Rhetoric and photo essays

As much as I travel and as much as I would love to say that I know a lot about photography, I really don’t. I know some basics, a few tricks, and how to turn the camera on, but photography is not one of my best skills. That being said, I love it and I love how people use it to tell stories. What can I say? I’m an English teacher, so of course how the story is told is one of my favorite parts.

In my AP class, we’re learning about rhetoric and how it applies to more than just the AP exam or essays we write in class. I usually try not to give homework over a holiday, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for them to use rhetoric in a way that was outside of writing or reading a story or an essay. So we learned about visual rhetoric and I made them do photo essays over their Christmas break. I put together a website for them to compile their essays; the essays are due this week, so we should be updating the pages soon. The kids can see how many people look at the site; I wanted them to be able to take ownership of what they’ve done. Anyway, there is a more solid explanation of how we set it up if you go to the site, but please check it out. Like I said, I’m not a photographer, let alone a photagraphy teacher, but I like when stories can be told in different ways. Plus, I like to see my kids have fun and be creative. 🙂

Here’s the link to the class website.


Teaching portfolio

Last spring I made my first ever video resume. It was a lot of work to figure out at first, but worth the effort in the end. I’ve realized that in order to keep up with the market, I need to not only integrate technology into my lesson plans, but my job applications as well.

I’ve always had a teaching portfolio. They make sure you develop one before you finish teaching school. But my teaching portfolio back home was a 3″ fancy notebook full of papers and pictures and cds of videos. True, it has that personal touch of student work, but it is a bit cumbersome to bring with to interviews. So after seeing a friend’s online portfolio, I decided to do the same.

I used weebly.com to make my online teaching portfolio and while I used the free version, I was still able to make it look professional. I could add lesson plans, photos of the class, handouts, presentations, my teaching philosophy, and my new video resume. It’s amazing! I feel like a grown up.

You can check out my new and improved teaching portfolio here. 

NC, You can still make me proud

North Carolina has been in the news a lot lately and it’s not because of the sports or state fair. Unfortunately, it’s been because of Governor McCory and his determination to avoid all good advice. It’s been two and half years now since I’ve lived in North Carolina, one and a half of which has been out of  the country. It can be hard to keep up with everything that’s going on back home, but it has been almost impossible to avoid the constant updates about the North Carolina government.  And I’m not just talking about Facebook feeds–no, it’s on Digg, Slate, Education blogs galore, and even a sadly truthful article in The New York Times. When I first started looking at coming back to the States, Moral Mondays had just started. The decline of the public education system due to test-driven administration is nothing new, but arresting educators who are fighting for their students is just appalling. Now I don’t mean this to be a Democrat or Republican argument. It’s just that, as an educator, it’s hard not to get caught up in the reforms that McCrory wants. And now the governor is focused on voting rights and limiting them so that certain parties or candidates have a better chance for the election.

And I’ve heard the rumors. North Carolina and the South already come with a slew of stereotypes portraying the people there as uneducated, unworldly, racist, and fake. But I can speak from personal experience that this is not the case. Of course there are some people who fit the stereotypes, but there are more people who do not. Now when people look at North Carolina, it’s masked by the Governor’s efforts to fit some disillusioned agenda. They see North Carolina as crazy and backwards, which of course would again fit the stereotypes. But I want to reassure you that people are fighting. People are trying to make a difference and trying to make things right. The people of North Carolina do not all agree with what’s going on and they are smart, they are interesting, they are lovely, they are determined. And they’re starting young.


Paper resumes just don’t sell like they used to

As my year in Turkey is coming to  a close, I find myself, yet again, on the hunt for a new job. It’s harder to stay away from the South than I thought it would be and I’ll probably end up back in North Carolina by August. But hopefully that doesn’t mean that I will move (again) without a job. While that did work out when I moved to Colorado, it can lead to a stressful month or so until you can get settled. So I am doing as much as I can in advance: I’ve applied to 30 jobs, signed up with the Southern Teachers Agency, and officially made my very first video resume.

That’s right, folks. Since I’m so far away, the agency recommended that I make a video resume to make my application more personal. I looked into it and apparently, this is quite the thing to do now, whether you’re abroad or not. It took a few days of researching, writing, filming, and editing, but I don’t think the final result wasn’t too bad (other than being a bit choppy).

