Nice Matters


This morning, after dropping my twins off at the babysitter’s, I was walking to my car when a neighbor was walking past with his dog. He was frowning and didn’t look very happy to be out and about at 7am. He glanced over at me and I greeted him with a smile and a bright, “Good morning!” I didn’t think much of it, as it’s a pretty standard procedure for me to greet anyone I see. As I pulled out of the driveway and went along my way, I had to drive past the man. This time, I noticed he was smiling from ear to year. A few moments before that, he had looked miserable. Had my smile and words changed his perspective?

I attended a small college of national distinction in the hills of West Virginia- Bethany. What struck me about Bethany when I toured as a high school senior was that everyone seemed so happy. Professors welcomed us into their classes to show us experiments they were working on (I still remember the fruit flies and how the professor explained their breeding habits although I have long forgotten his name). Students smiled and said hello as we passed through the corridors of Old Main. Everyone made eye contact and greeted you with a smile as you passed. I actually wondered out loud if they had placed these people just for the tour, but our guide assured me that was just how people acted in that cheery little town. People were just generally nice and kind. Although this wasn’t my only reason for choosing to attend Bethany College, it did influence my decision. Bethany’s outlook on strangers also changed the way I went about my day for the rest of my life.

I always say hello and good morning when I pass colleagues in the halls. It’s funny to me how many people will put their head down and not acknowledge someone passing just feet away from them. I’m as guilty as anyone for getting caught up in my own troubles and problems, but sometimes one little interaction can change your whole perspective. If I’m having a rough morning, a bright greeting from a colleague may change my mood and leave me walking away with a smile. It’s only fair that I give that back whenever I can.

I try to greet as many of my students as I can by name in the hallways with a hello, a smile, and a question about how their English class is going this semester. Some of my students seem mortified that their teacher spoke to them in front of friends, but most leave walking away with a big smile. I hope they pass that smile and kindness on to someone else as they go. I really believe that a kind word can change a day for the better, like a harsh word can send a day into a downward spiral. I believe niceness matters.

I really have no idea if it was my words that perked the man up this morning, or if he was just amused by something his dog did. But it really made me remember that a simple greeting and a smile can change a person’s world.

Letter to first year me

Dear First Year Teacher Stacy,

Congratulations on your first English teaching job in public school! You are going to have some tough times ahead of you, but they will help you grow in to a great teacher. I’m writing to you from year six, and I can promise you that you will love your job soon. Here’s some advice about a few things I have learned along the way. I hope it helps you through the rough spots that you will inevitably face.

1. Don’t try to be the coolest teacher. Be the best teacher.

In your first year, you will struggle a bit to find the balance of being a good teacher and being well liked by students. At first, you care a little too much about being well liked and not enough about being effective. You spend a little too much time off topic and not enough time focusing on developing skills. It is more important for a teacher to have students respect than their favor.  You need to try and find a balance between fun and effectiveness. Students will respect you for creating a solid rapport within a challenging class. Students will enjoy your class because you are a great teacher. They will enjoy your activities and lessons. They will laugh with you and learn with you if they can respect you.

2. You can never regain control once it is lost.

It is essential for you to start the year on a good foot. You should work hard at the start of the year to teach your students the policies and procedures you want them to know. This is when you establish the accepted behavior of the class. Your first year at JMHS started in a whirlwind. You were hired on Thursday and you started the following Tuesday. It took you some time to get on your feet and running, and it showed. You didn’t take the time to set proper policies and procedures because you weren’t sure how things were done at your new school. Once you were comfortable, you struggled to regain control of the class and hold them accountable. In the future, set the standard for acceptable behavior and classroom rules from the start. As a veteran, I now start the year on a strict note and I tend to loosen up as the semester goes on. If you have the opportunity to start at a new school, be confident that you know the right way to run your class, even if you may not be comfortable with the school’s way of doing things yet.

3. Follow your heart, your gut, your brain, or any other vital organ giving you messages.

Your first year Your first few years at John Marshall were rough emotionally. You knew what you should be doing for your students, but that wasn’t always the norm for the other teachers in your department. When you tried to innovate, they talked about you and ridiculed you. So you stopped. You adopted their old school ways of doing things and your student engagement dropped. You student discipline problems skyrocketed, and you hated your job. You put what you believed was right on the back burner and you did what everyone else was doing. It took you a few years to realize the disservice you were doing for your students. Around year four you will throw caution to the wind and do what you have known was right all along. Do it sooner. Follow your heart and connect with your students in the way you know is right.

4. Consider what the best teachers would think.

My decision to do what was right instead of what was normal came after reading What Great Teachers do Differently. The book encourages teachers to consider what the best teachers in the building would think of your words, actions, lessons, and behaviors. This was groundbreaking for me. What would Mrs. Kuskey think if she walked into my room right now? What would Mrs. Dewitt think of this email I’m about to send? What would Mr. Little or Mrs. Joseph think of the way you’re teaching this story? Would Mr. Swiger think this PBL was a waste of essential class time or would he believe you were growing students’ problem solving and cognitive thinking abilities? When I thought of these teachers in comparison to myself, I realized I needed a change. From your first year on, consider what the best teachers would think of the happenings in your classroom. Elevate yourself to their high standards.

