It Starts with a Name

Heather Fischer lives and teaches in Southern California where she was born and raised. Her passion is to help students live abundant lives by igniting their passion for learning and demonstrating that there are unlimited possibilities when they take risks and challenge themselves. Heather is pursuing a Master of Teaching degree and a Curriculum, Instruction, and Publication Certificate from Biola University. She recently began creating TPT resources and blogging under the name “Fishin’ 4 Inspiration.” Heather loves to travel, explore the great outdoors, and spend time with her husband and dog.

  By Heather Fischer

          Who are you? The answer to this question can be quite daunting.  To define yourself by your age, relationship status, or even profession would seem insufficient. Most people would respond first with their name. Your name gives you an identity; it was given to you at birth and gives insight into your cultural, ethnic, and family background. Your name is sacred because it exclaims that you exist, are valuable, and have a voice.

            Our job as educators is to ensure that our students thrive academically. In order to do this, they must feel that they are loved, valued, and included within our classrooms. Knowing and using students’ names is fundamental in building strong, positive relationships within the classroom. Without it, we may be perceived as unapproachable, impersonal, or even uncaring. To demonstrate love and care for our students, we need to know and use our students’ names as soon as possible. It’s an effective way to build a sense of community and trust within our students.

            Additionally, the way in which we pronounce our students’ names is essential. When we pronounce our students’ names correctly, we not only honor our students and their cultural backgrounds, but we also demonstrate the importance of respecting diversity. Our students need to develop a global awareness in hopes that they will become competent within the 21st century.  

            My challenge to you is to know every student’s name and how to pronounce it correctly as quickly as possible. Imagine how valued our students would feel if we knew their names by the end of the first day, or even better, as they are walking through our doors for the first time! Do whatever it takes to know their names - ask their former teachers, take pictures and study them at home, or even call their families. We have a responsibility as educators to create an inclusive and caring classroom environment so that our students can thrive. Knowing their names and pronouncing them correctly is a powerful and effective way to show them that they are valuable and important.



Why is there still so much buzz about Growth Mindset?

By Savanna Flakes

Savanna Flakes, EdS, has taught a variety of subjects, grades and learners in Washington D.C., Pittsburgh and Virginia. Savanna is an education consultant specializing in inclusion, special education, and differentiated instruction for literacy and math. Her prior instructional leadership roles include Manager of Professional Learning, Master Educator, technology integration specialist and inclusion instructional specialist, coaching administrators and teachers on effective inclusive and instructional practices. Savanna has served as a professor in the American University School of Education and Health, and she presents nationally on topics such as differentiation, co-teaching, universal design for learning, and inclusion. As an educational consultant, Savanna works with school communities to build teacher leaders and effective instructional practices for students with exceptionalities. For more information, visit Inclusion For a Better Future.


Why is there still so much buzz about Growth Mindset?

The answer is simple. Without a Growth Mindset - us and our students will fail.  Helping our students to achieve their potential and motivating them to understand effective effort, persistence, and working hard to reach their goals is the central aim of our teaching. The research is abundantly clear, teacher’s expectations and mindset can set students up for success or failure and students who have a fixed mindset shut down more quickly and have self-defeating behaviors in the face of learning challenges. Growth Mindset isn’t a tool or a paradigm or a packaged prescriptive method, it is a philosophy.  Growth Mindset describe the underlying beliefs people have about learning and intelligence (Carol Dweck).

To concretely demonstrate we care about Growth Mindset and want to build resilient and expert learners that are determined to be successful we must include Growth Mindset in our planning. To support students in the transition of fixed mindset to growth mindset, we need to dedicate instructional time to teach students about Mindset and why it matters. What does malleable intelligence mean? What does a GM look and sound like?  Share this graphic with students, have conversations and role plays, let students assess their mindset and create action steps and goals, and instruct students to create their own personal anchor charts that they revisit throughout the school year. Here are some of my favorite Growth Mindset resources:


Videos on Mindset and Effort-

  1. What is it?

  2. Power of Yet

  3. Michael Jordan’s Successful Failure

Lesson Planning Resource-




  4. The Growth Mindset Coach: A Teacher's Month-by-Month Handbook for Empowering Students to Achieve


Concluding Words: A Growth Mindset is a journey, not a one-stop fix or over-night transition, start at the beginning of the school year and revisit frequently. If you build a class community that is devoted to possessing a Growth Mindset, the sky is only a viewpoint.


Arizona limits ethnic studies. Circa 2010

By Meredith Chase-Mitchell

This post was written seven years ago when Arizona was on the front line amending their ethnic studies curriculum. At the time, as a woman of color who celebrates diversity- it was a shock to hear that a state would purposely modify education to NOT be inclusive. 
View below the incredible Dr. Michael Eric-Dyson on CNN debating the topic.

The more I read and hear about the racist policies in Arizona, the more grateful I am for the education and choices that I had. If you haven't heard this week the state of Arizona has proposed banning "ethnic studies" in public schools. How is this even possible in a country as diverse as ours, that one state doesn't find it important enough for us to learn about each other? I've never agreed that America is a "melting pot" , but implementing policy that is racist and can lead to more mis-education among races, is appalling.

In the summer of 1995 I took a class at Nassau Community College that changed me forever, African American History I. As a product of New York City and Long Island public schools, the most I learned about African American history in high school covered the basics, Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. and Jackie Robinson. My mother thank goodness attempted to fill the gap with visits to the Schomburg Museum in Harlem, her own collection of Richard Wright and August Wilson novels, and assigning her own unique reading and research assignments over the weekend. Even with my mother’s intervention to supply me with knowledge on a subject my school district ignored, I longed for the debate and in depth discussion on all things related to ME.

