Dec 312013

As 2013 comes to a close, it is time to reflect on the past year. 2013 proved to be quite a transformative one. Considering that this is my first post since September, it has also proven to be a busy one. Here are some of my thoughts on the past year.

Spring 2013

2013 began with the honor of being named PAECT‘s Teacher of the Year in February. Being recognized with the award was quite a surprise and due to my limited ability to miss days at work, I was not able to be present for the presentation of the award, which I regret. PAECT is a wonderful organization that connects educators involved in educational technology across the state of Pennsylvania. I have met some amazing educators through my involvement with the organization.

March brought another momentous occasion. John, my boyfriend of over 8 years, and I decided to get married. On July 13th. I never was one of those girls who dreamed of her wedding day, so planning a wedding in less than 4 months was quite an experience, but more on that later. In March, two of my students won 1st place in the Programming category at the District Computer Fair, which was very exciting as I had been on my own journey learning about coding.

In May, I was elated to learn that I had been selected to be in the 2013 class of ASCD’s Emerging Leaders. This would give me an opportunity to make a difference in educational leadership outside of the educational technology realm I was used to inhabiting. I also connected with a number of Pennsylvania educators in the class and we have been collaborating with the Pennsylvania affiliate of ASCD (PASCD), which has been an exciting endeavor. This work will continue through 2014. I am also excited to attend ASCD’s annual conference in Los Angeles in March to connect face to face with many of the Emerging Leaders and participate in ASCD’s first “unconference.” May also brought the 3rd annual Edcamp Philly unconference, which I helped organize.

End of the School Year/Summer 2013

In June, I made a huge decision to leave my school of the previous three years to join the inaugural team of the Science Leadership Academy’s new Beeber campus. I had to quickly make sure that I was leaving my school in a good position to continue the technology program we had been working on for three years. This meant organizing paperwork and getting it to the right people, triple checking our inventory, leaving curricular materials with the instructional director. I also had to begin the process of returning to the School District of Philadelphia, which included doctor’s appointments, visits to the District’s main offices and many phone calls. At the same time, I was dress shopping, seeking out a venue, putting together a guest list, choosing a caterer, designing invitations and all of the other nitty gritty details that go along with planning a wedding. I spent hours on the phone with my mother, hours on Pinterest getting ideas and hours hot gluing and putting together the table signs and escort cards for our guests. Thinking back, it’s amazing I made it through the month of June at all.

Tech Girlz Summer CampJune was also exciting as it was my first year working with TechGirlz Summer Camp, an amazing week of entrepreneurship for teenage girls in the Philadelphia area. We had an amazing group of girls who came up with some really great companies and did some inspiring presentations. They worked with local developers and entrepreneurs to develop their products and companies throughout the week before presenting their companies to their families and a panel of “investors.”



Puna Night Market

John & MB WeddingAfter the blur of the wedding, we were off to Hawaii for 10 days. No work emails, no blogging, limited tweeting, and no one telling us what to do and where to be. It was blissful.

As soon as we returned in late July, reality came crashing down as worked a week teaching a Space and Aeronautics course that I designed and wrote before the summer began. It was a ton of fun. After that was a week spent with my new colleagues at SLA at Beeber. We spent an intense week breaking down project based learning and the ins and outs of life at SLA. It was exhausting and energizing at the same time. A week later, we spent a week getting to know our new students during Summer Institute. My exploration group spent a rainy afternoon exploring Paine’s Skate Park and I had some time to get to know my advisees, with whom I will be spending the entire four years of their high school careers.


Moving SLA@B


The fun didn’t stop there. Opening a new school is not for the faint of heart. We spent hours cleaning the third floor of Beeber Middle School that we would inhabit. We moved furniture, including desks, chairs, bookcases and cafeteria tables. We set up the office and the cafeteria ourselves, completing the last of the cafeteria tables and chairs the day before the first day of school, a day that most teachers had off from work. It was a heroic effort.




