Learning Names

I don't call out attendance on the first day of school.
As a student, I always dreaded that moment.

I knew the teacher would see my name on the list and
- horribly mispronounce it, or (maybe even worse)
- not even bother to try

Here's what I do instead:

I greet students at the door: "Come on in! Feel free to sit anywhere for now, but don't get too comfortable because I'm going to move you."

At the start of the semester I assign seats to everyone -- even 12th graders -- in alphabetical order by last name.

This is deeply unexciting; kids don't care for it, I don't even care for it as an actual seating arrangement, and I know progressive educators everywhere are eye-rolling so hard.

It's just that: it's the best way I've found to learn everyone's names.

And that's a critical step one.
My job is to forge relationships with students. To guide them. Challenge them. Support them. Assess them. Know them.

Their personal identities shape these interactions and their learning.

And there's no way I'm doing any of that without giving them the opportunity to tell me who they are.

And I say this to them, sort of.
That names are how we introduce ourselves, the first identifier we put out into the world.

I go first.
Before I ask anything of them, I introduce myself.

I tell them all about my name. 
What it means and what it means to me.
Why my parents gave it to me, and how their story shapes mine.
How it's pronounced and how it's often mispronounced.
My conflicted choice to change my name when I got married.

And how I dreaded the first day of school when teachers would mess up my name.

Then, I ask the entire class to line themselves up in alphabetical order by last name.
They get it mostly right in a couple of minutes. 
I can take it from there.

The person at the front of the line then says, "Hi, I'm ______."
And I say, "Hi, ______. Please sit here."

And so on.
Until I've listened to everyone's names.
Said everyone's names.
And we're all seated.

I don't hesitate to ask students to repeat their names.
I tell them in advance that I might do this, to make sure I hear them properly.
I make notes about pronunciations or nicknames or what anyone would prefer to be called.

And throughout the first few weeks, students look up while they're working to see me mouthing the names to myself and looking at the faces in the seats.

When someone raises a hand to participate, I might say, 
"Yes! But first tell me your name again, please?"

I overdo it on the playback in the first weeks.
"Ooooh, Raymond makes a great point here."
"Interesting idea; does anyone want to add to what Giniah said?"

I want to learn their names. They want to learn each other's names, too.

For homework on the first day of school, I ask students to complete an assignment where they tell me more about themselves. The first question is this:

Responses always vary here, in length and depth and emotion. I'm always glad I asked.

Maybe next year!

In My Brain // Back To School Edition

<-- how I've felt about school basically forever

The children are here and whiteboard real estate is already extremely limited. Here's some of what's in my brain as Year 13 kicks off:

ZACK MORRIS IS TRASH // Shoutout to Mason for this treasure

STICKS // This is the first text I read with 12th graders. It's two paragraphs long and, in my opinion,  captures so much to discuss about what literature can be (George Saunders' brilliance).

ON DISTRACTION // A resonating read (and I won't tell you how many times I started it before finally finishing it): "In its strictest sense, to be distracted means to be perplexed, confused, bewildered; a distracted person is out of touch with the person they used to be; a person “beside themselves,” who has to be reminded; a person drawn asunder, pushed away, pulled apart, turned aside; a person “depersonalized,” who’s lost their grip, their footing, their mind."

NYPL KILLING IT ON INSTA STORIES // I love this and obviously my first thought was: Ohmygoshthiswouldbesuchacoolprojectformykids

READING WITH A PENCIL // This is pretty close to what I teach and preach all day long.

Lifework // Worklife

Three things I've been working on lately:
  • reading more [stuff that students didn't write]
  • understanding my habits and aligning them to my values
  • practicing note-making strategies that I can use and teach

After hearing it referenced for the 800th time, I finally picked up Tim Ferriss' The 4-Hour Workweek. I don't agree with it entirely, but it is bringing up questions and ideas that I'm finding worthwhile in applying to my own life. 

I doodled some notes. 

I'm eager to have some time this summer to unpack some of these ideas and determine how they'll impact my choices. Turns out, it's a lot of work being a person in the world. Whaddaya know.

SLAmbassadors // Sister Cities Exchange

Last year, ten SLA students participated in a weeklong exchange to with a group in one of our sister cities, Frankfurt, Germany.

As their fearless leader put it:
Was it a paradigm-shifting, mind-blowing experience for the kids we took? Yes and yes. Since returning, those students are busy learning German, plotting their return exchanges for college, and stalking tickets back to Frankfurt for the week after graduation.

This year, the SLAmbassadors group is doubling in size to include a second program with Torun, Poland! We will be hosting their group this March and will travel to Torun in October.

I am beyond thrilled to be one of the adults on this journey.
I know how powerful international travel can be.
The experiences and the relationships that come out of this will be transformational.

To ensure that all ten students can participate in our exchange with Poland, we are conducting all of the fundraising ourselves. And we'd love your help!


You are cordially invited to our Happy Hour Fundraiser on Thursday, March 8th at Brauhaus Schmitz. Your $20 donation gets you a drink ticket, access to some pretty killer raffle items, and three hours with me and my esteemed colleagues. If you'd like to purchase a ticket in advance, you can donate the $20 amount here.


Check out our general fundraising page - we welcome donations of any amount! Feel free to purchase a $20 ticket in absentia, and we will toast you at the happy hour -- and send you a thank-you note while we're on the trip!

Thank you for your support. Our friends in Torun will be here in a short while and we're thrilled to meet them IRL and show them our little city. I can't wait to share more about this experience.

I'm just, like, still figuring it out.

I videotaped myself teaching.
I watched it.

Oh my.

Within about 30 seconds of the footage, I couldn't stand how many times I had interjected the word LIKE.

I'm having feelings about this in two layers:

  1. At the thing: I notice and get annoyed when other people say like every other word but didn't notice that apparently I totally do that.

    I hate being a hypocrite more than I hate being an English teacher with a words problem.
  2. At myself: My annoyance with Like Overuse in the first place means I've fallen into the trap of being on the wrong side of policing women's voices.

And I was immediately reminded of Ann Friedman's piece from The Cut a couple of years ago: Can We Just Like Get Over The Way Women Talk? 

Read it.

It's freaky to realize how conditioned I've become to these norms:

The number of LIKEs peppered in my speech.
The number of JUSTs that appear in every email I've ever sent.
The exclamation point in almost every text message.

I'm just out here, seeing the problem and simultaneously perpetuating it.


For that teaching video, I needed to write up some context about the lesson.

It took multiple viewings to get past my vocal tics and see the substance of my work.

Beyond my stereotypically obnoxious linguistic patterns, the video also shows:

  • students engaged in conversations so rich that it takes a while to refocus their attention,
  • dozens of hands in the air eager to share ideas,
  • a board with hardly any space left to write tidbits of students' insights about what they've been learning, and
  • my inability to keep the lesson's timing on track because too many folks had commentary they wanted to share.

I have a lot to learn. 
About myself and my role and the space I take up in the world.

The ways I see all of that and what I do about it.

Illustrations by the amazingly talented Abernathy Bland

Heart Eyes // Guy Bourdain

I recently came across the fashion photography of Guy Bourdain and immediately fell in love with his distinctive style. The images are provocative, funny, shocking, amusing, surreal, and fetishistic.

Bourdain was a protege of Man Ray's in his early years, but it was his collaborations with French shoe designer Charles Jourdan that really got him noticed.

It's evident that the shoe is the subject, but it's also just a tiny part of the larger mise-en-scene at play.
It's impossible to look at these just once.