Failing to Reach the Finish Line: A Polemic of the Unchecked Educator

Disclaimer: If you don’t like/can’t understand satire, please don’t read the following post!

After decades of completely unchecked frivolities, teachers (if you can really call them that) of the twenty-first century are finally beginning to be held accountable for their lethargy that has doomed America to centuries of failure and has led us to the very back of the pack on the world stage. Performance that would never be tolerated in any private sector job has been allowed to persist in the classroom for decades; evaluations in nearly every professional career besides teaching are performance-based and rely upon real, measurable data. Education, until now, has somehow been exempt from any form of accountability. We as a nation have said ‘enough is enough;’ we will no longer stand idly by while these so-called public servants suck us dry of our hard-earned resources and fail to produce any results.

Finally, school districts nationwide are taking the private sector’s lead and beginning to demand results.  Currently, nearly half states have moved toward incorporating student test scores into the teacher evaluation system, many of which affect teacher pay and even future employment.  (Smith) In other words, the days of the lazy, overpaid teacher are hopefully no more.

The move toward accountability has already produced measurable results.  Students nationwide are now more prepared for multiple-choice tests than ever, which proves that they are completely ready to enter the dynamic and competitive marketplace.  Michelle Rhee, the face of accountability-based education reform, boasts of unmatched student growth in Washington D.C. schools due to higher standards for educators. “Under her leadership, the worst performing school district in the country became the only major city system to see double-digit growth in both their state reading and state math scores in seventh, eighth and tenth grades over three years” ( Now, these students who can select an answer choice from four options can be the innovators and creative thinkers that we can rely on for our future success as a nation!

Unfortunately, the increased accountability of classroom teachers has been isolated to the core subjects, primarily reading and math.  And while reading and math are important, we will continue to do our children a disservice if we fail to hold our physical education teachers by the same high standards.

Physical education is foundational to our children’s health and well-being, both now and for their entire adult lives.  Quality physical education programs provide children with improved health, better motor skills, a method of stress reduction, and opportunities for close peer relationships (NASPE).

The PE teachers of today are responsible for creating the athletes of tomorrow.  Not only does China continue outshine us in math, science, and engineering, but they also dominate the worlds of gymnastics, diving, and table tennis.  How many more Olympic Games will pass before American wins the marathon, the 100-yard-dash, the cricket championship?  America’s gym teachers have embarrassed us time and again; it’s time to hold them accountable for their mistakes.

And it’s not just on the world athletic stage that the shortage of quality gym teachers has reared its ugly head.  Many health experts agree that America’s obesity epidemic can be directly and solely linked to poor quality instruction in the school gymnasium.  Effective physical education has been loosely associated with lower rates of childhood obesity (Datar and Sturm); hence, one could deduce that 100% of the time, the better the gym teacher, the lower obesity rates would be among his/her students.

Because of physical education’s importance to our children’s success, both individually and as a nation, it is crucial that our PE teachers begin to produce results. We’ve allowed logistical concerns to get in the way of the well-being of our children for too long.  It is imperative that we invest in measurable assessments of student performance in physical education.  As a solution to our epidemic of teacher indolence, I propose implementing a nationwide accountability program across all grade levels and socioeconomic backgrounds that uses students’ mile run times to evaluate physical educators’ performance and determine their job security.

With such a dramatic overhaul of the status quo, critics will certainly emerge, particularly people who fear any real responsibility.  Below, I will attempt to address some questions and criticisms that will surely be posed by insatiable teacher unions:

What about physical education teachers that teach in areas with already-high rates of childhood obesity?  Aren’t teachers in these schools at a disadvantage?

  • Teacher evaluation will be based on growth data, not proficiency data. (Or I suppose in this case, shrinking data!)

What will happen if students fail to reach grade-level performance on the mile-run?