That summer my personal library grew quickly with books on the Panther Party, speeches by Cornel West and even getting annoyed at social interactions that years before I never was concerned with. The 90's gave us the Crown Heights riot, the LA riots and the OJ Simpson trial and all of a sudden, being a young black women in America became my number one concern, what was my role and how would I survive? 1995 also marked the first time I was called a nigger- a life changing summer indeed. Enrolling in a class that taught me more than any class in High School ever did, gave birth to a new person. If it weren't for the glimpse of history, or as Arizona may classify it, ethnic studies, my eyes may have never been opened to a realm of information that is often ignored in the classroom. The opportunity to study additional cultures other than my own, wasn't just an asset for me, but also for my peers of other ethnicities.

Arizona's attempt to close the door on thought and education in a country comprised of individuals from all over the globe has to be one of the most detrimental policies ever drafted. I am both scared and curious to witness how we will all be affected by this policy.

What is your "why"?

By Jameelah Wright


Jameelah R. Wright, graduate of Douglass College at Rutgers University holds a degree in Sociology.  Jameelah currently works at Three Stages Learning Center as the Head Teacher and Assistant Director of the prekindergarten program . In addition to being an early childhood educator, Jameelah is also a reading specialist, teacher consultant, mentor, and a parent educator. In 2003 she founded The Urban Flower Project  (, a nonprofit which provides professional development for early childhood and elementary teachers in best practices, and promotes family literacy for parents of birth to school-age children. She is also a proud member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. 

"Jason wants to know what motivates you." That's the statement, uttered from my husband, referencing his friend, that had me stymied. Part of the confusion was that I didn't really know the context in which Jason made his inquiry regarding my motivation. When I asked my husband for clarification, he said "What makes you want to do the things you do: teaching, Girl Scouts, the gifted and talented program, etc.?"

He was asking about my "Why?”  The irony is that as a mentor to new teachers and a coach to seasoned teachers, I often ask them about their "Why?" and yet, here I was caught off guard by the very same question. Every teacher I have ever lead has been encouraged to be a self-reflective practitioner, but do I practice what I preach?

Sitting quietly in my office, I scribbled in my journal to organize my thoughts. For a week I scratched away in that notebook, peeling back layer after layer until I came to the realization that I do what I do because I am supposed to. I teach because it flows through me organically. I have known since I was three years old that I would be a teacher. Watching my grandmother work with young children, and also having wonderful teachers (I can name them all from pre-k to high school) made it so I could never seriously consider another career choice. Playing "school" with my cousins and friends, and even my baby dolls, has deeply encoded Teacher in my DNA. There is no other way for me. 

So, Jason, and anybody else reading this: I am motivated by the sheer will and determination to complete the task for which I was called...and to shape a few lives along the way. What is your why?


Cognates for Commonality

By Anne-Catherine Mauk

Anne-Catherine Cordova Mauk

Anne-Catherine Córdova Mauk is a K-2 ENL teacher at a Title-1 school in New York City. She graduated from the University of California at Riverside with a B.A. in Liberal Studies and later earned an M.Ed from the same institution. She recently completed a master’s degree in the Science of Reading from Mount St. Joseph University. Anne-Catherine is a former TeachEarth Fellow and a two-time Fund for Teachers fellow. In her eight years of teaching, Anne-Catherine has also taught students in Cincinnati and Saint Louis from pre-k through eighth grade at dual-immersion and newcomer magnet schools. She is a certified yoga instructor who has piloted and managed three school gardens. In her spare time, Anne loves to read, run, and upcycle things for her classroom.

As an ENL teacher, I work closely with colleagues to support ELLs in their general-education classes. Doing this begins with identifying ways in which our ELL’s language needs can be met while simultaneously developing content-area skills and knowledge. A layer of complexity is added when we begin to discuss how we can also meet our newcomer ELLs social and emotional needs as they transition to a new school, country, language, and culture. ELLs experience all of the challenges any new kid experiences acclimating, with additional trials and frustrations due to their inability to express their thoughts, feelings, and knowledge in the English language. I often poke my head in to a classroom or grab a given teacher in the hallway after they’ve had a newcomer student in their class for a day or two. “How is it going so far with ______,” I ask. “They don’t know a word of English” they reply. Similar responses are garnered from peers in the classroom, who feel that the newcomer is “off-limits” because they don’t speak the same language.

If the newcomer in question is a Spanish or French speaker, a fun way to dispel these sentiments (while also helping all students to develop metalinguistic awareness) is to introduce the concept of cognates. Cognates are words that share similar meaning, spelling, and pronunciation in two languages, such as class and clase or direction and dirección. There are about 25,000 according to, which offers a plugin app that automatically highlights cognates in electronic text. Provide students with a list of common cognates, such as the one available on Ask English speakers to highlight words they recognize in English and ask Spanish speakers to do the same. Have students compare notes. Both groups will quickly realize how much language they already share!

Inside the mind of a teacher during their observation.

By Andreina García

Andreina García is a Brooklyn born, lover of books, a stationary hoarder, loving and dedicated 1st grade bilingual teacher. She teaches in the heart of Bushwick, where she was born making it a full circle moment for her. When she isn't with her family and friends whom she loves spending time with, she is with her baby Oliver-( insert dog emoji). Andreina's goal in life is to make a difference in the lives of tiny humans that have big hearts from who she learns from everyday in two languages : English & Spanish.