In the meantime, if you’re interested in making a video resume of your own, here are some of the resources I used to help me:





9 Books that defined my childhood

Today in class I caught one of my students reading a book under the table. I had to ask him twice to put the book away since we were learning about say versus tell (obviously way more interesting than a book about the history of guillotines). I hated having to tell him to put the book away, because it is, after all, educational and we were just studying for things that will be on a test (and I hate testing). Not to mention that I was once that kid and I hated having my books confiscated, but I could never put the books away when the teachers asked me to. The student today wasn’t the first I’ve had to do that with. He’s the third this year and to be honest, I alm   ost wished it happened more often. What a wonderful world we’d live in where my main problem as a teacher would be asking my students to put away their library books. If only.

It made me think back to the days I’d hide my books under the desk or cleverly (I thought) behind another book. This happened often, because as I said, I was one of those kids and I read a lot. But of all the books I read, a few stand out as important to my childhood. So I decided to compile a list of these books. There are many others I also enjoyed reading as a child, but these hold special meaning for one reason or another. I have read all of these books at least twice.

1. Purple, Green, and Yellow by Robert Munsch purple-green-yellow My mom got me this book when I was in elementary school. It’s by the same author who wrote Love You Forever, which she used to read to me when I was very little. The book tells a story of a girl who wants the newest and coolest markers. The markers that are bright and vibrant, the markers that smell, the markers that never wash off. Each time her mother agrees to buy them as long as the girl colors on paper. Well we all know how tempting that deal is, and the girl eventually gets bored with the paper and turns body into a personal canvass. Problem is that she ends up coloring herself invisible. I think my mom may have been trying to teach me a lesson.

2. Thief of Always  by Clive Barker

The first sentence reads: “The great grey beast February had eaten Harvey Swick alive.” What more do you need? This books is one of few, if not the only, children’s book by Clive Barker, who is more commonly known for his adult horror fiction. A boy who is bored with life runs away to a magical, perfect land that turns out not to be so perfect after all. I read this book in 5th grade and it’s a bit dark for a 5th grader, but the story stuck with me for many years, despite the fact that I could not remember the title. And when I tried to tell this story to other people, they had no idea what I was talking about. Then one day in college, ten years later, I was telling my friend the story before class and he stated quite simply, “Oh, that’s Clive Barker’s Thief of Always. I love that book.” I immediately went home and ordered it and reread it again. It was just as good ten years later. movie_5620_poster 3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

I didn’t want to read this book at all, but my mom had read an article about it and wanted me to try it, so she used the 15 rule of our house. “You have to read 15 pages of a book you don’t want to read before you can say you won’t read it.” So I read 15 pages and by the next day I’d finished the second book and by graduate school I’d decided to base my thesis on the series. So obviously, it had an impact.

4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Like any normal child, I read this book thinking it was the first in the Narnia series and later went back to read The Magician’s Nephew and others in the series, but wasn’t as impressed. The Lionthe Witch, and the Wardrobe was one of those books that made me want to believe in magic. It made me want to believe that whenever I opened my closet, I could go on an adventure. What kid doesn’t want that? Which brings me to my next book.

5. Matilda by Raold Dahl

Matilda appealed to me because I felt I could, or at least wanted to, relate to her. I wasn’t neglected like she was; I had a great childhood. But I was quiet and introverted and read a lot and I wanted to be able to control things with my mind because I was so smart. Turns out that I only thought I was smart, but a small hope always remains within me that one day I’ll be able to have powers like Matilda, because obviously that’s more realistic that Harry Potter (although I’d be ok with a letter from Hogwarts as well).

6. East of the Sun & West of the Moon by Mercer Mayer

Apparently this story was adapted from a Norwegian folktale of the same name, but I am only really familiar with the Mercer Mayer book. My aunt, who is an art professor, bought this book for me when I was about 10. And yes the story was interesting, but not really anything spectacular or original. Was really captivated me with this book was the illustrations. I would spend hours and hours quickly reading the text and then devouring the drawings.  I don’t know why the images were so appealing, but I still remember them 15 years later.


7. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

Where to even begin. It’s an absolute classic. It made me realize that poetry could be cool and fun and that everything Shel Silverstein did was genius. I would gladly reread it again today. In fact, it’s sitting in my bookcase at home.

8. James and the Giant Peach by Raold Dahl When I was nine, my neighbor came to stay with us for a couple weeks because his mom was visiting family in Korea and his dad was stationed abroad somewhere. A few days after he came to stay with us, Hurricane Fran hit. That night, my neighbor, my little sister, and I were wrapped up in blankets on the floor of my parents bedroom and waiting for the storm to hit. We were incredibly scared and so my mom decided to read to us. She picked James and the Giant Peach up of the my bookshelf and just started reading. It was a welcome distraction because we needed something else to concentrate on and I was fully willing to concentrate on Jame’s problems rather than my own. Fran hit hard that night and we were without power for a while. But my mom continue to read the book to us and the story stuck.