  • We are not doing students any good by promoting them to higher grades if they have failed to perform at grade level.  For that reason, promotion standards will now include grade-level performance on the mile-run.  For example, before being promoted to the 6th grade, students will need to be able to run the mile in under ten minutes. These standards should be implemented nationwide, and without exception.

What about students with special needs and physical handicaps?  Will they be required to run the mile?

  • All students will be required to take the mile-run assessment, regardless of disability.  Students with documented disabilities, however, will be provided with testing accommodations that will completely level the playing field.  For example, students in a wheelchair will be permitted to wear gloves to provide traction, or students with life-threatening asthma will be allowed to carry an inhaler with them at all times during the testing procedure. These accommodations will ensure all students’ ability to reach grade level standards required for promotion.

How will mile run times be regulated?

  • To implement a fair and accurate testing procedure, students from 2nd grade and above will complete a yearly mile-run exam.  The test will utilize the ChampionChip Timing System to ensure accurate timing.  Teachers will not be allowed to test their own students, and proctors will be present to watch for dishonesty.  Admittedly, these procedures will incur some expense; the steep expenses of testing procedures will come directly from teachers’ exorbitant salaries.

By implementing a robust plan to hold physical education teachers accountable for producing measurable results, we will guarantee a bright future for our children.  More importantly, however, it will empower honest taxpayers to stop unconditionally emptying their pockets for the selfish state employees who claim to act in our kids’ best interest without actually producing any results.



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It’s Official–I’ve jumped on the Edmodo bandwagon!

It’s a little unfair, but I started out a little skeptical of Edmodo, mostly because it bothered me that people mispronounced it Edumoto, and I’m slightly crazy like that. (melk instead of milk, Fresh Mart instead of Fresh Market, Panera’s for Panera–my poor family; how do they deal with me?)

So, before I jumped on, I wanted to have a justifiable instructional purpose for using it in my classroom, other than, “it looks like Facebook.” I don’t see the purpose of trying to engage students if what you’re engaging them in isn’t substantive.  But I started developing what I considered substantive uses for it, and now I’m obsessed!

In addition to the built-in features, like quizzes for formative assessments and digital assignment submission, this is how I’m using Edmodo in my classroom this year:

1. Edmodo literature circles

After doing a round of live literature circles in class last year, we moved them online.  I created groups for each literature circle, they chose their books, and then every student joined a conversation about the book online.  It was awesome.

First of all, there was documentation of everything that was said, so I didn’t miss anything. (I found it frustrating, even though I had help from my AG teacher, to try to observe and grade multiple circles simultaneously.)

Secondly, and more importantly, it allowed us to have lots of explicit, candid conversations about how to interact with people online. We talked about stuff like how do you comment without killing a conversation?, and how do you deal with a group member who is not following the rules?

Here’s an example of a one of the many conversations my students: (this was group reading Inside Out and Back Again.)

  • “On page 124, I noticed that brother Quang was getting a bit sassy with Ha’s mom. It says, ” Mother couldn’t no believe/his generosity/until Brother Quang says/ The American government/ sponsors money.” He also goes on like this in another paragraph. I was wondering why he was so angry at the Americans or the cowboy. He is giving him a chance and he doesn’t even realize it! This angered me because after all he has been through, he responds by being so negative! What are your thoughts on his actions? What drove him to be like this?”
  • “I think he is being so negative all the time because of all he has been through. It would be hard for anyone to flee their country and be forced to live in a new place that is unfamiliar to them. I think he is getting stressed out because he is scared of what will come in this new country. What do you guys think?”
  • “I believe he was the one that wanted Ha and himself to stay in Veitnam because of pride, if this is true I think that he hates America and doesn’t like his mom praising it for being nice when the goverment is, what he thinks is, pity money.”
  • “I agree with Andy he felt like he betrayed Vietnam by leaving so he is not going to feel love for any other country besides Vietnam. Also I think dislikes America because American pulled out of the war leaving South Vietnam to fend on it’s on. So he probably thinks it’s America’s fault for the colapse of South Vietnam and the reason they had to move.”
  • “I see what all of you guys are saying, and I would feel the same as him, but I think that he should be the least bit grateful because the Americans are giving him a home, and a new opportunity from his old corrupt home, not to mention college. Wouldn’t you be the least bit grateful?”
  • “I think that he should be grateful for ANY opportunity he gets, but at the same time, this stanza basically says that the money they are receiving is, like Andy said, pity money for easing the guilt after losing the war. Though I can see the situation like you do Manali where Brother Quang should be grateful they are not dead, at the same time, money can never replace the loss of something you love so dearly.”