In her black outfit she comes in holding her notebook on the side of her hip, ready.

 “Hello, boys and girls”, my first graders respond, “Heeeeeeeeeeello, Ms. Perez.”

The principal comes in, sits down in one of the students’ chairs. She is looking toward the class and myself while we are sitting on the floor. My heart drops. I feel all my insides rise up and fall back down. I feel the heat radiating from my body. I’m having an outer body experience, as I hear the kids chatting a bit … or maybe a lot. But I hear them only faintly because I’m so focused on breathing.

I begin writing the learning goal on the dry erase board. I know I have to turn and address the students, which I do in a minute. Trying to remind myself to get with it, I must move on. I know this woman- my boss- is here, observing me. I know she is going to see everything I am clearly doing wrong. I hope she doesn’t ask for a lesson plan! I mean, I do have it. It’s just not as detailed as it should be. Or how “they” want it to be. “Ok, lets read our Learning Goal: I can stretch out a moment across pages.” The students repeat after me. “I can stretch out a moment across pages.”

“Not adequate.” “Not good enough.” These are the words that echo through my mind as I’m sitting here getting observed. There is something that my administrator is looking for, as she sits here watching and listening to everything I am doing. And no matter all the good things she may see me do, I will stay stuck on the areas I’m told that I need to improve.

Every observation I suffer through, I put myself through this same loophole. I will re- think and re- hash and re- do every action taken, every word spoken. I will see my faults only and I won’t celebrate the areas that I have done well in. As a teacher, I know I will always get observed. It’s about the practice right? But even knowing this, I take it personal, each and every time.

“What will we be learning today, students?” I assess the class at a glance. Some know what we will be doing. Some don’t. I can tell by their face and body language if they are ready to learn. Are they looking at me engaged? Or not?... Are they slouching on the floor?... Are they paying attention or zoning out?... Is that one fidgeting… Is that one to the right of me touching those things in the bookcase? I’m going to try to get them back by saying something in an exaggerated way- that always gets them!! What child doesn’t? Right?...

I am watching my whole existence pass me by. I am thinking ahead, as I am in the present, delivering this lesson that is being judged. Oh, and when that pen starts moving… the more I want to crawl into a hole. Tragame tierra. I just want to say “How about you take over?!”

Why does it bother me? Why does it affect me to get observed?

“Not good enough. Not adequate.”

I’m 18 years old at the college of Staten Island, taking a woman’s anthropology course, while navigating through life figuring this shit out, this life. I loved learning about how women were treated in different cultures and so I wrote about it, well it was required by the professor to write a paper. So I did. Of course, I procrastinated but I thought I did well. I go to class, my white professor starts handing back the papers that she graded. I’m nervous, I wonder what I got? I hope it was good enough?  She, with her pixie blonde haircut hands me my paper. I go over it I see a lot of handwriting going on. She has a pretty handwriting, the way she wrote her letters slanted with light strokes almost like her personality.  Very neat yet didn’t seem to make much effort. As I was going over my paper, there was one comment that struck me, “Is English your second language. You should visit the writing center.” What was that supposed to mean? It seemed that the words were screaming at me coming off the page, like you see?! I slouch. I want to wallow in pity. I’m not good at this. The failure wreaks out of me. I wish I were the other girl in my class who did her writing assignment the night before and get A’s. So effortlessly. Then I think, I should’ve never been in bilingual classes. But, I don’t remember my writing being an issue in middle school or high school where I was in monolingual classes. Why now? My language isn’t good, nor my writing. I didn’t say anything to her. I go to the writing center because maybe she is right.



The students and I go over what kind of writing we are going to work on. “Class, what type of writing have we discussed?” I pick on the one student that I know is on point and will say what I need him to say. He is sitting crisscross applesauce style in our meeting area on the floor facing the smart board, the sun is reflecting off of his black round-framed glasses. He says, ‘Personal Narrative’. He sounds so proud and sure of himself. My teacher heart is happy, yes! “Yes that’s right!” I see the principal give a little nod and half a smile.

“Now, what is a personal narrative?” I pick on another student, with his high-pitched nasally voice, ‘it’s something that happens to you in one day’, ‘yes something that happened to you in one moment.’ Some students call it out. I let it go. We continue the discussion.


I’m 16, Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers in Manhattan, my last year of high school, going to day school, night school and working at a Jewish accounting firm. The goal was to graduate on time and have some cash along the way. I just want to make money so I can my buy whatever I want. The newest Nikes, the nice clothes, whatever I want. This afternoon job was perfect! The school hooked me up. I went on an interview, it went well and there I was. My first real job! Not like the summer time youth employment. When I get there, the girl who was there before was a perfectionist, she wrote a list of all the things she did there and how she did it. She showed me everything so fast. I didn’t think I would ever meet her standards and I didn’t. I made mistakes, made the wrong copies of tax papers, could never seem to get it right. I think the receptionist felt bad for me at times because she would look at me like, poor child with the look of disappointment. I tried. A call came in one afternoon, I picked up while standing up hovered on the phone. “This is the office of…” Hi, I would like to speak to Mr. Mandelbaum” “who may I ax is speaking? “This is Mr. Roberts” “Ok please hold”… before I go to transfer the call I hear a lady laughing, I stay and continue listening, my grip is tight on the phone listening intently and trying not to breathe so they wouldn’t hear that I was listening. Scoffing, “did you hear how she says ask?” They need to teach her how to speak correctly.” I transferred the call. Why would they make fun of me? I have been saying ask wrong this whole time? Boy did I feel like world caved in. I didn’t say anything. My body didn’t feel like it was mine, I felt as if someone punctured my soul. I couldn’t articulate it then.


