Classroom Tunes / 01

I like playing music while my students are working.  It changes the entire feeling of the room when the dominant sound is neither my voice nor the keyboards clicking.  

I don't DJ, though.  Taking students' requests can wreak havoc on a studious space.

There is a key to good classroom working music.  It has to be backgroundable.  The kind of music you can enjoy listening to without fully listening, because you're actually writing something important.  The kind you can't sing along to.  The kind that's secondary to the other things in your brain.

I asked Lamar Shambley, a fellow educator who is also my friend and a music nerd, to share a playlist he uses in his Brooklyn classroom.

Lamar would basically be the math teacher of your dreams.  He is passionate and full of life and energy, and I imagine his classroom is a semi-magical land where students aren't afraid to get excited and nerdy.  Which, if you ask me, is the best way to be.

During his musical work times, Lamar tends to play entire albums, which is a sensible practice for keeping the energy and mood of the room consistent.  Here are his favorites:

Thank you for sharing your classroom sounds, Mr. Shambley!  I know what my writing lab will be listening to as we close out the school year.

Interested in contributing a classroom playlist?  Email me your ideas at

HBD, Shakespeare

Every English teacher on the planet is doing a nerdy little mental dance today to celebrate Shakespeare's birthday.  Students everywhere are subject to mini-lessons that aim to remind them of the bard's masterful wit and wisdom, featuring common phrases we owe to his writing and terrific insults we should be keeping alive.  I always used to put my favorite Shakespeare joke on whatever the classwork of the day was.

There's something so powerful about the fact that his works have remained so relevant and such a fixture in English classrooms across the globe.  That the characters and the themes and the language haven't gotten old (not a day over 450!), and that students are still able to connect with them.

Also.  How lovely is this type by Allie Brunton

Spring Break: St. George Island, FL

St. George Island - Spring Break 2014

I just got home from our spring break trip to St. George Island.  No matter how beautiful and relaxing and necessary a vacation is, I so love the feeling of returning home, which hits me as soon as I see the skyline from the airplane window.  Even in cloudy and misty New York, within minutes I was in boxer shorts and eating the sushi that was delivered to my apartment (spicy tuna topped with spicy tuna ... whattt) and I'm going to continue this chilling out for a little longer before I begin unpacking and cleaning everything and fully hammering down what I'm teaching tomorrow morning.

I mean, I have a general idea.  Be real, people.

Allow me to use this procrastination break to share a little bit about this island with you.

St. George is a really special place, in general, and to us, in particular.  We've been visiting the island since the beginning of our relationship, and we're getting married there this summer.

St. George Island - Spring Break 2014

I haven't explored too much of Florida, but I'm going to go ahead and declare this island my favorite part of the state.  You get some wonky Florida-ness (absurd heat, vicious flesh-eating mosquitoes, extreme Southern-ness that I always forget about) but this place can be so lovely and idyllic that it's kind of perfect.

I almost don't want to tell you about it because you'll tell your friends and they'll tell their friends and eventually everyone will ruin it together.  These are my fears!

St. George Island - Spring Break 2014

But seriously.  It's not unlike an earthly, Southern, backwoods paradise.

Here are eight fun facts:

1.  The entire island is 28 miles long and less than a mile wide.  It is divided into three sections:  the protected state park, the public town/beach which has a handful of businesses in it, and an exclusive/fancypants gated community.  We stay in the public part.

2.  When you cross the bridge from the mainland, you might notice pelicans hovering over your car.  They look like actual dinosaurs, but they're harmless and funny when they dive.

3.  There are zero stoplights on the island. Most people ride bikes or drive golf carts there.

5.  Apparently the Gulf of Mexico is where all the dolphins hang out.  You'll see them go by almost every day.  They are a species that devotes over 90% of life to playtime, so I support them.

St. George Island - Spring Break 2014

6.  There are a zillion types of birds on the island, in all of the colors and aviary hairdos.

7.  There's an interesting economic mixture on the island.  You have some jillion-dollar homes, and you also have bars with corrugated metal roofs and dirt floors.  You have some of the most exclusive and expensive properties on the Gulf of Mexico, in one of the poorest counties in the state.