2. Edmodo book talks:

So…I don’t have tenure yet, (which I will never get, for that matter–thank you NC Legislature), so I’m not quite daring enough to have my kids use Twitter, considering almost all of them are currently under 13. So although we can’t join an international community of young readers on Twitter because of my unrelenting need to follow all rules set before me , we can establish a team-wide community of young readers on Edmodo.  

Each time one of my students finishes reading a book, (for their 40 Book Challenge–thanks Donalyn Miller!), they post a 140 character “book talk” to our Edmodo group. Whichever class period has the most book talks, in other words, reads the most books, will get a party at the end of the quarter.  In week 2 of school, I’ve already got kids really engaged in conversations about books online. I’d love to do more of this during class-time, but I can never seem to find the time, so this tool is helping me to make these conversations a priority.

Through this activity, my students are

  • Learning to talk about the books they’re reading concisely and collaboratively
  • Creating a place to find book recommendations from their friends
  • (Hopefully) inspired to read more due to the spirit of competition
  • Learning to use new literacies they already have in a productive way
  • Learning how to interact online in a positive manner
  • Hopefully more objectives that I haven’t thought of!

Here are some examples of student book talks:

  • Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements is about a boy named Bobby who wakes up one morning to find out he has disappeared. #bestbookever”
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer: Futuristic take on a classic tale. Cinder isn’t what people think. Even she doesn’t know! Not just a cyborg…”


How do you teach kids to use capitalization and correct punctuation online??? No matter how many times I blab on about it, kids can’t seem to wrap their minds around it! Any suggestions for getting kids to code switch online are welcome!!!

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Language Play

The following is a piece that I wrote for an exercise in which you write for a whole page and don’t use any periods.  Though obviously it does not follow the rules of SAE, I think exercises like this, in which you ask students to use language creatively and break the rules with purpose, have their place in the classroom.  In published writing, there are grammatical “errors.”  Language is much more fluid than we give it credit for, and recognizing that in the classroom may lead, I believe, to an infusion of life into boring material.  For this exercise in particular, it could spark a discussion about sentence length and what that does to the tone of a piece of writing. Creative writing should be language play!

 Classroom Daydreams

The teacher is wearing the same sweater today that she wore last Tuesday, the one made up of colors only otherwise used for sidewalk chalk interweaved in an intricate pattern of mush, the one that makes her look like an overgrown infant with a dry erase pen awkwardly dangling in her weak hand, the one I wish she wouldn’t wear, which I remember because Tuesday was the day that the bus was ten minutes late, perhaps from picking up someone in a wheelchair, stopping to lower the front end of the bus and fold out the handicap ramp—beep, beep, beep, beep—causing passengers to roll their eyes with irritation and sigh heavily so everyone around them could hear because now they were late for their dentist appointments and important lunch meetings, all except for hunched woman who sat alone in the second to the last row, not bothered by the delay, and knitted a child’s hat with huge wooden needles and pastel-colored yarn that faded from blue to pink to green to purple back to blue seamlessly and gracefully without hesitation or remorse knowing that change happens and there’s nothing we can do about it because worrying and sighing and rolling our eyes does not make the bus go any faster, or the colors of the yarn change any slower, or the teacher’s clothes become more flattering, and it doesn’t made a difference because, in the end, the passenger’s teeth will not fall out because of a missed dentist appointment and the teacher’s sweater doesn’t keep me from learning calculus.