Fall 2013

We hit the ground running on Day One, welcoming students to the new school. The last few months have been a whirlwind. I often SLA@B Tech Classuse the metaphor of building the plane while flying it. There are so many day-to-day decisions to make, procedures to rethink, pedagogical ideas to explore, problems to be solved, along with the every day complexity of teaching 120 fifteen year olds with all of the joys that come along with raging hormones, identity exploration and with no upperclassmen to help guide them. We also provide students with a lot more agency and freedoms than many of them are used to. It’s been fascinating to watch them navigate these new freedoms and energizing to support them along the way. I have also really enjoyed the advisory program, through which I have gotten to know 19 students very well and have enjoyed discussing various issues as a group, traveling outside of the building together on trips and having individual conversations with each of them. I have also enjoyed teaching ninth graders for the first time. It has been insightful hearing their thoughts, opinions and reflections on Digital Citizenship and using technology. It’s also been an incredible journey transitioning from a lab (yuck!) to a classroom where every student has his or her own device. I look forward to supporting my colleagues with creating opportunities for students to use their devices effectively and creatively throughout the rest of the year.

Winter 2013

One of the exciting events to end 2013 was the Philly EdTech Meetup‘s holiday demo night in December, which brought one of our largest groups of attendees and truly reflected the community that my co-organizer, Donna Murdoch, and I have been working hard to build since we joined forces in 2012.

Photo courtesy of Travis Morgan on Flickr


Obviously, this year has been fast-paced and transformative. The school year has been busy, sometimes stressful and always energizing. One of the toughest parts of the school year is November to December, when we have our narrative report cards due and hold report card conferences and also work multiple weekends interviewing students for next year. It was also at this time that my husband and I were hit with the surprising and exciting news that we would be welcoming a new addition to our family in July 2014. This has created an entirely new kind of reflection. Over the last year, I have spent more time focusing on home and married life, and the time commitment of opening a new school has taken away from time I had spent in the past running around to conferences and other events, blogging and tweeting. My exhaustion over the last few months due to first trimester woes has also slowed me down.

This news will force me to rethink my lifestyle overall. I have spent most of the last 4 years engaging with educators around the globe, tweeting, blogging, traveling, presenting and focusing, well, on me and my career. At times, this has affected my relationship with my husband, though he has always been supportive. I don’t need to change my engagement with community of educators I have connected with over the years. It doesn’t mean that I need to stop blogging or even stop presenting or traveling. I do know, however, that my focus will undoubtedly change. There have been times when I have been working so hard that I haven’t seen my husband for days. 2014 will no doubt require me to change those habits. I already know that I want to refocus and reflect on what parts of my professional life I will be able to keep up with once this new addition arrives.

It looks like 2014 may rival 2013 for life changing events! I am thankful for all of the support and positivity that has come my way this past year from colleagues, friends, acquaintances and strangers. I wish everyone a happy and healthy 2014!

Just When I Thought It Couldn’t Get Worse

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Jun 022013

On Monday, June 3rd, the Briarcliff Manor Board of Education approved their 2013-2014 budget to include slots for Briarcliff students to attend the Walkabout Program. Many thanks from Walkabout alumni and next year’s cohort of students.

Walkabout ProgramAs many who know me well are aware, I had the unique opportunity to attend the Walkabout Program during my Senior year in high school. With two week-long backpacking trips, a four week service learning project (which the students are charged with setting up themselves), a nine week career internship (again, set up by students themselves) and ten weeks of full time academics, the Walkabout Program is unlike any other experience available in a traditional high school.

The program, which started 35 years ago, has changed the lives of hundreds of young people. Where else could a 17 year old be trusted to go to a work site four days a week on their own and attend academic classes on Mondays? Where else could a teenager be thrust into the wilderness with only a pack on their back for a week in an Outward Bound style adventure that was considered “gym class?”

By the time I graduated high school, I had a resumé, had refined my interviewing skills through videotaped practice, made dozens of phone calls to companies for an internship only to be rejected and had survived two weeks in the wilderness alongside my classmates. I still managed to take AP English and act as Yearbook Editor in Chief while attending the program. At the end of the year, instead of walking a processional in a cap and gown, we stood up in front of our peers and families and spoke about our experience at Walkabout and how we had grown throughout the year. It was one of the most powerful and meaningful experiences I’ve ever had.

After 20 years of sending students to the Walkabout Program, my alma mater is looking to cut the program, along with other expenses, from the school district budget to meet the 2% property tax cap that New York State has.

As a Philadelphia educator, I am watching increasing budget cuts affect my own city as the District closes 23 schools this Fall, and will be cutting Assistant Principals, Counselors, Librarians, sports, Secretaries, support staff, Music and Art programs, leaving schools with a barebones staff and overstuffed classrooms.