“Okay, guys just like in the book, Un sillon para mi mama, we see how the little girl tells us her story through different pages she stretches it out, now you will talk and draw out your own small moment. Turn and talk to your partner tell them what is one small moment you are thinking about.” Students tell of a moment they want to talk about. I see the principal talking with two students and one of them refuses to talk… Not engaged!! That’s going to be written up for sure! And I didn’t follow up!! I return the students back so students can share. I pick one student, “Aw man, aw” came from different students. I stop. “we don’t say that, not everyone is going to get called and we need to give everyone an opportunity to speak.” I call on a girl, she mentions her moment. She spoke in a low voice. Some students were talking and not listening to the speaker. The principal says, “I can’t hear what she is saying.” In my mind, Ugggghhhhhh. These kids are so chatty!!

“Okay class, we are going to have to stop, (again) some of my friends aren’t listening when someone is talking. Lets go over the rules.” We go over it. And I’m over it. They must sense my fears. They know. They have to. If its one thing I’ve learned about teaching is that children are intuitive. They know when shit ain’t going right, or something is off. Yup and they knew. And there is always that one student that doesn’t know anything even when they do! And guess who she told that she didn’t know what small moment to write? And I’m pretty sure that will be written up as well.

Because of my past experiences in my childhood and the way I was taught I bring into my classroom. I bring the fear of not being good enough not adequate enough. And as a new teacher I am learning and navigating through these spaces where I can use my experiences to better myself and show my students that they will always be good enough and adequate.

Learning outside!

By Sonia Hallaith
Sonia lives in London, where she was born and raised. She is an Early Years and Education Studies graduate with honors who has over five years experience working with children. Her passion and respect for educators is based upon her former teacher’s belief motivation. Her passion is to make education as creative as possible with an arrangeof unique ways to engage students. Having bonded over their belief that with the right frame of mind and motivation people can achieve anything Sonia knew she wanted to pass this passion onto the next generation on a large scale. It seemed like an impossible task until she watched the movie ‘Joy’ and learned about the humble beginnings of Joy Mangano’s business empire. Inspired by her success and having pinpointed that education was the most effective way to influence future generations – she’s forever brainstorming ideas to make education fun.

I wanted to share with you how you can use the outdoor environment with your learners. I am a big fan of teaching in a natural environment outside. 

"Its time toooo getttt muddy!!"

You can even take story time outside and relate the book to the outdoor environment, it’s fab! I did that with the book ‘Stick Man’ and 'We are going on a bear hunt’, my learners loved being outside and learning. They say creativity is;

  • Inventing
  • Experimenting
  • Growing
  • Taking risks
  • Breaking rules
  • Making mistakes

And of course HAVING FUN! The outdoors is the ultimate place where your learners can forever explore and develop their growth. I have also used the outdoor environment to create learning resources such as log number blocks. The log number blocks are great for practically everything, they are especially great for both the inside and outside environment to help your learners with number recognition.

IT WOULD BE A MISTAKE! To think of the outdoor space as a place to take a break from learning. We do not let children outside to let off steam then bring them back inside for the real learning. Rather, learning is done as much-some would say more-outside as it is inside.

Be sure to take your learning outside whenever you can!

Knowing your audience in Education

By Nelly Lavaud

Nelly, Haitian born and Brooklyn raised is a NYC special educator, activist, wife and soon to be mom. She is a graduate of Brooklyn College and Long Island University and has also been present on education panels and sponsors clubs at her high school for her students. She's an avid reader, a fan of the show This Is Us, and is a lover of all things Starbucks-- she has been going through withdrawal while she waits for the arrival of her daughter. She misses her daily coffee a latte!

         It’s May! Can you believe it? No, seriously where did the time go? Just a couple of months ago I was standing in front of the classroom introducing myself to my English classes, but now it’s almost time to say goodbye. It’s that time of the year again, that time when things are winding down and the end of the school year is on the horizon. I can’t say that this year has gone any faster than any other school year but it definitely has flown by. I am excited to see what the end of the school year brings, I am looking forward to taking a break from the every day struggles of working with my students to try and close that horrible “achievement gap.” 

            Every educator knows that at the beginning of every year their goal is to try and get their students to those benchmarks to make that gap seem smaller. Many of our students make those benchmarks and help ease the burden of the constant reminder of closing the gap, while many others don’t come close.  It’s tough on many teachers when they try to help students make those benchmarks. Many students come into our classroom with reading and math levels far below our grade area and we are challenged with helping this child make leaps and bounds in a specific amount of time.  I do agree that teachers are magical human beings, but achieving goals like having a student come into your 11th grade classroom jump from a 3rd grade reading level to a 10th grade reading level is nothing short of a miracle. But, that’s not what this post is about; we can talk about that another time. The title of this post is about knowing your audience in education. A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine posted this as his status on Facebook.  

Colleague: This kid is as dumb as dishwater. 
My Friend: I think what you're saying is that this teacher has not been trained to deal with all learners, especially language learners and students with disabilities. Right? 
Colleague: No, I'm saying this child is dumb. 
My Friend: I really think what you're saying is that the system is not equipped to deal with students of color with learning obstacles and challenges. Right?
Colleague: Stop trying to correct me. Don't you understand what I'm saying?
 My Friend: No. You’re speaking out of you’re a**and I'm a language learner and can't understand. 
Colleague: blank stare

The biggest disability for some is their so-called privilege.

