. Sometimes I challenge students to not look at their phone for 10 minutes, and sometimes they are unsuccessful.

When I have tried to allow students to use their phones for research, the temptation to drift away from the school task to social media is nearly unbearable, and lesson engagement derails quickly. As such, the only solution I have found is, quite simply, that students not be allowed to use phones in class. The hard part about this is, for old people like me (I am 27), that we are trying to design policy to prevent or redirect an action that we simply don’t understand, and that I am just beginning to understand. But, we must do something, even if it is not perfect. And that something has to involve limiting the use of cell phones in classroom. Because no matter how interesting my lesson is, it will never be as engaging as what is on that cell phone.

A Sad Kindergartener on Halloween

pumpkin-312379_640By Parker Lawson – At this time of year, I love looking back at all the fun memories I had in the classroom as a kid.

Halloween especially was a time I could never forget. My elementary schools always went all out for Halloween. The teachers would decorate the classroom, and most of our curriculum had something to do with drawing pumpkins, writing about scarecrows, or counting ghosts.

Between the mummy wrapping contests, or the pumpkin beanbag toss, the Halloween parties were my favorite part of the school year. I loved it. Everything was so festive, and it made me even more excited to show off that Halloween costume I had been planning to show my friends for months. As I think of these fun times, a very distinct memory comes to mind…

I’ll never forget my kindergarten Halloween. Growing up with an older brother, I had always idolized him around Halloween time because I got to watch him in the all-school Halloween parade. I counted down the days until it was my time to walk around the school with all the classes and teachers dressed up to show the parents and siblings.

When my time finally came, I couldn’t have been more excited. I was in the morning half-day kindergarten class, and was itching to put my Snow White costume on that day. That morning, we were told to line up with our costumes on, and my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Kellner, would lead us down to the parade. While walking, I envisioned all the students waving to their parents outside, as we would make our way around the entire school. As Mrs. Kellner began walking, I noticed her leading us into our school’s tiny multipurpose/cafeteria. At first, I thought “Oh… just a detour! Perhaps Mrs. Kellner is hungry and needs a snack before the parade!”

Unfortunately, this was not the case. Because we were the morning kindergarten class, our parade was not at the same time as the rest of the school’s afternoon parade. My little Snow White heart had been broken. I had never been so disappointed. All of my kindergarten friends were content with the little circular path we had walked while waving to the 5 or 6 parents that showed up, but my high expectations had me in tears.

I was so confused, and all my little kindergarten brain could think about was, “The administration just hates the kindergarteners! I’m a big girl now, and deserve to be with the big kids!”

As I went home with a crushed heart, I’ll never forget the tears that were shed because of that silly parade… and neither will my Mom.

But I’m over it now… sort of.

Wait, Am I a Social Studies Teacher or Reading Teacher?: Part One

32936701By Bill Waychunas – Sorry to burst your bubble, but the truth is that you are both. Say what you will about the added emphasis on reading in the Common Core or standardized testing and the narrowing of curriculum, but the fact of the matter is that more and more social studies teachers are finding themselves in positions where they are being asked to tread into the mostly unfamiliar territory of reading instruction. Personally, I have no problem with this transition, as I find it hard to believe that any student could be a successful history student without also being a successful reader.

Several years ago, I began teaching at a school that asked me to be more thoughtful and accountable for reading results than I ever had been before. I wasn’t completely unprepared for this mission, as it mirrored some of my personal views of teaching social studies, but I would be lying if I told you that I was ready to successfully “marry” social studies content with reading instruction. This is especially challenging when students come in with a wide range of reading abilities, as many students do when working in a low-income area.

After much struggle, frustration and eventually triumph, I’m happy to share with you my bits of advice for differentiating reading instruction in a social studies classroom.

  1. Independent Reading isn’t just for Elementary students!

You can force kids to read as much as you want in class, but since reading is all about practice, students won’t become good readers until they want to read. Creating this thirst for reading isn’t always easy to do but will serve students in the long run if they become life-long readers. This is why in my class the first 10 minutes is dedicated to independent reading where students get to choose a book, magazine, or newspaper on their own to get them hooked on reading. (Side note: This is also a great time to check students’ homework and take attendance!)

  1. Reading aloud to students also isn’t just for Elementary School either

Skip the carpet squares and gathering around the teacher…It turns out that high school students don’t like sitting on the floor. When I first started teaching, I thought that reading aloud to students was somehow “above me” as a secondary teacher. Truth be told, reading aloud to students is an excellent way for them to be exposed to new vocabulary words which they have never heard before (look into the 30 million word gap) and also can help with fluency, especially if you have student read it back to you or their partner. This is why I will oftentimes record myself or a guest celebrity teacher from my school’s staff, to read a passage that I play for students. In this way they can hear and see text while they annotate, and I can monitor and assess their understanding through informal observations. This brings me to my next revelation…

  1. Don’t assume that students know how to interact with texts!

As adult readers, we interact with the text naturally through practice. In our heads, we use two voices when we read: one voice recites the text, the other has a conversation with the text. That second voice may ask questions, make connections, self-monitor for comprehension, react with emotions, or alert us when we come across an unfamiliar word.

Students need explicit instruction and modeling of these strategies in order to “activate” that voice in their head that interacts with the text. Close readings are great for this, but in order to get kids to naturally do this as they read, the literature teacher at my school and I developed a sticky-note system where kids stop as they interact with a text and record it in a format that we taught them at the beginning of the year. Currently, we have our students interact with the text by asking questions, making connections, visualizing, describing their mood, determining meaning of difficult Vocabulary, identifying Important Information, and paraphrasing difficult portions of text with a strategy we call the “Help Button.”

