Adventures in Past-Shedding: You Want Me to Throw Out WHAT?

It’s been 18 months since my teaching certificate expired, the one I first earned in 1987. I haven’t taught an actual class of high school students since 2010. But that hasn’t stopped me from hanging onto all my old folders of lesson plans…until now.

Although the Mate and I left Tacoma in 2010 for Lopez Island, we didn’t sell our house here. We’ve been lucky enough to have housesitters who took care of all maintenance and utilities and still gave us the right of return whenever we (or other friends) had business in the Big City. But that’s about to change. The house where we became Northwesterners and raised our family is finally going on the market.

Which means we have to sort through all the boxes stored in the basement; divvy up furniture and dishes and linens to friends and relatives and Craigslist; curate, then cart a zillion loads of books and clothes and dishes and blankets and toys and who-knows-what-all to various giveaway sites we thought we’d already maxed out on when we moved ten years ago clean up a bit.

Why, I ask myself, did I even need to look inside the box marked “Old Lesson Plans”? Why not just throw it away? My certificate is lapsed. No former colleague is about to call me for best practices on introducing To Kill A Mockingbird.

My first gig, 1987: Orange High School
in Hillsborough NC

Of course I looked anyway.

I taught five–count ’em, FIVE–sections of 9th Grade Civics, each section a complete different planet of kids

Now, if you notice that the above picture is cut off, that’s not an accident. That’s to avoid showing off the last name of this one kid, Don S, who quickly became the bane of my first-year-teacher existence. Don was the kind of kid I learned to love–funny, basically good-hearted, but with zero use for anything that wasn’t centered around his ability to have a good time. I spent my first week of teaching doling out “LD’s”–lunch detentions–to Don. Like that helped any. ­čÖé

In those days, besides filling in the Plan Book, I wrote out a complete Lesson Plan on a separate sheet every day. Before I threw all these materials away, something called on me to take a closer look. To see what was so gol-durned important to me, at age 25, that I spent my precious after-school hours (when I could’ve been grading essays) honing in on.

Yep–one of these, every day. Good thing I only had ONE class to prep then!

And here’s what I noticed: that whole bottom portion of the form is given to self-evaluation. What worked, what didn’t, why, and how to fix it tomorrow.

Some days, I remember, it felt more like I was going backwards than forwards with those kids. (Can I get an Amen from any teachers out there?) And yet…I kept filling out those sheets, day after day, until, finally that self-evaluation didn’t need to be written out anymore. It was completely internalized.

Fast-forward to my latter years of teaching. Instead of one prep, I had FIVE. But here’s all I needed to write in my Plan Book.

Made perfect sense to me at the time!

What’s missing from that latter Plan Book is the same thing that’s missing from the non-existent Daily Plans I pored over in the 1980s. What took its place? Confidence. Experience. Trust. Did I also get a little bit lazier? Mayyybe…though more likely, as with most working-outside-the-home parents, anything that saves time is anything that saves sanity.

Mostly what’s NOT in these boxes is inside ME. Still. Thank GOODNESS I don’t have to box THAT up and take it to Goodwill.

I would love to hear any thoughts from others discovering emblems of their working past. Any echoes here?

Quest Teaching: Know an Independent-Minded Teacher?

Road Trip IV, Days 38-40: Durham, NC to Indianapolis

First, a word about the weather: WEIRD.

Depending on where you live, this word means different things to you, but you can relate nonetheless. Since I’ve been driving around the country for the last 5 1/2 weeks, I’ve seen all types of weird. California drought suddenly doused by mega-rainstorms. North Carolina suffering wave after wave of ice storm. (Can you say “firewood”?) And now here we are zipping through America’s heartland under sunny skies while states at lower latitudes to our east and south are running out for more de-icer. How can any American doubt climate change? We’re like the poster child!


And now, a completely different topic: lesson plans.

I’m a writer, but I’m also a teacher, remember? True, I’ve been out of the classroom for nearly four years, but teaching is a permanent condition, like having stubby toes. I can’t NOT look for learning opportunities in, for example, road signs. (Ohio’s US highway 35 is the Welsh Way? Why? Did the Welsh come here to mine coal?) I can’t NOT listen to The Mate’s ESPN College Sports Radio without vowing to find out why no one’s giving out NIT scores. (Is ESPN under contract to discuss the NCAA only?) And I can’t NOT correct commentators’ grammar when they say things like “can’t not.”

So you can imagine how my pulse quickened when I heard about Quest Teaching. This is a site started by tween author Sharon Skretting to provide teachers with lesson plans based on brand-new fiction–lesson plans written by the authors themselves!

Author? Teacher? Hey, they’re playing my song!

At first I was doubtful when Sharon invited me to write a lesson plan using my middle grades novel, The Flying Burgowski. It’s fantasy, after all–not wizards-or-vampires fantasy, but still: it’s about a girl who can fly! Sure, it’s a great read, but…a lesson? About what?

Then I thought about it. My heroine, 14 year-old Jocelyn Burgowski, may have a superpower, but she lives very much in the real world. And her real world includes a mom who is a mess. Joss’s mom functions with apparent normality until stress catches up to her and she devolves back into dependency on alcohol and prescription drugs.

Dark topic for middle grades readers? Yeah. Also nothing terribly out of the norm from what I observed in my 20 years of teaching. And I think kids deserve to see their real world reflected, and successfully negotiated, in books written for them.

So I took Sharon’s offer. I chose Chapter 12 of The Flying Burgowski, a chapter in which Mom melts down and Joss and her brother have to figure out what to do, and I wrote a lesson plan about finding positive strategies to deal with negative behaviors.


I hope a teacher somewhere finds this lesson and uses it. (If you’re that teacher: the book is free, with copying privileges.) If not my lesson, I hope a teacher goes to Quest and tries one of the many and varied lessons there.

For example: Michelle Isenhoff’s lesson about using primary sources with her Civil War-era novel,The Candle Star. Or Lars Hedbor’s┬álesson using his Revolutionary War novels. Or Sharon’s own Jewel of Peru. Makes me want to teach again! Or be a student.

I know that many (most?) teachers have little wiggle room when it comes to choosing their own materials. I know that there is no shortage of safely tested literature out there, used year after year to good effect. But I also know how many students are budding writers themselves and how thrilled I would have been, as a student, to know I was reading a chapter by a writer I could email with questions. A writer who was interested in MY learning. A writer who might encourage ME.

That’s why I’m psyched to be part of Quest Teaching, and that’s why I have no problem asking you to send this link to any middle grades teacher, student, administrator or librarian you know. Let’s see where this takes us, shall we? Life is, after all, a Quest.

Also, if you know any other middle grades authors who might be interested in participating, please put them in touch with me!