There are some people in education who do NOT belong. They are there with titles of coaches, mentors, liaisons, etc. and they have no clue about what it takes to be an educator. My friends’ interaction with this person isn’t the first that I’ve heard where they talk down about the children, or about the teacher without thinking.  When in a room with various types of educators its best to err on the side of caution when talking about instruction and student advancement. People who were never educators do not have the right to talk down about what teachers are doing or how a child is learning. If you have never taught please refrain from your input of how a classroom should be ran even with your title of coach, or mentor, etc. Know the audience that you’re interacting with. Know that there are some teachers who struggle with instruction or even management, but that does not mean that they are horrible teachers. Know that there are students who do not learn like others and may take some time to pick up on things that may seem simple to other students. Refrain from passing judgment and saying things that have NO merit especially if you’re NOT in the classroom. Know the audience that you’re with when talking to educators.  We are dedicated to our craft; we are moved by our students to help them make a change in this world. Do not, I repeat do NOT go into a room of educators and talk down to them or about their students. Know who you’re talking to, and what you’re talking about.

From the Desk of a Substitute Teacher

By Danielle Morton

Danielle Morton is a Troy, New York based substitute teacher who doesn't drink coffee! She has innovative resources on her Teachers Pay Teachers site and you can follow her on TPT and Instagram under @theteacherwiththefro . Danielle holds a BS in Elementary Education and a MS in Literacy, she is also a talented piano player, and hopes to open a daycare center in the near future.

Being a substitute teacher? It is no easier than being the classroom teacher, if anything, dare I say it’s even harder? I am a fan of education, I enjoy the classroom, enjoy the students, and find that I make an impact in the schools I work in. I am currently a substitute teacher in Troy, New York and work as a building substitute which means I am working in one building. This unique format allows me to build rapport with the other teachers, the students, and the families. This school year is my second one at this school and I have grown to enjoy it even more. I entered the realm of public education initially in Buffalo, New York completing placements of students in wealthy districts in the Buffalo area. Over the last two years I have transitioned to working in an urban setting and have been fortunate to experience school operations and academics in schools with opposite access to resources and finances.

My students are, sassy, lovable, and eager to learn bunch, and like many other children, it takes time to build trust and grow with them. As I became accustomed to my role as substitute teacher when I started the job, it felt as if I was the new student, and in actuality I was. Each day was like the first day of school all over again and students will always try their best to test the sub. Haven’t we all? Becoming a building sub is an opposite feeling, I have become a part of the school family and have found a school home. It’s a wonder who more districts have not implemented having building subs rather than a different sub for each teacher’s absence? As a building sub the feeling is less nerve racking, the students know who I am and I don't have to meet a new group of students every day.  

Schools need committed professionals who are able to connect with children and teach effectively. Although I am not a contracted school educator, I see myself as an educator. My role matters to the students I see each day, even if it’s for a limited time. Schools need sincere adults- not space holders.

Are you a substitute teacher in a K-12 public school? Need resources? Take a look below:


Playing Devil's Advocate: A Game for Practicing Argument Skills in Secondary ELA


By Meredith Dobbs

Meredith is the founder and creator of and Bespoke ELA. She has taught high school English for 10+ years in Dallas, Chicago, and New York City and holds a M.A. in Literature from Northwestern University. She has always had a connection to the written word-- through songwriting, screenplay writing, and essay writing-- and she enjoys the process of teaching students how to express their ideas. Meredith enjoys life with her husband, daughter, and sweet pups.

Playing Devil’s Advocate:  A Game for Practicing Argument Skills in Secondary ELA

An essential skill for secondary English Language Arts is the practice of argumentation.  One way to practice argumentation skills is through a game called “I Couldn’t Disagree More.”  In this game, students play the devil’s advocate and disagree with debatable thematic claims.

Here’s how it works:

1.      The class is divided into groups, and the teacher reads a debatable thematic claim such as Greed is the root of evil.

2.      Students in the group (and the whole class) have one minute to write a 1-2 sentence response disagreeing with the statement.  Students are to begin with “I couldn’t disagree more because…”  Not all students may be able to think of a response.

3.      The group that has the turn gets to share their counterarguments first.  For every statement that contains a rational reason backed by a logical literary example, the team earns a point.

a.       Student Example:  I couldn’t disagree more because rejection from society leads to acts of violence as in the case of Grendel when he attacks the Danes.  He wants to belong to group, but they shun him.

4.      After the group shares their statements, the teacher opens up the debatable claim to the whole class, and students in other groups can share their counterarguments if and only if they wrote something different.  Other groups can earn points if they share different statements that meet the criteria.  The turn then rotates to the next group, and the teacher selects a different thematic claim. 

5.      The group with the most points wins the game!!

If you’re looking for another way to target argumentation skills, try out this game to allow your students to stretch their rhetoric muscles!

Check out more ideas for secondary ELA at

Memories of the power of a world changing election.

By Meredith Chase-Mitchell

Appeared on in 2008

“Yes, we can”, a slogan we all know well, a slogan that people across the globe know, regardless of age, race and socio-economic class. Some may say it’s a pledge that rings in the ears of people everywhere, who for the first time in 2008, believed that America is the land where dreams come true. The innovative, groundbreaking and historic Presidential campaign of our President Barack Obama, tapped into all demographics and resulted in a victory for all to remember. How did one man, who many thought the odds were against, manage to appeal to so many? How did one man accomplish securing the most powerful voting age group in America? Simple, music.