To see budget cuts also affect the program that helped shape me into the person I am today is devastating.

Here is the email I sent to the Briarcliff Manor School District Board of Education, Superintendent, and High School Principal:

Dear esteemed Briarcliff Schools Board members,

I am a Briarcliff High School and Walkabout 21 graduate from the class of 1998. I was a member of the National Honors Society, yearbook Editor-in-Chief and an involved member of Art Club, French Club and Briars and Ivy.

I am currently an educator in Philadelphia with a Master Degree and four certifications. I have been named an emerging leader by two international organizations, ISTE and ASCD, and I was just named the 2013 Outstanding Teacher of the Year by the Pennsylvania Association of Educational Computing and Technology.

During my Junior year I chose to attend the Walkabout Program despite its reputation as a program solely for struggling students. Even my parents were skeptical at first. They very quickly saw, however, the difference that Walkabout made in me as a person and were quick to admit that they had been wrong. I cannot begin to describe how different my life would have been if I had not made that choice.

The Walkabout Program taught me how to carry myself as an adult, how to handle real responsibilities and it built up my self-esteem and confidence in a way that no other experience could. These skills have helped me get to where I am today. Of course, I was lucky to have attended Briarcliff Schools, so these experiences were partnered with an excellent academic education. However, I am confident that Walkabout gave me an extra boost of confidence and real world experience that gave me a distinct advantage over my peers.

The following statements are from the Briarcliff Schools Philosophy Statement on the district website:

“The Briarcliff Schools are committed to the philosophy of helping each child develop into a mature individual who will be a contributing member of society.”

“There are opportunities for students to participate in experiences that promote self-esteem, as well as to have students learn the limits of individual freedom.”

“The Briarcliff Schools provide a comprehensive and responsive educational program that is relevant to the individual needs of students.”

I am not sure how the Briarcliff Manor School District can uphold its decision to cut the 4 slots for students to attend the Walkabout Program when the program provides all of these things and more. Taking this opportunity from Briarcliff HIgh School students is in direct conflict with the district’s educational philosophy.

Please reconsider saving this unique and life-changing opportunity for Briarcliff students and for students around Westchester County. By pulling out of the program, Briarcliff Schools are sending the message to other districts that these kinds of programs don’t matter. Please consider the hundres of lives that have been changed by this program and keep Walkabout a Briarcliff tradition for years to come.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Mary Beth Hertz
Technology Teacher, Tech Integration Specialist




Dec 192012


Z loves everything about the planets, the stars, black holes, and anything Space-related. He can rattle off facts and is a very bright child. He is also disorganized, can lose focus easily and works fairly slowly. In a nutshell, he doesn’t “play school” well, but in a different learning environment, he’d thrive.

T is bright and loves motorcycles and cars. Today we talked about the possibility of an automotive career. We talked about how and where he could start along that path. I suggested he look at a technical high school with an automotive program. This way he could get the training he needs without having to pay to go to a ‘technical institute.’ I found one high school in the entire city that advertised an automotive program for incoming freshmen. In a nutshell, T has few options to pursue his passion in high school.

E loves singing. She’s only in 6th grade, but has already asked me if I know any schools that have vocal programs. I directed her to the new site to search. She came back the next day and said she couldn’t find any schools. She had been looking for schools near her neighborhood. I explained that there were only a handful of schools in the district that offer specialized music programs, and that out of those, I wasn’t sure which offered voice specifically. In a nutshell, E will have to travel far from her home to attend such a school, provided she gets in at all.

Every day I am faced with the reality that most Philly kids cannot find a place to explore, develop and discover their passions and talents. Many leave 8th grade clueless as to what their interests even are. There are tons of dedicated Philly parents who pay for karate lessons, organized sports, summer camps and the like, but there are many who simply can’t afford it. Even the luckiest kids are still often stuck in an academic program that stresses mastery of content over self-discovery.

It breaks my heart to see both this lack of outlets in schools for student interests and passions as well as a lack of options for students who know what they want to do. With the recent trend to “turn around” failing schools by handing them over to large charter management networks like Mastery and Universal, whose focus is usually compliance and test scores, the passion-driven model of education has little chance of survival. Tack onto that the added complication of the impending closure and reconfiguring of many high schools around the city and the outlook grows even more grim.

