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The last time I posted was August.


I can’t believe it’s October. And not just the beginnings of October, but darn near the middle.


So to catch you all up…

My class, for those of you who have not read through this blog, is for students new to the United States. They are usually refugees. They don’t always know what to expect or how to do things here. They may or may not have had education before coming. And those are only part of the challenges.

I also have started this year doing intake for the district. Any student who is new to the United States and speaks (or has been exposed to) a language other than English goes through me. I’m supposed to test and report back.

It’s been a challenge, sometimes testing up to four students in a day–oh, and teaching my class. Last year, I taught English learners at both the elementary and high school level.

I used to say that the only differences, really, were the sizes of the kids. The WHAT that I taught was often the same. The HOW was different.

But to be honest, the problems they come with are also grow with them when they get older. They may still be children in their hearts and mind and souls, but the problems these kiddos have could break your heart.

I’ve spent many a night crying over troubles that are so much not my own.

And just to make things a little more challenging, our union is voting this week on whether to strike.

So now, like it or not, I am starting to get a chance to breathe and report in on all the beautiful–and some scary–things that have been happening in my classroom.

And I’m glad to have you along for the ride.

Let me know if you have any questions… I live for the exchange of ideas!

A few months ago, I wrote about a couple of presentations I gave at MATSOL, an amazing spring conference.

And one of those presentations was about SeeSaw. It’s a tool to create an electronic portfolio of student work. And it has an amazing feature that lets you create a class blog where you can post the best of your students’ work. A little recognition every once in a while never hurt.

This year, SeeSaw is offering a chance for you to try out the awesomeness of SeeSaw and get a look at its extras. I get a month too, if you follow the link below. Here is their boilerplate letter:

Hi – I’ve been using Seesaw – an awesome, free digital portfolio and parent communication tool.

Sign up today using my link and we’ll both get an extra month of their premium features for free!


Let me know if you need help getting going – I think you’ll love it.

I do absolutely love this tool and plan to make it a part of my entire year. Can you imagine being a brand new student and having to introduce yourself, and then having to look at it a few months later, when you have more language under your belt?

Or, if you’re a kindergarten teacher, imagine being able to document student growth in writing or reading. There are so many cool ways to see growth over time.

What a way to build a growth mindset! I’m so excited!

So what are you waiting for? Give us both a month of SeeSaw Plus!

Anticipating getting stuck

51fnKYJ7AjL._SX374_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis summer, I feel like I’m doing a WHOLE LOT of professional learning. And a good part of that has been through book clubs and the like…

One of the books I read through the Jossey-Bass Teacher Ambassador Program (they give me free books if I review them) was called Turnaround Tools for the Teenage Brain by Eric Jensen and Carole Snider.

I was excited about reading this book because I teach at-risk teens. We are grappling with the issue of English Learners deciding that high school in the United States just isn’t for them.

And all of the mindset stuff that the district focuses on, all the proficiency-based learning lessons they want us to teach… none of that will do anything toward keeping these students at school.

Most of my students are former refugees. And they need immediate relevancy. The problem is that our entire school system is based on future payoffs. Pair that with the fact that all teens tend to need immediate gratification and you have a recipe for disaster. They need money, so they leave school to work. They don’t see any future but getting married and having children, and so they see no need to climb through the algebra/chemistry/health hoop if all they are going to do is something they can do right now by eloping.

So I need all the tools I can get to turnaround these teenage brains.

What I love love love about this book is that it is like having coffee with a trusted colleague who is giving great advice. They know their stuff. And I think their message has merit. Every chapter gives advice on what turns teachers can take to make specific headway motivating students to be the best they can be.

And it really comes down to us, and to knowing students and teaching them the way they need to be taught.

“If you don’t know where students are today, you’re teaching in the dark. When you’re in the dark, your students lose interest and effort drops.” (p. 78)

I am becoming much more aware of how much time I waste in class. I never have enough time. And maybe that’s on me.

I am a true believer that students can’t learn unless you know them and they know that you care. This is really the first book I have read that pulls that thread through the entire book. We are social creatures. And teenagers need the love. All of it.

Though I felt sometimes like the book was preaching to the choir, the authors did surprise me sometimes with something I hadn’t considered before or hadn’t thought about deeply. Reflection on my own practice is something I don’t do enough. And this book helped me motivate myself to move on that path.

Exactly what I needed just a couple weeks before I’ll be meeting my students at the door…



One of these babies was mine when she was in elementary school. We read together. She was full of fire and attitude. But so sweet.

And now she’s making a name for herself.