The Pew Research Center documented that the largest voter turnout for the 2008 election, occurred within the 18 to 29 year old age group of registered Democrats. Not since the 1972 Presidential race between Nixon and McGovern, has that age group been so vocal and active in a national election. In the U.S, one can find 18- 29 year olds enrolled in college, starting new careers, beginning new families, influenced by popular culture and enjoying while struggling with all that America has to offer, in terms of experiences and expression. From the moment Barack Obama announced his candidacy for President of the United States, we saw the impact that celebrities had on the Presidential campaign, particularly musicians. From Will.I.Am’s infamous YouTube clip “Yes, we can” with appearances from John Legend to Alicia Keys, to Jay Z’s anthem, My President is Black, the election became just as mainstream and relatable as McDonald's and Oprah. Infusing pop culture to appeal to voters was powerful and one would find it challenging to disassociate the impact of music and popular culture from Obama’s win.

As the Presidential campaign came to a successful end and President Obama moved into the White House, the infusion of music and popular culture continued. Individuals raced to produce Obama tees, while his name is continually mentioned in rifts spanning rock and hip hop. Even the president's “swagger,” continues to be emulated across the globe. While innovative in its application, using music to inform politics is not new. Music has proven to be a powerful tool before, uniting youth in protest over the Vietnam War in the 60’s and inspiring pride during the 70’s for African Americans. Through music, the Obama campaign managed to recruit and inspire youth across the nation to vote and be politically active.

As in times before, music has again made political involvement cool and acceptable. Evidence of this can be found in the twitter messages and facebook fan pages still devoted to elected officials and the Obama Administration. It will be particularly important to observe the ways that music continues to inform and influence political conversations. There are countless individuals who got interested and involved in the campaign because they saw Diddy sporting an Obama tee shirt or remember Obama himself “brushing the dirt off his shoulder” at a rally during his campaign. We can only hope that these individuals continue to serve as advocates and continue to be engaged, long after the last song of the Obama Administration has been played.

The price of an education.

By Meredith Chase-Mitchell

One morning in 2011 I opened my university email to learn that a Whole Foods will be opening on my campus in Washington, DC. If you are familiar with Whole Foods and its aisles of organic and tasty treats, you're also aware of its extraordinary price tags for an orange you can get for a fraction of the price at Pathmark or even the nice man on the corner with the wagon ( for my NYC natives) . I was rather surprised by the choice of supermarkets opening on a college campus and then I remembered that The George Washington University is one of the most expensive Universities in the US, # 3 to be exact ( in 2011) at $51, 730 a year. Many of its students can afford the tuition without a blink, but what about those who cannot?

Seeing this price tag of a little over $50,000 a year for undergraduate and graduate programs ( Education, Law and Medical ), make it the first leap into debt for a student who relies on loans and family. However, this price tag is one that many see as worth it, as GW has an incredible reputation nationwide with only a 36% acceptance rate.

When we argue that an education, especially a quality one, is a right as an American, are we including schools with a tuition that may exceed a family's annual income? Or can the poor, underserved and underrepresented only be offered the best in terms of what is in their community? Have we made the elite tier 1, expensive university a right as well, or is this when the division begins?

We all stand strong that little Billy should not dodge bullets on his way to school as a first grader, that Kelly should not have to refuse drugs from a dealer on her way to the 5th grade and that Doug should not be socially promoted in 10th grade when he struggles with his academics. If we organize for school safety , pass legislation requiring more teacher training, and offer additional programs for after school instruction- where is the movement to make sure that Billy, Kelly, and Doug can also attend the best of the best in the country not their community? Do their rights end at tuition costs?

Speak on it!

Hip Hop, what can it teach us?

By Meredith Chase-Mitchell

I am Hip Hop. We are Hip Hop. Hip Hop is us. As an educator and a woman, a 70’s baby and an 80’s kid, hip hop has been and will always be a part of my life. May it be a song that I party to, connect to politically, or brings back memories of a time when life was innocent, hip hop like all musical genres defines a time. Over the last thirty years, hip hop has evolved into an empire and an art form. The same music, artists, style and culture that was once regarded as low class, dangerous, and without talent, is now as American as apple pie. How did a musical genre born in the inner cities across America become a global empire that translates to numerous ethnicities and cultures?

When one identifies themselves as being hip hop, they are embracing a lifestyle that encompasses pain, struggle, boasting, and empowerment. Hip hop has mastered crossing color lines and language barriers and impacts the lives of many. When we hear a song tell the tale of a struggling teenager, the metaphors and beats translate a life that we may or may not be privy to. When it is a song boasting of material items, it takes us to a land of make believe and pride. My identifying with hip hop exists on a different level, as I I was raised in a suburb of New York City, far from the inner cities that rappers spoke of in their music in the 1980’s and 1990’s, yet it was a musical style that intrigued me. I watched MTV for the slang, the style, the coolness of it all and even as a young person removed from the realities they spoke of, I felt connected. Was it race that connected me? Teen Angst and my own issues as a young adolescent?  There was something that pulled me towards it. Music from a group that is often judged and misunderstood broke into my bubble of manicured lawns and teenage driving permits and exposed me to the reality that is race and class division in America. What makes it all rather remarkable, is that even though hip hop tells the story of one particular existence, it can speak to a vast majority of people who can relate or observe in the realm that is themselves. Hip hop connects and inspires, and with each lyric a listener is transformed. We embrace it as a way of life and part of our identity, over time it changes how we view the world, and our role in it.