So where do my students go?

Do they seek out a charter school with a mission that matches their interest and play the roulette game of hoping it is on par or better than a district-managed school? Do they suck it up and trudge through a year or two of high school and drop out because they are bored or detached? Do they trudge through high school never really knowing what they want to do and then end up as young adults with no vision for their future? Do they leave public school altogether and go to an independent school that will be more freed up to let kids explore their passions instead of worry about “eligible content” and pacing schedules?

Or maybe I’m painting a gloomier picture than is necessary. I know that there are amazing schools and teachers in Philly that are providing students with real-world experiences, connecting them with their communities in meaningful ways, and giving them opportunities to explore their passions and develop skills for life.

I envision a day, however, when these schools represent the norm. A day when we have re-evaluated what school is for in the first place and a day when my students know that they have options, that there is a seat somewhere in a school setting that meets their dreams and learning style.

I can see no other cause more imperative than investing in the dreams of young people, providing them with pathways to bright futures, and helping them develop skills for life, not just a transcript.

photo credit:

Sep 302012


I just finished reading the 2nd edition of Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, a guide for educators who already are familiar with Classroom Instruction that WorksI must confess, I haven’t read Classroom Instruction that Works (it’s been on my to-read list forever), so while I was familiar with many of the strategies in the book, I could see how this book, while great as a stand-alone read, was written as an accompaniment to the model laid out in Classroom Instruction that Works.

I was struck by two immediate reactions as I picked up the book. The first was that Will Richardson, whom I hold in very high regard, wrote the foreward. The second was the feeling that writing a paperback book about using technology in the classroom is a little counterintuitive. I appreciated Will’s imperative tone about technology in the classroom when he states, “Regardless of our own comfort level with technology as a tool to help us learn or teach, we have to move the conversation from ‘if’ to ‘how’–and we need to do that sooner rather than later.” (p. xv) The book definitely matches that mindset by providing technology tools, resources and best practices that align with each of the Classroom Instruction that Works areas of focus. The authors also admit that “Technology books have a notoriously short shelf life.” (p. 1) They state, “Our intent is not to write a book about technology, but rather a book about using technology as one among several tools for providing good instruction.” (p. 2) The authors continuously drive home the point that it’s not about the technology, but about the teaching and learning with that technology that transform schools.

The authors categorize technologies, defining what the technologies do and then provide examples of each. This is a good starting point for educators who may not be aware of the multifaceted uses of technology in the classroom. In addition, throughout the book, the reader is provided specific steps for how to create the tool or access the technology being examined and explored. I could see this book being used by a grade team or a group of educators in a school trying to bring more technology into their classrooms. ASCD offers a study guide for just this purpose.There are actionable items in the book and as a result, there are opportunities for teachers to discuss the examples and consider how these examples could play out in their own classroom.

What Works

As stated above, there are a variety of specific, actionable examples provided in each chapter, which paint a detailed picture of how technology supports teaching and learning and not the other way around. These examples are supported by screenshots and links, which also help bring the examples to life. Each chapter’s focus is also supported by specific research and recommendations from research-based methods, which, for a teacher running into walls or barriers bringing technology into their classroom, provide necessary back-up to support what they are doing. Each chapter is also accompanied by a list of additional resources, which are current and representative of the best available for the task. I was also happy to see Google Docs and Google Apps for Education used as examples for a number of lessons.

Many different kinds of technologies are represented throughout the book. The authors include computer applications, data probes, mobile apps for iOS or Android and even examples of using cell phones in the classroom. It is important that educators know that technology in the classroom should not always be equated with computers.

I was also glad that the authors remind teachers of the importance of following copyright and fair use guidelines and modeling this for their students. The recommendation for schools to use portfolio-based assessments for student technology literacy was also a breath of fresh air.