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Position Paper

In middle and high school English classrooms across the country, nonfiction is too often used only as either reference material or a short unit mid-way through the year to fulfill state standards.  This was my own experience in high school, and it was not until I reached college that I discovered that there were entirely new worlds of literature I had never accessed.  Disregarding the genre and suggesting that it does not hold as much literary value as fiction does is detrimental to students’ learning.  By integrating it into the curriculum, English teachers can use engaging nonfiction to develop student self-efficacy while fostering creativity.

Douglas Hesse suggests three major advantages to integrating non-reference nonfiction into the language arts curriculum.  (I’ll refer to non-reference type nonfiction as creative nonfiction, which includes memoirs, essays, literary journalism, place/feature writing, biography, etc.)  Firstly, we should teach creative nonfiction to give our students a better map of the textual world.  It may be simple to boil down genres and teach nonfiction as only reference material, but that is not an accurate depiction of literature.  If you scan the shelves at a bookstore, there are thousands of books that don’t fit into our boiled down genres.

Secondly, he suggests that we need to teach our students literacy beyond the institutions.  Sure, it is vitally important that they can write an analytical essay, but reading nonfiction can offer them literacy beyond that.  (Though, as Jennifer Wells points out, reading creative nonfiction can help students on college admission essays and the like.)  Hesse writes, reading nonfiction can “shape our civic, social, and personal lives, our senses of the world and ourselves in it” (Hesse 20).  Reading nonfiction can give students our view of the larger world and help them form their own viewpoints.

Lastly, Hesse claims that reading nonfiction fosters creativity.  He writes, “creative nonfiction is especially valuable for teaching a kind of imagination that differs from pure fiction. Even if it deals with the world of fact, creative nonfiction demonstrates that this is a world rendered and shaped by someone” (Hesse 21).  Reading good nonfiction shows students how great writers can take something true, maybe even ordinary, and make it interesting to readers.  By studying the work of writers who can do this, students can learn from their creativity and use it in their own writing.

Reading nonfiction in the classroom also lends itself perfectly to autobiographical writing, which is a great way to increase students’ sense of self-efficacy.  An engaging memoir or autobiography could be used as scaffolding for students’ own writing.  Autobiographical writing offers struggling writers a voice—they all have something to say about their own experience.  As Spires and her colleagues suggest, “As students derive a sense of self through autobiographical readings and writings, they have the opportunity to create a foundation on which to build as they continue to develop their academic voices” (Spires 298).  Often, the prior experiences with writing that students may have had in the past with teachers taking a red pen to their papers, can leave students with a negative attitude toward writing.  If we, through autobiographical writing, can encourage them that they do have something original and interesting to write about, that negative attitude may change.  Using nonfiction in the classroom can be a means of encouraging reluctant writers.

Not only can nonfiction engage reluctant writers, but also reluctant readers.  Often, according to Marc Aronson, students who are interested in nonfiction are often labeled as “nonreaders.”  He suggests that boys, especially, have an innate desire to learn to master their own worlds, a mastery that nonfiction has the potential to offer them.  This is why boys are often seen reading car and hunting magazines written for adults.  He writes, “The problem is not that boys do not wish to read, but that what they wish to read—what, in fact, they desperately yearn to read—is not what we prefer to publish” (Aronson 99). Nonfiction offers girls, I think, something powerful too; many forms of nonfiction depict meaningful relationships between people that fiction often misses.