8.  It is not foolish to plan your day around oyster happy hour.  It is a deal not to be missed, especially since the oysters are from rightoverthere.


On the sunniest and brightest day of this trip, we took the boat out to Little St. George, which is a separate island just a wee swim away from our island.

St. George Island - Spring Break 2014

You know, in case the bustling metropolis of regular St. George becomes too overwhelming.

St. George Island - Spring Break 2014

Little St. George is uninhabited, covered in shells, and where all the cool pelicans hang out.

We took walks, collected shells, and enjoyed a picnic.  There was a perfect breeze, which made my sunburn a nice little surprise for later.

St. George Island - Spring Break 2014

Hanging out on a deserted island looks like this, mostly:

St. George Island - Spring Break 2014

I took all of these photos on my iPhone, and I did zero editing.  That blue is real.

We talked about our love for this little corner of the country, and how we feel like we belong to it a little bit.  We talked about wanting our own family someday, and maybe we want to include coming to St. George, or somewhere, as part of our family traditions.  It's funny how we become attached to places and make them part of our stories.  I like that.

It's back to work tomorrow, but we're so excited to go back to the Forgotten Coast (as the locals really do call it) this summer and share this magical little place with our friends and family.  Is it too soon for a countdown?

Thrive, by Meenoo Rami

There is a rambling post in my drafts folder about how hard March is.  It is, for me, the most challenging time in the school calendar, and usually not for the amount of work it involves.  It's right around par for the workload, but the thing about March is that it tries its absolute darnedest to beat the stuffing out of you.  The things that are the most frustrating and trying and genuinely confusing about teaching come to the surface; every year I reach a point where I question this career path.

I hate admitting that.  I just reach a point where I'm spinning the wheels and it feels like I'm going nowhere.  And the changes I need and want are not even on the horizon.  And I want to think about next year but I'm so deeply stuck in this one.  And I'm utterly pooped by all of these thoughts.

March wants me to burn all the way out.  Oh, how it tries.

I never published that post about March because the month passed and I was too busy getting beaten down by March.

Last weekend, though, I sat on an airplane with my freshly arrived copy of Thrive.  And I read it, all of it, only stopping to write notes --mostly exclamation marks and the word YES in caps -- in the pages.

I tweeted that Meenoo's release date on this book couldn't have been better timed.  I plan to set the book aside and pick it up every year at the end of March.

Let me tell you.

This quote appears in the introduction.  I knew it and have thought it before, but I needed to see it again.

The teaching profession is such a weird beast: you're left alone a lot but are still under a ton of scrutiny, you're supposed to come up with creative solutions, but you're being handed scripted mandates, and you're doing work that is allegedly the most meaningful there is, but you don't see any immediate results.

Thrive is a reminder to teachers of the agency and the responsibility we have to shape our professional lives, for ourselves and for each other.  It's about finding mentors and sharing feedback and inspiration with others in our buildings, our local and national organizations, and online.  It's about the needs of teachers to connect and be heard, and about how we need to always seek an environment that fosters this as well as create it.

Besides feeling completely rejuvenated and having a notebook full of classroom ideas from awesome educators, I take away three major points:


Thrive mentions Ron Brandt's characterization of teachers as "managers of complexity," and I love this.  It becomes easy to lose sight of the three things that motivate a person through creative work such as ours: AUTONOMY, MASTERY, and PURPOSE.  Sometimes I'm so bogged down in the things that I don't even realize that these are my needs.  And I can do everything about that.

I can seek autonomy by constantly evolving my curriculum and choosing the best use of my time.  I need to do a better job of seeking professional growth opportunities for myself, instead of hesitating and waiting for permission to make a move.  I can keep in mind that mastery is not perfection, and that I am always challenging myself to meet new goals each year.  I can be aware of the intellectual challenges that my work creates and how complex it really is.  And I can see the purpose of what I do.  That part should be so obvious, but it does feel lost in the daily grind sometimes.


Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this book, for me, was its focus on the teacher as an individual and a human.  While it requires a lot of creativity and critical thinking, teaching is often squashed by standardization and the watered-down version of the thing.  The squashing of a person's creativity and critical thinking can do a lot of damage.