I had this very awakening of the power of hip hop as an identity and how it affects our lives in the  fall  of 2009.  I was working with students with EBD and ODD at a school that had a program in place to deal with behavioral issues that a mainstream school was not equipped to address. What I saw during my time there was straight from the movies, with violence and disrespect. I'm guilty of becoming frustrated quickly, fearing my safety and honestly, not understanding what was "wrong with these kids?", it was a question I asked myself a hundred times a day and it stressed me out- fast! I was their teacher, raised in a different world, a sheltered one and I was in  no way prepared to meet them on their level or understand their frustrations. I was burning my fuse from both ends quickly and desperate to find ways to connect, I couldn't find any.

One evening as I completed a paper for my graduate program, I listened to Jay Z’s recent album the Blueprint 3, and the song “ So Ambitious”. This song spoke of teachers who failed to inspire their students, and judged them for who they were and where they came from. One of the world's most successful hip hop artists, Jay Z, a musical icon, who was raised in the projects in Brooklyn, New York, is a former drug dealer turned mogul, is a favorite with my students. They connected to him more than someone they knew personally, friends, family even themselves because  his lyrics often told their stories. Not a day went by that one of them wasn't humming a rift from Jay, or reciting a chorus in one of his hit songs. Funny, as a fan, I never really connected because what Jay raps about wasn't my life or my experience, I simply enjoyed his talent, his writing, his music for the beats and entertainment. However, this song in particular, at this point in my life, sounded like a song all my 7 young, black and male students ( some with criminal records, some with children, some living in abusive homes ) could have written.

All of their faces flashed before me as I put the song on repeat and listened to it for six times in a row, still. Every single student was in my living room, speaking to me from Jays pen. Finally, in a 4 minute song, my students started to make sense to me. I started to understand. If only I understood more before I met them, imagine what a connection we all could have had. Hip hop connected us, finally, and when I returned to the classroom the following day, my approach, my attitude and my understanding was transformed.




Where are all the Black Men in Education?

By Richard House

When I started my teaching career in 2012, I was elated to find out that the yearlong internship would be spent until the mentorship of a black male educator. Little did I know that my mentor would push me to the brink of wanting to give up and hold me to the highest of standards and expectations. To this day I continue to believe, that it was because of his high expectations and seeing potential in me that at times I did not see in myself, that I am the educator I am today.

Given the extreme rarity of black males in the classroom, being mentored by another black male was something that I will never take for granted.  Watching my mentor interact with students and the high expectations he set for them, would eventually follow me into my own classroom and help shape my educational philosophy and pedagogy. While there were many times during my internship that I questioned why he was so critical of my every move, I now recognize that he saw something in me that I did not yet see in myself and knew that I had the ability to be a highly effective teacher.


My experience is a rarity and not of the norm. According to the Washington Post:

“slightly more than half of all public school students are children of color. Yet, despite documented benefits of a racially and ethnically diverse teaching force, no more than 2 percent of teachers in the public education system are black men” (WashPost April 2015).


The gap between male teachers and students of colors in our nation’s public schools is disturbing. Quite frankly the whole school, from students to teachers to administrators, benefits from having black males in the classroom.

Representation Matters

At the beginning of my second year in the classroom, I remember assigning two of my black male students lunch detention to have a conversation about their missing homework. I saw myself in these two young men and was frustrated that they were so talented, yet so unfocused on their studies. Throughout the conversation, I reminded them how talented they were and that the opportunities in life would be endless, if they continuously strived for excellence. One of those very students would let me know at the end of the year that that conversation let him know that I was somewhat who had his best interests in mind and that he wanted to make me proud.

This is not to say that this very situation could not have happened with a white teacher, but to the contrary I’m quite certain it has. But black male teachers have the ability to see themselves in their black students and can build a connection that, quite frankly will be very hard for others to make. For this very reason, it is imperative for black male students to be taught by black male educators. Black males should not have to wait years to experience their first black male teacher. I can count on one hand the number of black men who have taught me in a classroom setting and this is not okay.

Black Men in the classroom also allow white students see black men in positions of power and bring different perspective than what they may be used to. Black men also bring a perspective that is often missing in our nation’s public schools. I have often had to bring race into the discussion, when mentioning my black students and have realized that while it may have made my white colleagues uncomfortable, progress would not have been made had it not been fluidly discussed.  

It must also be noted, that I do not believe placing more black men in the classroom is the sole cure to the issue that our nations students of color face. All teachers who come into contact with young people of color must be aware of their student’s backgrounds and teach with a sense of compassion and empathy. Content is irrelevant if you are not making connections with your students. You can be the most knowledgeable teacher in the world as far as content goes, but if you know very little about your student’s backgrounds and communities, you will ultimately fail as an educator. Anyone can learn pedagogy and teaching strategies, but it takes a special type of person to be able to immerse themselves into their student’s backgrounds and communities. Teachers who teach without empathy, compassion, and relevance are not teachers at all.

A few weeks ago, I met with a colleague in Baltimore about starting a mentorship program for some of the young men of color in my building. We discussed our experiences has black male educators, our educational philosophies, and why we became teachers. I found myself leaving that meeting feeling refreshed and hopeful for the future. I also realized this was a rare occasion when I was able to connect with a colleague who looked like me. This past school year, I was the only black male teacher in just about every meeting and student discussion I sat in on. While, all of my administrators were black women, it was often discouraging when looking around a room and realizing that there is no one else like you in that room. I have faced this task too often in my short teaching career and this must change. 

What can we do to change this?

There are a number of steps that should be taken to ensure that more black men are in our nations classrooms?