These value judgments placed on reading are often harmful students.  Myrna Hynes writes about a student of hers, Jeffrey, who thought he was a nonreader.  He said, ““I don’t read for fun. Like, most of the people here, they have novels that they read for—enjoyment! I read for facts. . . . So, if I find what I was looking for, I will do it.”  Out of context, it seems that Jeffrey was explaining what kind of reader he was.  He was, though, explaining why he considered himself a nonreader.  By not giving value to nonfiction, we alienate many of our students who do like to read, but might not like to read novels.  By teaching with nonfiction in the classroom, we provide different kinds of readers a sense of self-efficacy, which can open up doors to new kinds of reading as well.  RCA2011.


Aronson, M. (2003). Beyond the pale: new essays for a new era. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, INC.

Bishop, W. (2003). Suddenly sexy: creative nonfiction read-ends composition. College English, 65(3), 257-273.

Hesse, D. (2009). Imagining a place for creative nonfiction. English Journal, 99(2), aZ18-24.

Hynes, Myrna. (2000). “I read for facts”: reading nonfiction in a fiction world. Language Arts, 77(6), 485-495.

Spires, H.A., Williams, J.B., Jackson, A., & Huffman, L.E. (1998). Leveing the academic playing field through autobiographical reading and writing. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 42(2), 296-304.

Wells, J. (2008). “it sounds like me”: using creative nonfiction to teach college admissions essays. English Journal, 98(1), 47-52.

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My name is Hannah Weaver, and I’m in the MAT program for middle grades English.  I got my bachelor’s from the University of Pittsburgh in nonfiction writing, and my only teaching experience has been 4 months as a kindergarten teacher’s assistant.  An interesting fact about me is that I studied classical ballet for 14 years and took a year off of school after I graduated HS to dance full-time with Pittsburgh Ballet Theater.

My earliest memories of reading and writing are fond ones.  Before I could read, my parents read to me regularly.  Books were an important part of our lives since before I can remember.  The transition to reading on my own was seamless, and I was gorging on books as soon as I could.  I read series of fiction books when I was in elementary school—The Boxcar Children, The Wizard of Oz books, Nancy Drew.  I was the kid who begged to get more books than I could carry on a library trip, but I ended up reading them all before they were due anyway.  My fiercely competitive nature came into even my reading, as I remember that once I found the longest book in the school library, Little Women.  It took my 2nd grade self nearly 6 months to read the 754 pages, most of which I didn’t understand, but I was proud to have read what I considered a “grown-up book.”  Reading, then, gave me a sense of accomplishment.  I recognized the power of reading and the world that literacy opens up, and I was proud to have that access.

Even after I could read, my family still did a great job of setting aside time to read aloud to my brother and me.  As older kids, my dad read us Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Alice and Wonderland, Treasure Island, and all kind of other classic children’s series.  I think it was this ritual of reading aloud in my household that both fostered a vivid imagination and planted the seed for the love of literature.

Writing also started out on a good note for me.  Before I could write, I used to illustrate books—drawings on construction paper that I would staple together like a book.  As I grew older, my fourth grade teacher in particular played a huge role in my development as a writer.  She structured her classroom much like a writing workshop, and we wrote creative pieces daily.  One exercise I particularly remember is that every day for a week, we would pick out a paint chip from a bucket and have to write a poem inspired by the name of that paint color.  She also recognized the value of students seeing their work published in some way, so we all submitted at least one poem to a national children’s poetry anthology.  When my poem got published, and I saw it printed in that hard cover book, I truly felt like a writer.

As I entered middle and high school, reading and writing became a different experience for me.  The focus of literacy became performance.  Any sort of creative expression was traded for the five-paragraph essay.  Still, I liked English class because I was good at it, but I didn’t feel that love for literacy that I’d felt in late elementary school.

It wasn’t until college that I truly felt that again.  As my tastes in reading and writing became clearer, I began to do it for fun again.  I grew interested in literary and creative nonfiction reading and writing, and began journaling regularly.  Currently in my literary journey, I’m trying to widen my array of reading, especially reading books that my future students might be interested in.