5. Hold students to higher standards.

First year was rough, and understandably you struggled to find a balance between what your students could do and what you expected them to do. When students didn’t meet your expectations right away, you lowered them to try and help students succeed. You didn’t realize it at the time, but you were really not helping them at all. Students will test you to see what they can get away with. Naturally, most won’t do more than they have to due to the lack of intrinsic motivation in a traditional classroom. Set your expectations high and stick to them. Then find ways to motivate your students to meet the goals. You figure this out pretty quickly, but it’s worth the mention.

6. Stay away from the drama.

Dr. Camden taught you to stay out of the teacher’s lounge, and you follow her directions. But there are plenty of other hubs for negativity in a school too. Really, you need to approach your day with a mentality which keeps you free from the negative undertone which ripples through schools. When people complain, try and offer a solution. Understand that it is easier for some people to see the bad then to fix the problems. Do what you can to help, but don’t be part of the problem. You have a powerful voice that you can use to move the school forward in a positive way. Around year 5 you embrace your voice and work hard to stay away from the negativity (The No Complaining Rule was the game changer for this mentality). Do it sooner. You, and only you, control your happiness. If you want to love your job, make it happen. Kids feed from your energy, make sure what you’re putting out into the world is positive.

7. Read, Grow, Learn

You don’t know it all. You don’t even know most of it. Continue your education on your own. Your school before JM would send you anywhere you wanted to go for professional development. Marshall County has a ton more teachers than Abraxas had, and they cannot offer you the possibilities of attending any and every training you want to attend. But in today’s day and age, you can do it alone. Get online, read, and connect with educators all over the world. Use Twitter, read studies on motivation, and continue to take classes. There is so much more you can learn and do. You don’t need county funds or CE days to learn.

8. Be Crazy

Let your students see your silliness. In a few years, Dave Burgess will write Teach Like a Pirate and it will describe the teacher you have always wanted to be. Lose the fear; Embrace the crazy. Wear costumes, speak in accents, decorate your room, teach creativity, and let your passion show.


First year me, you’re going to make it through the rough times. There will be lots of smiles, laughs, and a few tears. You will grow into a strong and confident teacher. You will connect with hundreds of kids and you will change lives. Some days are hard, but looking back I can honestly say that they were all worth it.

Good Luck,



There IS room for crying in English

The Book Thief

I took a risk in teaching The Book Thief this year to my sophomores. There has been a grand movement within the 10th grade team of English teachers to all work together and teach the same things at the same times. We agreed that we should teach a novel this spring, but we couldn’t agree on what novel to teach.

I am passionate about introducing students to literature that doesn’t SUCK. Yes, I know that language is unbecoming of a proper English literature teacher, but so many students are turned off by literature teachers teaching only the classics in boring ways. I can’t be that teacher. I won’t be the teacher that turns a kid off from reading or tunes him further out. I want to introduce my students to classics in fun and innovative ways, and literature they can connect with and love. I have 180 days to turn my students into literature lovers (I guess I will settle for appreciators). If I teach a book that I don’t even want to read myself, I am positive I will not turn any of my students into literature lovers or even appreciators.

I taught The Crucible, one of my favorite classics, in the fall, so I really wanted to do something more contemporary in the spring. My kids enjoyed the story, and I worked hard to make the classic relevant and fun for 2015.  After looking through my bookshelf and the text exemplar list for 10th grade, I decided to stick with what I believed was right for my students. We read The Book Thief. What a powerful novel! My students have recently written blog posts with their review of The Book Thief. You can check them out by exploring our class blogs listed below to see their personal reactions to the novel. Add your comment and let them know what you thought of their words!

By taking a risk and going against my team, I was nervous at the results I would see. If my kids didn’t connect with the literature like I had hoped, I would have failed. As we made it though the 552 page novel, there were certainly high points and low points. There were points that we were tired of reading and just had to push on. The story was always good, but snow days and breaks sometimes made it hard to stay focused. I thought I was keeping them interested and engaged, but sometimes I wasn’t sure. On the last day of reading, I told my kids that I had a feeling I knew how the book would end. I warned them that I would likely cry, and to not judge me. I joked and encouraged them that all the coolest kids cried while reading. I even went so far as to pass out tissues to each of my students, just incase they were more like me than they cared to admit. I wanted them to feel comfortable and at ease. I wanted them to know that they didn’t need to try to hide the emotions they would likely face, but to embrace them like I was doing. I wasn’t sure if they would actually feel as I hoped they would.

As we read, the greatest thing happened. I wasn’t the only one crying. Many of my students shed tears over the ending of the book. They cried for the characters, and I ended up crying for my students. How often have high school students sat in English class and openly cried while reading a book? I have never had that experience with any piece of literature. Actually, I have never had students even come close to connecting with literature like that. My risk was worth the gain. I turned some students into literature lovers and appreciators.

