Archive for the ‘Social Action’ Category

St. Baldrick’s: Once More Unto the Breach

For the second year running, this March I’ll be joining my comrades in Lawrence Township Public Schools as we go under the clippers to shave our heads and raise money for childhood cancer research via St. Baldrick’s.  I’m proud that our district fields a few teams – usually at least one from each of our seven buildings – at this community-wide event and that students, teachers, administrators from across the district all join in the fun together.

If you are so inclined, please donate a few dollars and sponsor me.  Like last year, my modest goal is to raise $100, and also like last year, I hope to surpass it, thanks to your generosity.

While this year won’t hold the same sense of wonder for me as last year (never shaved my head before last year; turns out I rock the shaved head look pretty well after all), your money is still good, and thanks to St. Baldrick’s high rating on Charity Navigator, you know you can feel confident in giving.

Last year, after all was said and done, the Lawrenceville event more than doubled their fundraising goal of $75,000.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could push this year’s total from $150K to $200K or more?

Thanks for your consideration.

St. Baldrick’s Day 2015

Told you I was going to do it:


Shout out to the LIS Brave Shavers, the LHS Bald Buddies, event organizers Drs. Mike and Melissa McCue, host venue Amalfi’s, and all the Lawrence Township Public Schools teachers, administrators, staff, students, parents, and community members who came out to support the cause.  According to the event site, as of 9pm today we nearly doubled the stated goal of $75,000, raising over $136,000 for childhood cancer research, a figure that will undoubtedly go up in the coming days as they count all the cash and check donations not collected online.  The show of support for this event is just one more reason why I am immensely proud to be a part of this community.

Update, 3/16/15: According to an email from the organizers, the current total stands at just a few dollars shy of $140,000, with more still coming in.  This event is now the 18th-highest earning St. Baldrick’s event in the nation and 1st highest in NJ for 2015!

Update 2, 3/16/15: We have officially passed $140,000 raised.

Update 3, 4/15/15: Evidently the donations have kept dribbling in over the month since the event!  The Lawrenceville St. Baldrick’s group announced today via Facebook that they have surpassed the $150,000 mark.  This will be my last update to this post regardless of how much more money comes in, but suffice to say that the donation ripple effect is wide-reaching with this event in this community.

Also, my hair grew back a lot faster than I thought it would.  I already need a haircut.

Shaving for a Cause

I’m in my fourth year working in Lawrence Township Public Schools, and as long as I have been here, students and staff have participated in St. Baldrick’s Day, a fundraiser for childhood cancer research in which participants shave their heads.  I’ve seen firsthand the positive impact the event has on our schools and community, and this year I’ll be joining the fun.

On March 14, 2015, I’ll join the Brave Shavers, a team of students and staff from Lawrence Intermediate School.  I’ve never shaved my head before, so who knows what lies beneath?

If you can spare a few bucks, please visit my fundraising page and sponsor me.  I’m hoping to raise at least $100, but if we can surpass that, all the better.  You can feel confident in giving, as the St. Baldrick’s Foundation has a high rating on Charity Navigator.

Please consider making a donation to this worthy cause.  While you’re on my donation page, you can see my “Before” pic (it’s a few years old but you get the idea); check back after March 14 for the “After”.  Thanks for your consideration!

What Will They Remember? #Ferguson

Just some memories and questions that were inspired by Rafranz Davis’ post, “When Real Life Happens, the Lesson Plans Change”.

I was in seventh grade in November 1989.  I don’t remember many specifics about what I learned in school that year, nor do I remember what we were studying – or supposed to be studying – in Social Studies that fall.  I do, however, have a very distinct memory of my Social Studies teacher asking our class, “Do you guys even get what is happening right now?  This is history!”  This, of course, was the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the subsequent events that would ultimately lead to the end of Communism in Eastern Europe and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  I can’t pretend to know what her specific thoughts as a teacher were at the time, but I do remember us deviating frequently from our regularly scheduled curriculum that year to discuss in depth not only what was happening, but why it was important and what it could mean for us, as Americans, moving forward.

I was in my second year of teaching in September 2001.  I don’t remember many specifics about what my co-teacher and I were teaching that fall.  I do, however, have a very distinct memory of speaking with him in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, when we decided that, as Rafranz says, the lesson plan had to change.  We did our best to discuss current events with our students, helping them to separate fact from speculation as well as anyone could in those days, and we also helped them to learn some background knowledge that we hoped would combat the rapidly emerging Islamophobia (or anything-that-vaguely-resembled-Islam-to-Americans-ophobia), at least in our little corner of the country.  But beyond that, we let the kids talk.  We didn’t have answers to everything; hell, we barely had answers to anything.  But our students knew our classroom was a safe place to ask questions, speak freely (and respectfully), and otherwise do our best to messily hash out the history that was unfolding before us.  Among many, many other topics, we talked extensively about what these events could mean for us, as Americans, moving forward.

In the post linked above, Rafranz says:

Rich discussions are not necessarily born from pre-planned questions. Rich discussions happen when we let go of our personal constraints and just talk. We ask more questions that we don’t have the answers to. We reflect together and maybe we ask more questions. This is how we grow. This is how change happens.

