Sunday, December 14, 2014

I'm Still Just Teaching

I'm Still Just Teaching.

Before I could bring them back, the words just slipped out of my mouth, "Yeah. That's great, but I'm still just teaching."

A friend of mine was sharing many of the awesome things that people we knew had gone on to do-- jobs with perks, trips, traveling, bonuses, nice cars, etc. and I guess a tinge of jealousy resonated within me.

My friend looked at me  - - "Just teaching?! That has got to be the greatest job in the world - think about how many lives you touch and the difference you make..."

 I thought about it and I've been thinking about it.

Why I Still Just Teach

I Teach...

...because of Mrs. Bailey, my fifth grade teacher. Mrs. Bailey challenged me, inspired me, pushed me and most importantly cared about me as a young person.

I Teach...

...because I love learning and I want my students to understand that we never stop learning.

I Teach... inspire my students to go after their dreams and never stop believing they will achieve them.

 I Teach... change the world for all kids, including my own.

I Teach...

...because it truly is the greatest job in the world.

Share with the world why you are "just a teacher". #justateacher

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Hand Written Letters

I wanted to share one of my all-time favorite activities I do with my students. It’s truly an amazing moment of reflection.

At the beginning of my students’ sixth grade year we talk about history being the stories of all the people that came before them and all the people around them. I tell my students that as they go through this year (and the many more in their lives) that they will be writing their own history. The future is up to them – they can be anything that they want to be if they put their minds to, put in the work, believe in themselves, and find one other person to believe in them. I tell them if they don’t have that one person, that’s why I’m here. Then I tell them what to do.

Step 1- Students:

I hand each student a sheet of paper and an envelope and tell my kids they will be writing letters to themselves that will be delivered to them at the end of their 8th grade year – roughly three years from now. The heading of the letter begins with the date and “Dear Me”. I encourage them to write about anything – their expectations of middle school, their goals, their friends, fears, loves, hopes, dreams, etc. And I tell them the more that they write, the more that they will appreciate this letter.

Step 2- Parents:

At our summer orientation, I hand out the “parent homework” – which is really two assignments for the parents. Both letters. The first letter is a letter to me about their child and they can include anything they’d like.
The second letter is a letter to their child. Here’s the assignment:
If you'd like a digital copy of the assignment, please contact me.

Step 3 – The Teacher

It’s rather easy to manage. I keep a shoe box marked with each year ie. “2014-2015 and to be delivered in June of 2018”. Inside the box I place the kids’ letters, a copy of my class lists to keep track of who turned in (all of them do), and the parent letters.

I leave the box out at back to school night and parent/teacher conferences. I do my best to ensure that parents write a not to their child. Sadly, there are some that don’t, and that is why I’m going to try something new (thanks to my awesome PLN on #sunchat I was inspired).

My plan this year is to add a note from me for each of the 150 or so kids I teach. While the kids are writing their letters this year, I’m going to take a selfie with each kid –encouraging BIG smiles. I’m going to keep the pictures by my work area in a folder – when the kids do something memorable I’m going to write them a personalized note, put it in an envelope and drop it in the box. Every kid will be getting a note from themselves and from that other person who believes in them.

The Delivery

As June approaches, I make an announcement to the 8th graders to meet with me at a specified time and location. It is by far, one of the best days ever as a teacher. I hand the kids their letters - there are smiles, laughs, exclamations of "I can't believe I was like that!", and there are tears. It’s funny what the kids remember as they reflect on their time in middle school. Teaching is about helping our kids learn and achieve everything they can, but most importantly it's about the relationships we create with our students and helping them understand we always will believe in them.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Do Something Beyond

"Why is Clark Kent more interesting? Because we’re all Clark Kent. We all know what it’s like to be ordinary and boring and to want to rip open our shirts and do something beyond ourselves. “ 
– Brad Meltzer

Did I Do Enough? No. (Do we ever?)

When I heard this quote earlier in year  it really stuck with me. Each of us wants to do something to be remembered, to make a difference. It’s important for us, as educators, to take the time to think about the difference we do make, and more importantly the difference we can make in the lives of our students.

I’ve often hear teachers say, “I know I made the difference in at least one of my students’ lives, and probably more, but I just don’t know it” (or something like that). Is that enough? I’ve made it a point in my teaching career, sixteen amazing years ago, to get to know each one of my students and value each one of them as a person. Did I succeed? No. Have there been years, days, or moments where I could have done better? Yes.  

It’s hard to think about the idea of whether I did enough. Did I “do something beyond” myself? I know I tried, and I will try again when I meet the next group of kids. Why? Because they only get to do sixth grade once.