I have often heard the quote that our best work happens when we break outside our comfort zones. I broke outside mine to teach a book that no one else thought was important or relevant for my students, and I had the greatest “Teacher Moment” I have ever had. The reaction of my students was candid, real, and honest. It reminded me that although it is important to work well with your peers, it is most important to always do what is best for your students. I did what I believed was right, and I introduced my students to a piece of literature that will forever change their views and thoughts on the Holocaust and humanity. I am certain that they will carry The Book Thief with them in their hearts for years and years to come, as it has stolen a little piece of them and me.


3 Days Into Student Blogging

Batty for Blogging

We are three days into blogging, and I wanted to take a minute to step back and reflect on the week. I need to do a better job of blogging regularly, and I think connecting my students to my blog will be just what it takes. I have also dedicated a section of my planner to blogging ideas for students and for me.

I was nervous to incorporate blogging into my classroom, but decided the risk was worth the gain. I am so excited with the progress I have seen this week. Students were a little apprehensive as they were signing up. We did run into some problems here and there. For some reason, we had a few students who signed up and then were denied access to their accounts. Once we were all on, the students began exploring and creating.

My biggest pet peeve as a teacher is when students would rather ask me how to do something than explore and figure it out on their own. I love teaching and I know it is my job to teach them, but if they ask me something that they can figure out or look up, I won’t answer it for them. Students get frustrated at first, but then they have a sense of pride and accomplishment when they figure out how to fix the problem on their own. Many students asking questions were answered with one word from me: Explore. Once they realized I wasn’t going to give them step by step instructions, the learning and fun began. Students were picking themes, creating tag lines, helping one another and learning. I had fun mingling around the room to see what my students were doing and how they were customizing their pages. Faces lit up when I praised their layout or tag line. Students worked hard to perfect their blogs when I made suggestions or critiques. There were lots of happy teacher moments when students began checking out their peers’ blogs and asking one another for help achieving the look they wanted.

When we started on our first assignment, the real magic happened. Students were given a “To Do” list to be accomplished by the end of class Thursday. Sign up, link with my blog, come up with a unique title that includes their first name, write a fun tag line that reflects their personality, customize the look and theme, read and comment the blog guidelines and comment guidelines on my page, and create their own about me page. I believe I connect well with all of my students. Some I have stronger relationships than others, but I pride myself of my rapport with all. As students were creating, I was reading and watching. Once most students had published their about me pages, I started commenting. I was blown away at the connection I could make with my shy students. These kids were sharing things that were appropriate, but meaningful; things that I didn’t know about but wanted to know more. One student shared a link to their photography website and I got a glimpse into the real them. I saw my in person relationships grow with these students who weren’t always comfortable speaking out and taking risks in class.

In just three short days, I have already felt the connection to my students grow because of blogging. Next week we will begin our blogging boot camp and do some intensive writing and blogging how-to. We will then move into learning about the powers of persuasion and we will center blog posts around our persuasive writing (instead of doing a traditional persuasive essay). I am so excited to connect on a deeper level with my students through blogging, and I am beaming to see the pride on their faces after they figure out a tough formatting problem. I can’t wait to hear the voice my students develop through their blogs.

For now, click around the bottom of my page under “Class Blogs” to see what they have created! Comment their work and join our learning community!

Welcome, Students!


Break Into Blogging


I’m so excited to introduce you to my blog! I have been anxiously anticipating introducing blogs to our classroom activities. Instead of writing an old school persuasive essay, we will be using lots of persuasive methods in our blogs to practice writing every day. I will be writing along with all of you, and I am so excited to see how we grow as we explore many topics and interests. This is a great way to show off our hard work and excellent writing skills in a modern and 21st century way.

Your first blogging assignment is to set up your blog. If you’re seeing this post, you’re already checking out my page. Explore my blog as an example of what you can do. Click all around, and I’m sure you will find some examples of work you and your classmates have already done this year. You may even see your own picture! You should upload an avatar picture and create an “About Me” page like I have. Be sure to follow safe online procedures we spoke about in class and do not share too much personal information. I want to see YOU shine through your blog. Consider creating a theme or  making your blog customized toward your interests. You can check out the “learn more about getting started” link at the top, right hand side of your dashboard for some guidance. Don’t forget about the “help” tab in the top right hand corner of the page for additional assistance. I encourage you to explore and find your own way of setting up your blog which is unique to you. You will learn and connect more when you problem solve and figure it out on your own. Once you have the basics figured out and you have your blog set up, move on to your first post.

Your First Post

We just finished reading The Book Thief, and I want to know what you think. Please write an academic book review of the novel.

My tip? Use persuasion! Why should your reader pick up this book immediately, or why should they avoid this book forever?

Don’t forget to add a picture and proofread your work! Spelling and grammar always count, just like any assignment you would be turning in traditionally. When blogging, you should pay special attention to having a well written post since so many people can see your work. You can always save a draft of your post so you can revisit later and revise before you actually publish.

Here are some websites that can offer you tips on what to include in your review and give you a good example of an academic book review.

To start your first blog post, you will click “Posts” on your dashboard and then “Add New.”