I can’t pretend to know you or your students or the circumstances in which you all work, study, and live.  But I ask you this: what will your students remember when they are bursting with the need to share their fears, their questions, and their stories that resemble those brought to the national consciousness recently by the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, MO?  What will they remember when they want to share this all with their peers and you, who may be one of the few adults – if not the only adult – in their lives to whom they feel they can open up?  What will they remember about that time they wanted to talk about racism and how it has directly impacted their lives and the lives of their loved ones?  What will they remember about that time they wanted to talk about their experiences with law enforcement, even if (especially if) their experiences do not resemble your own?

Will they remember how deftly you returned them to the appropriate place in the pacing guide?  Will they remember the novel chapter or the algebra problem that was much more important in the moment?  Or will they remember the time(s) that everyone got to talk – not as teacher, to students but as human beings, with one another – about institutional racism, or fear of police, or media censorship, and how, even if the teacher didn’t have all the answers, maybe real communication got people to understand each other’s perspectives a little better.  Maybe you’ll learn something from your students.  Maybe your students will learn something from you.  Maybe your students will learn something from each other.  And maybe you will all take a piece of that with you, beyond the classroom and beyond the school year, and maybe that will mean something important to everyone, as Americans, moving forward.


Sharing My Career Via Dropbox

On March 7, 2011, I finally did something I have wanted to do for a long time: I made available for download all the materials I developed, adapted, and otherwise used for all the courses I taught over the span of my eight-year career teaching high school English.

Why I Did It

First, why I DIDN’T do it: I DIDN’T do it because I feel I’d be depriving the world of some educational holy grail if I didn’t.  In fact, most of what’s in there was developed prior to the major change in thinking I had toward my practice in 2006-2007.  What is in there, however, I think are good jumping off points for development.  I may have had stale writing assigments from my first few years, but I think the core questions and ideas they address are still good – my challenge to you is, can you take those good ideas and come up with a better way to have kids address them than I did?

I did this in the spirit of open education and sharing.  I was fortunate enough to work in an English department with teachers who were only too happy to share their wealth of materials with me as I was starting out; I’d like to think that in some way, this move honors their generosity of time and resources (especially since some of their stuff is probably in these files, in one form or another).

I also think back to one of the reasons I liked having students post their research online: what good does all that hard work do if it’s just sitting on your hard drive somewhere collecting proverbial dust?  While my students may have had a few weeks of research to share, I have eight years worth of research, thinking, missteps, and refinement that I hope will benefit some pre-service or early career teacher sitting in his living room, staring at a copy of Hamlet, and thinking not so much, “What the hell am I supposed to do with this?”, but rather, “Where the hell am I supposed to start with this?”  Sometimes the seeming enormity of the task overwhelms; that’s where (hopefully) my stuff can help focus and provide ideas.

How I Did It

I’ve toyed with the idea of doing this ever since I stopped teaching at the end of the 2007-2008 school year, but could never find the right combination of price (for file hosting) and convenience to make it a worthwhile project to pursue.  The closest I came was using DivShare to upload my stuff because they had a drag & drop uploader, but folders still had to be individually created via the website, documents re-arranged manually (again, via the website), and let’s face it – we’re talking about 3.5 gigs of files, mostly text documents.  That was just too much.

The service I ended up using for this project was one I’ve used and loved for years now – Dropbox.  Dropbox is a service that provides 2GB of free online storage and file syncing between computers (if you use the link above to sign up for the service and install it on your computer, you and I both get an additional 250MB of space on top of the 2GB; further space can be obtained through their referral program).  The watershed moment came a few months ago when Dropbox announced that their next software upgrade would include a folder sharing function (previously, only individual files could be shared publicly).  Here’s how you do it:

  1. Right-click on the folder you want to share.
  2. Select “Dropbox” > “Get shareable link”.
  3. You’ll be re-directed to Dropbox’s website, where you’ll get a short link you can tweet, share on Facebook, or embed in a webpage, wiki, blog, etc.
  4. Anyone who can access the link can now access the contents of that folder.
  5. That’s it.
  6. No, really; that’s all there is to it.

Since I kept all my stuff in Dropbox anyway, this meant that all I needed to do was activate the shareable link for each course’s folder, put the link on my website along with a brief description of each course, and remove any pictures or videos of students (all of whom have long since graduated from high school and are adults, but it’s the right thing to do).  Once that was done, I did another cursory sweep of the files just to tighten up organization a bit, and that was that.  Unlike other services, I could do this all from my desktop, and any changes made there were instantaneously reflected on the Dropbox servers – far less time consuming than doing it all manually through a web app.

If you’d like to have a look, head over to my portfolio website and feel free to have a poke around.  Also, if you know an English teacher or department who may want to dig around, please feel free to distribute the link far and wide.  Much like my blog, my lessons and materials are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License (of course, this license does not abridge your Fair Use rights as an educator).

Finally, I’d like to toss this out there – if setting up the file sharing was as simple as dragging some folders into Dropbox, getting the shareable link, then posting the link on a website (or wiki, or blog, or whatever you like)…

…would you share your work too?