9. Oh, Say Can You Say? by Dr. Seuss  

When I would go stay with my dad, he would often read me a story before bed, as dads tend to do. But I constantly requested this book. It was a book of ridiculous tongue twisters and I would make my dad read it again and again as fast as he could, because it was hilarious. Then he would make me read it and after a while, I just had them memorized. Now I use this book in my ESL classes because my students feel less intimidated to try something that’s meant to be nonsense, but it’s great for fluency practice. Not to mention that it’s still fun to read really fast.

I am illiterate

I currently live with two friends from grad school: a Turkish girl, Esra, and an American guy, Stephen, both of whom were in the English department with me. The Turkish girl and I lived together in the States as well and we all now live together in Istanbul. While Esra’s English is almost native, neither Stephen nor I knew Turkish before we moved here.

This past weekend, we all went out with friends of Esra’s and a friend of mine from work. Though my friend is Canadian, her family is Turkish and therefore she speaks the language fluently. She asked me and Stephen what it was like to move to a foreign country and not know the language. Stephen said he’s had a difficult time articulating exactly how it feels or what it’s like. Together, we decided that it is frustrating, exciting, alienating, and rewarding. All those words are fitting, yes, but still do not accurately describe the sensation. I stopped listening to the conversation for a minute and looked around the restaurant we were in. There were signs and menus and containers and lots of people talking or messing with their phones and that’s when it hit me and I rejoined the conversation:

“It’s like being illiterate, well, because technically we are.”

I cannot read the signs. Sure, I can recognize certain things: thank you, good morning, hello, one, three, fish sandwich. But the rest is a mystery. I can’t read the newspapers or books. I don’t understand many of my colleagues, the baker, the cashier, the tailor, the hairdresser, the nurse, the radio DJ. I can’t ask directions, discuss the news, or tell my waiter that I didn’t order the cheeseburger. I wouldn’t be able to carry on a conversation with a kindergartener. And even worse, that kindergartener would have a much better language acquisition than me. Imagine that you are living where you do currently and suddenly you can no longer do any of these things. As I said, it is incredibly frustrating and alienating.

But once you catch on, it’s also incredibly rewarding and exciting. Continue reading

What is the value of school?

Before I left for Turkey, my mom got me a Barnes and Noble gift card so that I could download fun things on my new and fancy, black magic Nook. Today I finally used it and downloaded Why School: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere. As a teacher and learning enthusiast, this title jumped out at me. I’m only about six pages in, but the author, Will Richards, has already raised enough valid points and questions that I felt the strong urge to send these questions into the blogosphere.

“In this new story, real learning happens anytime, anywhere, with anyone we like–not just with a teacher and some same-age peers, in a classroom, from September to June. More important, it happens around the things we learners choose to learn, not what someone else tells us to learn.

This new story requires us to ask the difficult yet crucial question: why school? I’m not suggesting we consider scrapping school altogether. I’m suggesting that this moment requires us to think deeply about why we need school. Or to ask, more specifically, what’s the value of school now that opportunities for learning without it are exploding all around us?”
This is not exactly a question that I want to answer right away. It should take some time and thought, and perhaps research. I know that, as a student, I enjoy the school setting; I enjoy classrooms and lectures and class discussions and exposure to things that perhaps I would not stumble upon on my own. Yes, I enjoy learning and researching and reading on my own, but I really do enjoy the structure of school as well. But as a teacher, I am constantly challenged to appeal to students who do not enjoy a traditional classroom setting. So what is the value of school? What can we learn in school that we can’t learn out of it? And how is the structure advantageous to the current generation? I’m not sure yet, but I’m going to keep reading and get back to you. In the meantime, I’m interested to hear the thoughts of others on this topic.

Turkey Time

“Uncertainty is always a part of the taking charge process.”

— Harold Geneen

It’s amazing how life can change so quickly. This time last week I was looking for jobs in Denver and wondering what my Labor Day plans would be. Today, I’m organizing suitcases and sending in paperwork to accept a job offer at a private school in Istanbul. I leave next Thursday (sadly, this turkey on a Thursday does not come with stuffing and casserole) to visit family on the East coast and then hopefully ship out by September 1st. It gives me just enough time to throw things together (the to-do list grows each day instead of shrinks) and not enough time to think about what I’m actually about to do. Continue reading

Live all you can

“Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to.”

