It’s about time.

“Way back in 2016, we asked our community to share what they would consider essential reads for high school students. The final list of 20 recommended books was dominated by what many would consider the classics: John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

For decades, these works have been required reading in classrooms across the country, but more recently educators like Lorena Germán and advocates for the #DisruptTexts movement—not to mention the millions of students who’ve come and gone during the era—have challenged the notion of a traditional canon, advocating for a more “inclusive, representative, and equitable language arts curriculum.”


My heart broke again today.

The reason for today’s heartbreak? A fellow teacher, one who has been at his school for “double digit years,” and one who is loved by his students, uttered the now all-too-familiar refrain of defeat.

“I will leave mid-year if this continues.”

For those of us who have been there, and we gather in increasing numbers, that pain is very real. Perhaps his pain is like mine, and I know some of the circumstances are the same, but I hope the grief is not as deep.

If he follows through, he, like me, will have people stare and mutter comments under their breath. Perhaps he will have former colleagues turn and walk in the opposite direction when they see him in the grocery store, at a board of education meeting, or at the gym. Like me, he will try to be patient, because they do not know the depth of the physical, mental, and spiritual anguish that led them to that decision. They don’t know about students who come to share that teachers are making disparaging remarks about them in front of classes, they don’t know what it is to cry on the phone with a union rep who is begging you to stay, (eighteen years of positive evaluations, after all), when you can hardly speak because you are sobbing so hard between every word that full sentences become impossible, even for an English teacher. They don’t know eating alone every day because someone on your “team” said to a colleague, “Why would you sit with Bronwyn?” They don’t know retaliation for speaking up about disparities in class size, or teachers whose status as sycophant allows them to come in late on a regular basis or send students back to study hall on a whim. They don’t know waking up with pains in your chest, or making sub plans while your sister is dying in the hospital, or teacher assistants who sit in the back of the room playing with an I-phone for forty minutes, swaddled by a deep friendship with a special education teacher who will do nothing about it. They don’t know a colleague who stands in front of your full classroom and loudly exclaims, “You don’t know what you’re doing! You’re not helping anyone!”

I pray that his pain is not as deep as mine, and of course, my wish is that he will find the strength to make it through the year, but if he doesn’t, he can rest assured that I will not be the fellow teacher who turns and walks away.

Instead, I will offer the two words that I hope will bring some measure of comfort.

“I understand.”

The Importance of Student Autonomy

“The most common way to teach is through a textbook or a series of textbooks and a scripted curriculum. And then, let the test decide if the students learned anything… This is schooling, not educating. And the long-term impact is that students likely won’t have that autonomous spirit they need in the work environment. This is not what most teachers signed up for. It’s not. I don’t think there’s a single teacher candidate that said, “I want to be a teacher so I can help kids pass standardized tests.”

Student Choice

“Student choice is widely acknowledged as a tool for engagement and meaning, and there is ample research to support this idea. When I first started teaching in 1995, though, choice was not really operational. Back then, in my traditional college prep school, all students were expected to read the same books (written by old, dead White guys plus Harper Lee) and write the same five-paragraph essays their parents had suffered through 35 years prior. Any variation was considered outlandish.

The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t take into account student engagement. Eventually, I discovered that allowing students choice about what they read and wrote was critical to their buy-in. During a unit on adventure, when I told my students they could write a fictional adventure story, a personal narrative about an adventure they’d had, or an essay about the qualities of adventure, they were far more invested. I didn’t care how students showed me they understood the theme of adventure… I simply wanted evidence of their understanding.”

School Start Times

“Asking a teenager to be awake and trying to absorb information at 8:30 in the morning, you know, in some ways is like asking an adult to wake up at, you know, 4 o’clock in the morning with good grace, good humor, positive mood and start learning information efficiently at 4:30 in the morning without caffeine. It’s going to be very difficult to do, but in some ways that’s what we’re doing.”