I got to see them last month at the Parent University graduation. And they were beyond awesome.

If you ever get the chance, see these girls. It’s well worth it.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 7.34.57 PM

My project at DonorsChoose.org!

I LOVELOVELOVE DonorsChoose. It provides an opportunity for teachers to try to bring projects to their classrooms that otherwise would never happen.

I have written such a grant, one that otherwise likely wouldn’t happen. It’s really big, but I really so much think my students deserve this opportunity.

I want to have artists in my classroom next year. Every week.

And an anonymous donor has matched my grant by half… but only if I can find another $2,419 by August 22.

Now, why is this important?

Most of my students are former refugees. All of my students are high poverty. All of my students have low proficiency in English. And … they need a little time to laugh and learn.

Bringing art and drama into a classroom helps with that. This is learning like they’ve never learned before.

But I also want my classroom to be a lab to help local artists learn how to teach students with low proficiency in English. I want this to be a mutually beneficial program… I will work with artists to help them bridge language gaps, and they will help me bring an exciting program to my students.

My partner teacher Suzy and I did it two years ago, with the generous support of an anonymous donor at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. It was amazing. We built community across cultures. We invited tons of people into our room to talk about how life in high school is just so very different than the “normal” path for these students. And we laughed.

It was amazing.

So here is how you can help.

Got $5 you would like to throw at my class? Go to the link above and pledge!

Or, if you don’t feel like parting with your Lincolns, share my project widely. You never know. Maybe your neighbor, or your friend, or your boss or someone who is only marginally connected with you, might see this project and decide THEY want to give.

Heck, my section leader from my college marching band at the University of Kansas just threw some money my way! Thanks, Doug!

Anyway, I’d appreciate your help!


Loving my Mistakes

mortar-board-32277_640Today is graduation at my high school.

I get to see students who I have known for the past four years finally get that degree. And the ones I will yell loudest for are the ones who had the hardest slog.

I became a teacher in the United States in 2000. And I had some awfully hard students. I lamented then entering the classroom with so little knowledge. But my AP, an amazing woman who pushed us to try to raise the bar even when it felt like this was so much the wrong thing to do, said that I was better than the alternative.

These teaching positions in the Bronx, at the 8th worst high school in New York City, were not filled for long. Teachers who came quickly moved into positions that were in a less sketchy part of the city, where the students weren’t so difficult. What she was telling me was right. I was better than a long-term sub, who really wasn’t there for the long term.

But as I look back today, I kind of wish I could do it all again.

I didn’t really know these students. Nor did I know how to.

profiles_SalaamAlaikum_4250_935931_mediaI can’t believe my naivete, or my arrogance. To imagine that I was trusting a book with a pronunciation guide on how to pronounce “As-SalaamAlaikum,” rather than trusting the Muslim student sitting right in front of me makes me ill today. I still think about it. Even though it was more than a decade ago. Heck, I didn’t even know he was Muslim.

But today, I know. It’s a lovely greeting that carries with it such strength, and, for me, lessons of humility.

And I’ll be thinking of my Muslim students as they cross the stage during this first week of Ramadan (I know what that is now, too!). I’ll be reminiscing about the young man I was blown away by when I was working in an elementary school. He still credits me today as the one teacher who taught him to read.

And that is something to smile about.

I’ll be thinking about the Nepali girls (and boys) who stressed out so much about what to wear UNDER the graduation gowns.

I’ll be thinking about the Karen student who came to me for help on topics that were so culturally foreign to him that he did not know where to start.

I’ll be thinking about my students. About how much I’ll miss seeing them. No matter how hard they were.

And I will wish them well.

And I’ll pack along plenty of tissues.


I have been thinking recently about how I will meet the needs of ELLs who also happen to be introverts. We don’t think about those kiddos much. And we should.

Lee Ung: EDTECH Learning Log

I got asked a great question about how Project Based Learning (PBL) can fit introverted learners. This is a commonly overlooked learner population since most teachers are extroverts. In response to that inquiry I wrote out a series of suggestions that I believe can help adapt PBL to introverts (and ELL or ESL students).

Introverts make up a good proportion of my class, and, together, we have developed strategies to allow them recharging time and give them opportunities to participate. I permit students to turn in summative assessments as individual projects, but the formative assessments I give are usually heavier on collaborative work. The activities in my classroom are constantly up for negotiation, and my students feel comfortable giving feedback about specific lessons and larger units.

Ultimately I believe in Universal Design, meaning that a well-designed and appropriately implemented strategy will benefit all learners. Finding those activities that serve…

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