I thought I’d include a few of the more memorable notes/comments I received over the last few days of the year. I still find the hand written notes and pictures from my students and parents to be my favorite. This is not everything, nor is it enough. I know we may never know the impact we make on others, but when we do know, we need to treasure it. I’d like to share some of my treasure with you…

 A Few of My Treasures:

5 of the most powerful words I've ever heard.

I shared my first blog with the student who inspired me to write it. Thanks G!

"most of all you taught me how to really live my life"

Love the "Fault In Our Stars" reference :-)

" I will write my own legacy"

"Thank you for telling me to raise my hand in math"- courage.

We as teachers may not be “super”, but we are all Clark Kents.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

I Could Go On

There’s a special language that exists between a teacher and their students. This language grows and changes over the course of the days, over the course of the year, and over the course of time with our students.  As teachers, we need to learn this language, and sometimes it is learned in the most amazing ways.

The Hero’s Journey

Life is a series of journeys. We never know where these journeys will take us and who we’ll meet along the way. As teachers, we are lucky enough to encounter people at various parts of their journey, one part no more important than the other, but the impact we can have as teachers on that journey can be life altering. This post is the story of one such journey and the languages used to tell of this journey.

The Call to Adventure

People love stories and I thought what better way to engage my students in the study of Greece than by examining their stories and myths. We began the study by looking at an engaging TED-ed Original by Matthew Winkler entitled, “What Makes A Hero”.  video
Over the next few classes we discussed this and looked at what the Ancient Greek considered a hero. My students were then given the task of creating an “epic” poem about a journey they’ve been on, or a legacy they want to leave behind. This would culminate with students sharing their poetry to a global audience during the Second Annual Poetry Summit. What I got from my students was more than I could imagine.  There were dozens of poems and journeys I could write about, but I chose this one because it brought tears to my eyes, and truly shows the power of words.


I’ve been blessed this year to have to amazing students in my classroom who have been not only trying to learn the “social studies” part of my classroom, but have been trying to learn English as well. They have taught me much this year, most importantly, that there are no barriers to wanting to learn.
When I presented the task of writing a poem to them, they struggled a bit, but when I gave them the option to write it in Spanish, they beamed. And when I told them they would get to share it with students who were learning to speak Spanish at a school in NJ, they couldn’t believe it. I won’t lie to you and say the first attempt was magical and worthy of recognition. Initially, they googled a famous Spanish poem and began to share that as their own. With the help of the ELL teacher, I was able to communicate a very important lesson on digital citizenship and plagiarism. We encouraged them to talk about the journeys that they had been on. What one student wrote was nothing short of amazing, not because of the literary devices or hidden message, but because of the story it told.

It Touched My Heart

At 12:20 PM Dayana read her poem (1:28) to the world. One of my other students read the English version that ended with the lines "with your help, I could go on". The poem told the story of her journey from Cuba, the struggles she’s encountered, a friendship she developed, and her hope for the future.

After Dayana shared her poem, the students in Raquel Williams’ 8th grade class shared a poem by Cuban poet Jose Marti Perez. As Dayana listened, I asked her if she understood, and she began to cry. There are no words a teacher can use to describe the feeling you get when you see one of your students cry. When I asked her what was wrong, she just shook her head, smiled, and said “That touched my heart.”

“New Life”

There’s always more to the story, especially in middle school. We talked more, she cried more, I gave her a hug, I cried a bit, and we talked some more. Late in the day, she came by my room, looked in the window and waved and smiled. What was said during that conversations between her, me, and her best friend. If I told you what was said, I’m not sure you’d understand. It was a combination of English, Spanish and that “special” language that only teachers have.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Learn The Future - videos to inspire

“I go to school the youth to learn the future” 
-Robert Frost

Changing History
Videos to Inspire Part 1:

What Will YOUR History Be?

The definition I provide my students with for the word “history” is “history is just the stories of people”. This may be a bit off for the teachers who passionately love history, but I’m not one of those. My true passion is in reading and writing, and when asked to teach social studies this year, having to give up something I was truly passionate about, I had to consider how I could make this subject meaningful to my students and meaningful to me. It’s been quite an interesting journey and I’ve learned a lot – but there’s much more to learn.

I decided to start the year off with that definition of history and what history meant to my students. After some discussion, I told my students they will be changing history this year by writing their own stories (Yes, dear reader, there were many confused faces).  

Along with that, I asked my students what their legacy will be and how will they be remembered? Pretty daunting questions for anyone, let alone an 11 or 12 year old. As I get older, I wish that a teacher, parent, or someone in my life had asked me those questions. I don’t think we’re ever too young to consider the impact we can have on others – or too old for that matter. As a teacher, one of the most important things I can do for my students is to give them opportunities to understand the impact they can have on each other, their school, and even the world.

We Are All Clark Kents…

My inspiration for this was a series of TED talks by Brad Meltzer.