–Henry James

The answers lie in the questions

I’ve wanted to be a teacher since Ms. King’s fourth grade class at Bill Hefner elementary. Ms. King, if you’re reading this, you were the shit and I thank you for helping realize that I was that kid.

I was that kid who asked my teachers for leftover worksheets or overheads so I could go home and teach my stuffed animals all about sentences. I would line them up, each with a pencil in hand, in front of the chalkboard my stepdad made me.  I was that kid who would lend out my books to friends, fake glasses posed on my nose as I cataloged which book they’d borrowed. I was that kid who wanted to get in front of the class and show everyone that I knew how to do things. I still am that kid, but I have found that that kid has more ideas and passion than I originally gave her credit for.

It is no secret that there are problems within the school system, but it seems to be a secret to the administration on just how to fix those problems. After receiving my BS in English Education and learning just how I was supposed to impart knowledge to the future administration, I decided that public school was not going to be where I made change happen. There were simply too many papers and tests and board members in the way of everything I wanted to try and everything I thought was useful for my students. So I tried a new route and realized that I wasn’t the only teacher having this problem.

When I taught Composition at ECU, I found that a majority of my students were not only intimidated, but often confused by the idea of creative license. What a novel thought for an instructor to not only genuinely ask for your opinion, but allow you to structure it in more than one way.  At the beginning of a new semester, my students would repeat similar questions and sentiments:

“This needs to be five paragraphs, right?”

“I’m not really sure how to write a thesis.”

“You can start a sentence with ‘and’?”

“I thought you should never begin or end on a quote.”

“I was always told that you can’t use ‘I’ in your papers.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever actually written a research paper.”

“What’s analytical writing?”

These students were in college—many of them even took AP English. And through no major fault of their own, they were victims of American public school narrow-mindedness. Now before I go any farther, let me qualify that statement: I am in no way placing complete blame on the public school teacher. I have been there and understand how hard it is to be creative and demonstrate variety when you have objectives and deadlines and supervisors to deal with. That being said, I have encountered too many teachers and too many of their students who are stuck in conventional ways and rules when it comes to language and writing. Language is ever evolving; the instruction of it should reflect that.

So when faced with those questions and statements of rules and regulations, I would smile and shake my head slightly. Forget it, I would respond. Forget everything you have ever learned in high school about writing. Here, you are not writing for an end of year test. In my class, you will not receive a zero on your paper if you repeatedly make the same grammatical mistake. (I won’t be happy, but you won’t get a zero.) Here, your content and conventions will be weighed equally.  When you leave my class, if you forget everything else, remember at least these three things:

1. Always ask questions

I could not stress this enough. Always, always, always ask questions. No questions, no answers. At the heart of every great piece of writing lie questions. Questions about the world and how we respond to it. Even if you think you already know the answer, it is vital to know what question you are answering. The answer to life may be 42, but what is the question??

2. What’s not there is just as important as what is there

Say I give you a picture of a house with a girl in front of it. You describe it to me in great detail—the girl and her dress, the house and its faded curtains and open, empty garage, the overgrown yard and what appears to be a broken tractor in the background.  But what’s missing? Where are her shoes? Why is the garage empty? Why is no one else in the picture? No other houses? There lies the story.

3. The best of writers were the ones who challenged the rules

What I teach my students is not set in stone. The rules I tell them are more guidelines than anything else. I give them tools to help them and show them how to best use those tools in various situations.  If they figure out how to use those tools in new ways and apply them to new situations, then I have done my job. If they decide to acknowledge what I’ve given them, but change the way things are done, then maybe I can learn something new from them.

It takes me at least whole semester to convince my students that I don’t know everything and that’s ok, but that I will share what I do know and that writing isn’t such a horrible thing once you’re allowed some wiggle room.

So all this rambling leads me to my questions (for it is imperative to always ask questions):

  1. How can we change the system when the system won’t acknowledge what it’s doing wrong?
  2. How can we convince teachers that variety is essential to learning and that what we teach today might not apply tomorrow?
  3. How do we help our students keep that excitement for learning that many of them had when they first started school?
  4. How do we know that what we are teaching them is what they really need to know?

I have opinions for each of these questions, but not necessarily answers. I’m a teacher—I don’t always have all the answers. But I’ll be damned if I don’t keep asking questions.