Section 6

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Both this school year and last, I taught Section 6 of TE 401 and TE 402 at MSU. These are the social studies and literacy methods courses for the MSU seniors.  The courses are not a year-long sequence with instructors usually. The students are together all year, but the instructors don’t usually stay with the students the whole year. I’m one of the few people who teach both social studies and literacy, so I do get to meet these students on the 1st day of the fall semester and see them through until their graduation. Both years I have been assigned Section 6, which seems to be my lucky number.

Both years, I’ve had the pleasure of teaching some amazing people in Section 6. They’re fun, inspiring, smart, and dedicated students. At this stage in their careers, so early on, they are excited about joining the field of education. Let me tell you that it is so rare these days to have people excited about teaching anymore. I want to bottle their energy, enthusiasm, and excitement and feed it to a lot of people I know. It would be some magic elixir that teachers could drink when they feel frustrated or burned out. I would make a killing if I sold it.

I started my blog with a picture of the students of Section 6 from 2011-2012. They lit the spark for my dissertation and reaffirmed that teaching and research is what I wanted to do for my career. They inspired me to start the Year of  Writing. This year’s Section 6 helped me in a different way. If last year’s Section 6 was the spark, this year’s group was the fuel. They kept me going when I was collecting data–it was great to be able to commiserate with them about teaching elementary school and share stories. When I spent day after day in my house writing, seeing them on Tuesdays was a wonderful break. When I finished writing, I could not wait to tell them.

Today was our final exam. Much like the 2012 Section 6, the 2013 group handed out awards. I won “Best Dressed” mostly because I’m usually the only one not wearing my pajamas in class, and “Best Laugh.” This means they probably heard me laugh a lot.  They dressed in their graduation gowns and we took pictures at Erickson Hall. It was the last class I will ever teach at MSU.


Yes, Section 6 has been very lucky for me. On Sunday, I am actually going to hand them their diplomas on stage at the Breslin. Two of my students are giving the commencement speech based on a poetry-writing assignment I gave them this semester. Another one is being honored for the highest GPA in the special education program. The chair of the TE department is letting doctoral students attend as “faculty” to honor the seniors they’ve worked with all year. I absolutely wouldn’t miss it.


2013 Section 6 flashing our sign

What’s the priority?

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It’s Week 4 of the fall semester, and just like every other fall semester of my doctoral studies, Week 4 is the “holy shit, I have a lot of work to do this semester” week. For some reason, it’s always Week 4 where this hits me, and this makes sense. It takes a couple weeks to get out of summer mode which is still productive but let’s be real, far more relaxed. It takes a couple weeks to start making commitments for the next few weeks ahead, a couple more for the first assignments and deadlines to come in, and then…you’re in Week 4 and you realize that you are in deep. Whenever I have gotten overwhelmed in the past, I always try to prioritize. Trouble is, everything is a top priority right now.

Top Priority: Looking for jobs. Since I have previously mentioned numerous times that I am now working without a net this year, you would think trying to find a net would be my most top priority at the moment. Applying for academic jobs is surely far more complex than anything I’ve done before to get a job. I need to prepare a cover letter that brags about how awesome I am in the shortest amount of words possible, a CV that certainly has holes in it that I’m hoping job interviewers overlook (that publications section certainly is thin…maybe that should be a priority…), letters of recommendation from my committee, transcripts (even from my undergrad days at CMU!), and a teaching statement. Surprisingly, I have never written in words what I believe about teaching. I’ve certainly espoused it enough to my friends and family, but writing it? That could take a while. As of now there are three jobs in West Michigan that I am applying for, one even here in Holland at Hope College (2 others at GVSU).  I am excited about job possibilities in this area, so this needs to be top priority. Or should it be…

Top Priority: My dissertation. Hmmmm. Perhaps this should be top priority, especially considering  that I have now met my students that I will be studying and I really want to put my best effort into planning a great learning experience for them. This week I interviewed them, assessed them on their knowledge, talked to their teacher about what they are like and what they know and I am really excited to give them the experience of One Hen. I’m beginning to now picture how chapters of my dissertation could go. I’m getting excited to get more into my writing. So, I guess this should be top priority. Or should it be…

Top Priority: Teaching. The good part about Week 4 is that it’s the week where my classes really start to gel. Last week we went to the historical museum together, and nothing bonds a class like a successful field trip to a fun place like a historical museum. I realize this sounds like sarcasm but it really isn’t. The Michigan Historical Center is a great place to learn Michigan history, it’s very interactive and well done, and my students loved it last year too. When we have the experience of going there together, and then have a class where we start to talk about students’ needs and learner diversity and we discover we have a common bond of caring about students…then it all clicks. I had some great classes this week and I want to continue my commitment to these future teachers. So maybe this should be a top priority. Or perhaps it’s…

My husband? My friends? My fantasy football teams? (Both 2-0 so far this season, thanks!) All of those are top priorities too. Turns out, everything is.  Sigh. Well, in the words of Academic Tim Gunn:


Good news, everyone!

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The title of this blog post is meant to be read like the Professor in Futurama:


My good news is that yesterday was my first day of teaching for the semester. I always love the first day of school even though it leaves me with a dry throat and sore feet. I got to meet two classes of TE 401 yesterday. TE 401 is the elementary social studies methods course. I had a great time teaching it last fall, and I seem to have a good group again. Last year I only taught in the morning, so I did have a bit of a rude awakening when I finished the morning class and realized I needed to summon the same energy again for the afternoon class. Hopefully I didn’t short change the 12:40 group, even after a mix-up with room assignments left me a bit rattled.

I approach the first day of class as a community-building day. The students in the elemenary prep program take their methods classes together all year, so they see each other at minimum 6 hours a week until May. Some of them even see each other at their field placements. So, I think it is super important to establish a family atmosphere and get along well together. I try this by setting up a class Social Contract on the first day. We talk about how we want to be treated in the course and what they expect from each other and from me, and then we all sign it to agree. I bring it to class every day so they are reminded of what we determined as valuable for the group and so they don’t forget that we’re all in this together.

I also start every single class with “Good News”. I learned this and the Social Contract from NHA actually, through a classroom management program called Capturing Kids Hearts that focuses on building relationships. I ask the students to share anything good in their lives for the first 2-5 minutes of class. It never fails to make people smile and it puts everybody on a positive note. This year, I’d like to try another aspect of CKH–Affirmations. At the end of class, people can share something positive they’d like to commend the group about what we have done over the 3 hours. I know this all sounds very mushy to do with adults, but I guess that’s the kind of teacher I am. 🙂 I truly think a little positivity goes a long way to ensuring our semester goes well. And at the very least, I’m hoping they see it as a model for how they can develop relationships with their future students.

I was physically drained yesterday, but mentally refreshed. I think it’s going to be a fun semester. Today is also the first college football game of the season. For the last 3 years, Mike & I have purchased MSU football season tickets with some other people from my cohort. This will be the 4th year of attending nearly every home game. Although it definitely monopolizes an entire Saturday, it’s worth it to get a brain break. These guys are not only my academic support during my doctoral program, but what I would like to call my “sanity support”. I can count on them to have fun at a football game, or grab dinner with me at Crunchy’s when I come into town, or give me a place to crash when I need it. And that’s been very important to me through this crazy PhD journey. Image

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