The chapter I loved most was about being yourself as a teacher.  It sounds self-helpey, but I think about these facets of the job all the time, and it was so comforting to read that Meenoo and tons of other educators do, too.

I've thought and wrote frequently about the extent to which my personality and my true self affect my work with students.  I really do believe in being a real person in front of them.  I smile and laugh and have other moods.  I temper my frustration and I show my disappointment.  I don't wear a persona that I invented for my classroom, and I believe that's a really important part of my interactions and my effectiveness.

Modeling vulnerability allows students to follow our example.  Yes.


Thrive made me think about the relationships that impact my professional life.  I thought about my go-to colleague who always has solid ideas and honest feedback.  I thought about the many incredible educators whose work inspires me on Twitter and on their blogs.  I thought about the conferences I get excited about and the organizations I am proud to be a part of.

It also made me think about my own role in these communities and the needs of the greater teaching community.  I want to host more professional development workshops in the building to invite my colleagues to share ideas. I want their feedback on what I've tried, and I have so much to learn from them, too.  I want to make a bigger and more transparent effort with those I consider my mentors.  I want to connect more regularly on Twitter and keep sharing my thoughts and trials in this little space.  The organizations and conferences I have available to me are immense resources, and not only have I barely tapped them, but I have certainly not been as much of a contributor as I would like.  Thrive is challenging me to be a more conscious member of all of my communities and to recognize that the benefit is mutual.

Thrive really connected to my beliefs about teaching and the ways in which I find meaning and joy in the work.  I was so excited when I finished it because I had filled a notebook with ideas for my classroom and curriculum, as well as a million thoughts about purpose and identity and big picture things.  I would have appreciated it as a new teacher years ago, but I think I got even more out of it now.

Seriously, though.  Read it.  And next March.  We'll revisit.

Work Date at the Ace

One of my favorite ways to deal with Reentry is to get some work done.  As much as I looove sleeping in, it sometimes sets the tone for the day and I end up wasting time until the evening creeps up on me.  And then I get sad.

It seems wrong to include sadness in my Sunday, especially if I can do something about it.

A couple of weekends ago we set alarms, woke up early, and met for a work date.

Don't you know about the work date?  It's when you're sort of hanging out but also being productive.  It's essentially the most pleasant way to do work.  I'm becoming an expert at it.

The Ace Hotel in New York City has a terrific lobby with big leather couches and library-style tables.  We ordered some Stumptown Coffee and set to work for a few hours.  The 9am arrival got us out of there before the brunch crowd.

Aren't my semi-grainy iPhone photos delightful?

I packed a backpack with my laptop to work on some graphic design projects, and Francis tackled his grading pile.  It was a pretty perfect way to start a productive Sunday!

After our few hours of work, we ate delicious salads around the corner (question for the universe: why isn't Sweetgreen around all of the corners?) and then parted ways.  It was so lovely to spend the morning together, and then be left with the day already rolling with hours left to go.

I vote yes to doing this more.

'Round Here

What have I been up to?  Just closing out the third marking period.

I left work before all of the things were done today because I was literally shaking.  My hands and my stomach were doing a sort of call-and-response with the jitters, and I just had to go.  I'm not sure why, since stress levels are manageable and all is basically well.  My body's making decisions, and who am I to second-guess its wisdom?

I walked the long way home and then ate mangoes.  Crisis averted.

The third quarter got crazy, y'all.  I was accepting late written assignments, like a foolish, foolish amateur, and ended up completely swamped by the students (every one, seems like) who took advantage of that offer.

Idiot.  I know better.

For the fourth quarter I'm setting a statute of limitations on late work.  In the spirit of everyone learning responsibility and self-discipline, myself included.  Written assignments need feedback, and this week nobody received anything especially meaningful in my margin scrawl.

Let's call it a wash and start over on Monday.  Okay, deal.

I'm really digging the photo collage above.  I found it on Pinterest, and I've looked back at it multiple times.  Sadly, I can't find its original source (and would love it if you know it).  I'm heading to Phoenix this weekend and I can't wait to see its spiky flora and breathe its dry air.