  1. Give students lots of practice with texts “at their level!”

While textbooks form the backbone of most social studies classrooms, we need to be wary of their reading levels as they tend to be especially difficult to students due to their highly challenging, content-specific vocabulary. Putting a high-school level textbook in front of a high schooler who struggles with reading and has probably had a bad relationship with social studies classes in the past is a recipe for disaster. Not being able to read the content leads to frustration, which can lead to a number of usually negative reactions that will drive a teacher bananas.

Some teachers will criticize this as “dumbing down” the curriculum, but I would argue against that notion in two ways. One, your job as a teacher is to teach the students in front of you, not the lofty idea of where you think they should be. Two, does it really matter how your student learns your content? For example, if I give two students different passages about the causes of the Civil War, one at a 4th grade reading level and the other at a 9th grade level, is it more important that they understand the causes of the Civil War or that both of them get the same assignment? I think you know where I would stand on that issue.

Anyways, to ensure that you are reaching kids on their level, assess your students reading levels early in the year and adjust the materials that you give them based on their performance. Some good assessments to use include the Scholastic SRI which will give you Lexile scores, the STAR reading tests available through Renaissance Learning, or, if school budgets are a problem, some practice ACT reading exams. I like to group my students based on several of these data points and assign readings that are around each group’s reading level. I’ve found this to be especially helpful when assigning homework, as students need to be able to access materials on their own which then allows me to up the rigor (and support) for readings we do in class.

I’ve named my reading groups Red, White, and Blue, of course. While they all might be reading about symbolic free speech through case summaries of Tinker v. Des Moines, they all are getting readings at different degrees of difficulty. Achieving this requires either a plethora of widely ranging materials or the ability to modify to meet student reading needs.

Modifying for reading level is easier said than done, but there are some simple short cuts that you can take advantage of. The first step is to get yourself some different textbooks at different levels. U.S. history textbooks are available on Amazon for elementary school classrooms or middle school classrooms. If I’m teaching a certain topic, I may assign the chapter from the elementary textbook to my lowest readers, the high school book to my proficient or advanced students, and the middle school text to my students that are only slightly behind. The result: students that are getting reading practice at their level, content knowledge that can be used for more fun social studies activities such as projects, and a teacher that doesn’t have to deal with students that are frustrated by the text.

For current events, I use an amazing website ( which takes newspaper articles and modifies them for you at different Lexile levels. The readings are even searchable and many come with pre-made quizzes. Best of all, the site is FREE!

For texts that you find online or have in a word document, modifying text yourself is easy to do. To check reading levels of texts which I can copy/paste, I like to use the website There are plenty of other free websites out there and a quick google search for “free text analyzer” should point you in the right direction. When modifying text down to student reading levels, keep a few key points in mind. Shorten the sentences. Simplify the vocabulary words. Add text features like pictures, headings, subheadings, and vocabulary definitions in captions.  When you’ve finished, paste the modified text into the text analyzer and see if you’ve gotten to the level where your students will be able to access and understand.


Congrats! You’ve just passed Part One of how to be both a social studies and reading teacher. I hope you will join me next month as I discuss further topics such as vocabulary instruction, in-class reading methods, creating book nerds, blending content and reading in assessments, and finding ways to engage students with text.

Enacting Social Justice: Make a Difference Day

12038799_10101203998544753_4978345413702629482_oBy Shannon Bentley – On Saturday, October 24th, 2015, my fellow corps members and I actively participated in our very first annual service day of the year. We had the opportunity along with other neighboring volunteers from the Milwaukee community to paint murals in the Wisconsin Conservatory of Lifelong Learning, also known as WCLL. WCLL is the first K-12 school in Wisconsin, and it has the chance to live up to its reputation in Milwaukee. Make a Difference Day allows everyone in the community and in the City Year family to come together as one large group of people in order to bring joy to the lives of students in public schools.

One of these joys is mural painting.

Murals give life to the schools every day, so that students can be proud of the school that they attend. The murals are also a means of inspiration for the students, because we want our students to be able to be influenced by positive role models and make wise decisions based on those who inspire them. City Year was able to paint these influences on the walls of WCLL, such as quotes from Malcolm X, Maya Angelou and even the first lady Michelle Obama. The walls even illustrated basketball players Stephen Curry and Skylar Diggins to encourage the ball players in school.

There’s more! The first floor was covered with children’s books such as my favorites, The Hungry Caterpillar and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom for the elementary school children. Lastly, the third floor gave high school students an idea of where they should attend college like Howard University, Marquette University, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Spelman College. I could go on and on about the wonderful murals that were painted by everyone, but the emotion of the event is where it hit us the most.

We felt those emotions of Principal Patton and knew that we were making a difference. She stated to us that we should not be the ones thanking her for allowing us to come in the school and paint – but she should be the one thanking us for choosing their school for the opportunity. She almost broke in to tears speaking her words. We could do nothing else but support her emotions and excitement by doing our best throughout the day.

MPS students go through many downfalls in their life, whether if it’s a personal encounter or an educational factor. Our students are mostly affected in their lives every day. The best feeling is knowing that someone cared deeply enough to take time out of their Saturday to come to their school and beautify it with motivation. These students were on fall break and knowing that they are going to be excited about what has happened to their school is the best feeling in the world. Everyone should take advantage of the chance to make a difference in their community because we can all say that we are for social justice, but the best justice is becoming active and getting things done.

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