My own experience with literacy can inform my teaching in many ways.  When the imagination and creativity was sucked out of English class, I lost my passion for books.  As a preservice English teacher, I recognize the importance of preparing our students for state standards, but it should be our goal to do that in the most dynamic and engaging method possible.  Also, I think student choice is a huge part of nurturing literacy in the classroom, because when I was given a choice about what kind of reading I wanted to do, I grew interested and was more likely to produce a meaningful response.

My background knowledge about reading in content areas before taking this course was limited, but through this course I have gained a much deeper understanding of what literacy is and how it can be taught across the curriculum.  I’ve learned several strategies for scaffolding my students’ reading, which I believe is a crucial component of comprehension.  I grew more conscious of how important it is to use writing to learn, rather than just lead my student to learn to write, which is a risk as an English teacher.  Most importantly, though, this class has served as an example of how I’d like my own classes to be:  a genuine line of inquiry that provides students with the scaffolding to use authentic tools collaboratively.  If I can give my students the opportunity to be stakeholders their own educations, then they will be able to attain the literacies necessary to be successful.

One of my goals for the course was to learn more about how non-English teachers use reading.  In my own experience, the only reading I did for middle and high school was in English class, because though other teachers assigned textbook reading, I did well on tests relying only on lectures and discussions.  I’ve been encouraged, though, by reading all of your blogs–thanks so much for your understanding of how important literacy is to all content areas!  It’s been a pleasure to be in class with you.

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Telling True Tales Webquest

Here’s my webquest!  As I’ve said before, this is designed to lead students in their exploration of different ways to tell nonfiction stories.  It then asks them to use what they’ve learned to create their own nonfiction story in the medium of their choosing.  Hope you enjoy!


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New Literacies

As teachers, we are responsible for making sure that our students are fluent in the methods of discourse they’ll need beyond the classroom.  In the last decades, these necessary literacies have changed drastically with the arrival of the digital era.  No longer can students thrive in the real world without an understanding of how to use digital tools in a collaborative, meaningful way.

Digital tools, by nature, make readers into more active participants in the text.  “Traditional printed texts such as books are written for readers to proceed from front to back, reading from left to right.  However, readers of electronic texts have the option of clicking on any one of a number of hyperlinks that can take them on a path that digresses completely from the path that other readers might take” (V,V,&M 33).  Just the act of reading a digital text is inherently more active than reading a printed text.  Also, in the digital world, readers have the opportunity to interact with other readers and writers through commenting and social networking.  This leads to the participitory learning that creates an “self-correcting, collaborative environment.” (Henry Jenkins)  As we’ve experienced through this class through blogging and commenting, digital tools allow us to be more active readers while helping us learn collaboratively.

The concept of learning collaboratively has been around for a long time, but the today’s digital technology has provided it so much more potential.  The theory of connectivism suggests that we learn best from making connections between our learning and the learning of others.  According to George Siemens, “we can no longer personally experience and acquire learning that we need to act. We derive our competence from forming connections.”  As I mentioned before, I would not have had nearly as an enriching experience in this class had it not been collaborative in nature.  If I had to be entirely autonomous in my reading and learning, it would be very shallow and unrewarding.  Instead, when learning in a community and making connections to the learning of others, a deeper and more complex understanding of a concept is attainable.

As Jenkins points out, unfortunately teachers and administrations often place self-imposed limits on the kind of 21st century literacies they can teach their students.  It was refreshing to read about the environment that Eric Sheninger fostered in his school, and it’s these kinds of risk-taking efforts that lead to a rich learning environment in the new century.  It is a shame that YouTube, Twitter, social networks, and other potential learning tools are banned from many schools.  It is true, as Jenkin says, that harnessing the digital tools for necessary for collaborative, participitory learning can be scary because it takes some power away from the teacher and puts it in the hands of the student.  But the risk is worth the reward, because when students have power and can develop respected voices in collaborative conversations, they become stakeholders in their own educations.  Which is what we want, isn’t it?  RCA2011


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