 Schools of Education

Our nation’s universities and schools of education have start to actively recruiting black men on their campuses to consider careers in education. They need to be more proactive about this and truly come to understand the benefits of having a diverse pool of pre service teachers. While I am incredibly grateful for the education I received at the University of Pittsburgh during my yearlong Masters of Arts in Teaching Program, I ultimately feel that the majority of the program was tailored to students teaching in majority white districts. I was the only black pre service teacher in the secondary education program and while I was a part of the inaugural Urban Fellow Class, I do feel more could have and should be done.

Public School Systems

Public School Systems have got to get serious about recruiting a diverse pool of candidates. Ultimately this means they have to pay teachers a competitive wage (that could be a whole other blog), and focus on diversity. Anne Arundel County Maryland, where I started my teaching career, has a diversity recruitment fair every year which aims to help place more black men and teachers of color in the classroom. I was incredibly fortunate to be selected to attend this event in 2013 and it ultimately led to me landing my first teaching position. More School Systems need to take this approach.

School Administrators that teach in diverse settings must also recognize the importance of a diverse teaching staff and the impact it can have on students and school culture. In the last building I taught in, I felt like the principal was doing his best to force effective men of color out of the building. He would shy away from conversations on race and surrounded himself with a team of white women. Ironically, he was a black man. Administrators must realize the importance of black men and the perspective they bring to the table. They bring a unique perspective to the table that has often gone unheard.


Government Action


State and Local Governments must come to understand the power in fully funding schools and paying teachers a competitive wave. Teacher’s wages continuously lag behind their counterparts with similar levels of education. Given the huge responsibility that teachers take on, this is not and will never be okay. In order to attract high quality teachers and a diverse teaching staff, school systems must do what it takes to increase teachers’ salaries.

Black Men have been and will continue to be a force within our nation’s education system. While our nation cannot completely rely on black men to change the landscape of our nations public schools, they most certainly are needed in America’s classrooms.  This country must come to truly appreciate the value of black men in the classroom and do more to recruit and retain high quality black male educators. 

Being Apolitical in the age of Donald Trump

By Richard House

I have had an unwritten rule when it comes to politics since the start of my teaching career. The rule was based on the fact that it was my job to guide my students thinking and encourage them to become critical and global thinkers. They should be able to form their own personal and political opinions based on the information provided, and I should never let them know what my own personal political beliefs are. This sounds nice on the surface, but in an age when a racist bigot, with no real political experience, has managed to come within an inch of the highest office in the United States, it is absolutely impossible to abide by this rule. As an educator with a passion for Social Justice, I cannot sit back and remain objective when it comes to Trumps campaign.

The majority of the students I teach are not white. Many of them are Hispanic, black, Muslim, and come from various social economic, religious, ethnic, and racial backgrounds. As an educator, I refuse to sit back and remain objective as Trump continues to run one of the most unprofessional and downright bigoted presidential campaigns in the history of this nation. As a United States History, I have been very clear with my students when teaching various eras in history. While some teachers may hail many of our nations early presidents as hero’s, my students are always informed of Thomas Jefferson’s blatant hypocrisy regarding his views on slavery and Sally Hemmings. While many young people are led to believe that Abraham Lincoln simply freed slaves, my students also focus on the Dilemma he faced in doing so and the fact that he himself did not see black people as equals to whites.

Donald Trump can be no different. During the spring of 2016, a parent in Fairfax County Virginia reported that students at her child’s elementary school had taunted her child and used phrases such as “When Donald trump becomes president you’re going to be deported!”. This type of behavior in America’s school children is not only unacceptable, but is a direct result of Trump’s hate filled campaign and possibly bad parenting. As educators it is our job to not only help our students reach their fullest potential and provide them with the necessary resources to do so, but to also highlight issues of social justice and help them come up with solutions to solve these problems.

As we prepare to start a new school year here are some things that I will be doing in my classroom when focusing on the 2016 Election.

1)      Make it Known that Hate and Racism are Not Okay: It is no secret that Donald Trump has run a bigoted campaign and my students will know where I stand on this matter. They will know that vitriol that comes out of his mouth is not only ill becoming of a presidential candidate, but it is also appalling in general. Some might argue that this may alienate students who support him. I teach in a school that is more than 55% Hispanic.

2)      Centering Debates around issues of Social Justice: In a year where both candidates for political office are mired in controversy, I’ve decided that much of what I teach about the 2016 election will be focused on the issues.  In a nation that continues to be plagued by racial injustice and institutions that systemically prevent people of color from gaining success, it is critical that our young people understand where the candidates stand on issues of social justice. As an educator it is my goal for my students to use what is taught in my classroom, to go out and change the world and make a difference. Therefore it is my job to highlight issues of social injustice that otherwise they may never learn about.

3)      Make your Classroom a Safe Space: A classroom full of students, each with their own belief systems and opinions, is never going to completely agree on one issue. Make sure from the start that you have created a classroom culture that encourages acceptance and a place where students can disagree with one another without being disrespectful. While Donald Trump may make a habit of bullying and taunting his opponents, this type of behavior has no place in a classroom or academic setting.

4)       Making Comparisons to Previous Elections: Something that I am very much looking forward to is comparing this Election to previous presidential elections. How has the political landscape changed? What is different about this election? In a time in which our country seems as divided as ever, the next president will have a daunting task of uniting a highly polarized country. The 2016 Election has been regarded as one that is like no other before it. Why is this so? These are all questions that can provide strong a and engaging discussion in a classroom setting.

While many of us cannot wait for this election season to be over, as educators we cannot run away from event the most controversial of topics.  Our students must be given the opportunity to voice their concerns, beliefs, and opinions about the upcoming election and we must facilitate it in a manner that demands respect, compassion, and empathy.