The first video we watch very early in the year is Write your story, change history - Brad Meltzer’s engaging TED talk about encouraging us to dream big, work hard, and stay humble. I provide the students with key excerpts from the video and stop frequently to discuss these key points. We then create a product to show what their dreams, goals, and aspirations are and what they will do this year to achieve them…my students are beginning to write their history.


To keep the idea of history as stories going, we watch this video from The Emperor’s Club found at ( A great resource for video clips in the classroom).  The clip makes the students think about how will history remember them?  At this point in the year I introduce them to blogging as a tool to reflect and inspire others. I also ask my students to list 101 goals that they have to help them think about what’s out there in the world for them.

What do you want to be forever?

One of the final videos we watched, during Black History Month, related to the subject of Legacy and Our Histories, is another great Tedx Talk by Brad Meltzer called How To Write Your Own Obituary. Despite the “interesting” title, the content of this is extremely powerful- it hits the idea that ordinary people, like you and me, can change the world.  I show the first 11 minutes or so and stop it when Brad asks the audience “How do you want to be remembered?” Can you imagine being told as an eleven year old that you can make an impact on the world?


Students have taken this idea to heart. I want my students to realize that what they do now will affect them later. I couldn't be more proud of what my students are achieving this year and I think one of my students says it best in her recent blog post


Over the last 15 years, I have had the opportunity to watch my students create amazing histories. At the time, I just didn't realize. When we as educators stop to consider the impact we are having on others we can really appreciate our successes.  It’s one of the major reasons I love teaching and helps me to feel the real “success” of teaching. Who knows what history will be written by the 150 awesome kids sitting in front of me this year?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Thank You Letter to My Students - Past, Present, and Future

“Each affects the other, and the other affects the next, and the world is full of stories,
but the stories are all one.”
 Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven

As I grow older (or should I say, grow more seasoned), I become more fascinated with the impact we have on one another and the stories that each of us write. More importantly, I reflect on the relationships that I have been lucky enough to have- some of the most important ones being those of the students that I have taught and learned with.

A Thank You Letter to My Students - Past, Present, and Future:

Dear Past, Present, and Future Students,

Thank you.

To all of the students I have had the pleasure of teaching I want you to know how grateful and appreciative I am of you. When you left my room at the end of sixth grade, some of you walked away and didn’t look back, others struggled with walking out of my classroom, and many of you I still see daily – thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media. It is amazing to think that over my 16 year career in education I have had the opportunity to work with, learn from, laugh with, cry with, and watch you all grow-up.  

I remember listening to your stories and offering advice, but most of the time just listening. I recall the stories about your families, your dreams, your fears, and your goals. I can still picture many of you sitting in my class with eyes full of excitement, anticipation, and genuine joy – waiting to learn and wondering what I would do next in class. I remember attending dances, sporting events, plays, graduations, and even family events.

It’s hard to believe that I have met so many amazing people who I continue to be inspired by. I have watched many of you go on to achieve your dreams and combat your struggles and persevere to overcome them.  There have been moments where I have shed tears over the loss of some of you and my heart sinks even now thinking of you. Many of you have made me look at the world in a different way and have helped me get through my own struggles. Without every single one of you, I would not be the teacher or person I am today.

To all the students of the past, thank you, and remember, once a student in my classroom, always a student of mine.

To my current students I thank you for your continued enthusiasm, passion, and willingness to try new things each day in my classroom. Your genuine love of learning keeps me motivated and inspired to be the best teacher and person I can be. Despite the somewhat turbulent times in education, it is you that I am here for. When I walk into my room and see sixty sets of eyes on me, I know that I can make a difference each day and can inspire you to be something special. You are the reason I continue to learn and grow each day and reflect on what I can do better tomorrow. Like I said from day one, this year will be something special – you only get to do sixth grade once, so let’s make it memorable.

To my current students, thank you, and remember we have lots more moments to make this year.

To the students I have yet to know. Each day I think about what it will be like to teach future generations. How will I be able to meet the needs of so many diverse learners? Will I know the current technology and cool “stuff” when you’re in my classroom? How will I continue to keep my class exciting and fresh and be the best teacher I can be? Will you laugh at my jokes and want to hear my stories? Will I motivate and inspire you to be the best person and student you can be?

I look forward to these challenges as your teacher. I know it won’t be easy and there will be days I question if I am being effective or making a difference. I know you will challenge me every day with your words, thoughts, and actions. As long as you keep challenging me, I will keep challenging you.

To my future students, thank you for making me want to be the best I can be and for making me continue to learn daily. I can’t wait to hear all of your stories.


Mr. Storm – a sixth grade teacher of amazing young people. (currently teaching 7th grade amazing young people)