A couple of things disappointed me as I was reading the book. There was still a huge focus on Microsoft Office Tools, such as using the comments feature and track changes feature in Word, and PowerPoint presentations. In fact, at one point, the example given was so heavy on the ins and outs of Microsoft Word that I almost wanted to skip over it. The section on spreadsheets was also a bit mind-numbing. While the examples provided were excellent, they were pretty complicated for someone just starting out using the tool. There also were no mentions of how to use simple spreadsheets in the lower elementary grades. Many schools are moving away from Office tools and some (like me) use open source software like Libre Office, so many of these examples could not be applied in my classroom. One of the examples for teaching with multimedia was disappointing. The example given was a PowerPoint game, similar to those I made in my grad classes 4 years ago. A lot of the examples also focused on specific, paid softwares such as Inspiration. This is limiting for a teacher whose district can’t afford subscriptions to these softwares. While there was a diversity of subscription-based and free sites provided, I was shocked by the omission of tools like Edmodo for managing classroom learning on lists that included Moodle and Blackboard

Final Thoughts

Overall, Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works is a great addition to the much-acclaimed series. While it has some shortcomings, I think it does a great job at addressing how technology can be used across a variety of classroom settings. It also takes the stance that educators must include technology in their teaching and provides a framework for the diversity of technologies out there. While I wish that the book had an e-book format and a corresponding website for easy updating of tools mentioned in the book, it is a good jumping off point for educators looking to use technology to support teaching and learning in their classrooms. REVISED: There is an e-book available here.

Jan 262012

I’m tired.

I’m tired of battling.

I’m tired of defending my profession.

I’m tired of the arguments and heated discussions about how education should be fixed.

I’m tired of feeling like Sisyphus, rolling my boulder up the hill, only to watch it roll back down behind me again.

I’m tired of pretending.

I’m tired of turning a blind eye to the damage being done to young minds who think that learning is getting the right answer, or being basic, proficient or advanced.

I’m tired of seeing the pained look on my colleagues’ faces as they dread another day of preparing for the test, of ‘moving kids,’ and of focusing all of their energy on numbers and data rather than on human beings.

I’m tired of pretending that I’m not complicit in perpetuating the damage. Pretending that I am not part of the problem on those days when I play along and consciously do things that I know aren’t right for kids.

Pretending that I don’t see that many of my students are the square peg being forced into a round hole that they’ll never ‘fit’ into, that many sit quietly and ‘play school’ without ever being given the chance to explore their own talents and interests or discover their passions.

Yet I dream.

I dream that educators will one day be respected for the years and years of experience and training that they apply to their craft.

I dream of collaboration and cooperation among teachers, students, administrators, parents, and community members in finding solutions and celebrating successes.

I dream of teamwork so powerful that it pushes that boulder up the hill and over the top as we watch it roll down the other side.

I dream of students who think that learning is gaining knowledge and experiences, applying knowledge and also experiencing failure.

I dream of colleagues who can’t wait to step inside their classrooms each day. Classrooms in which teaching is making content accessible and relevant, where subjects dissolve into meaningful learning experiences that build at their own pace based on student needs. Classrooms where students create to show what they know and understand and where they can develop their passions and explore their own interests.

Without this dream, I might succumb to the battles and I might stop pretending and start to play along.

Dreams matter.

Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
— Langston Hughes

Say No to SOPA

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Jan 182012

Philly Teacher was down on January 18, 2012 in protest against SOPA. Let’s protect the web as an avenue of free speech.

To learn more about this, watch the TED Talk by Clay Shirky below.


Dec 022011

Tonight I was lucky enough to attend a community screening of the new documentary, American Teacher, with my friends Ann, Meeno, and Brian at the School of the Future here in Philadelphia.

While I don’t have the energy right now (it’s now two nights this week that I’ve haven’t made it home until 8pm!) to recap the entire movie, I will say this. I definitely left this movie feeling more uplifted than I did after Waiting for Superman, but not because the story was uplifting, but because it reminded me of the hard work that my colleagues and I do on a day-to-day basis. It was also great to hear from a variety of voices, including Linda Darling-Hammond, Bill Gates, Arne Duncan and Charlotte Danielson. The narration was done by Matt Damon, who famously stood up for teachers during the Save Our Schools March earlier this year.

To break it down…

The Pros

The movie stressed the intellectual prowess required to be an effective teacher and the need for teachers to be treated as professionals. It also gives a ‘day-in-the-life’ experience of how teachers spend their days and how many hours they often work outside of the school day. Also highlighted are the difficulties that these schedules and expectations cause for teachers in their families and home lives, something that is often ignored when teachers are held up as ‘Super(wo)men.’

The Cons

There was still a lot of talk of pay-for-performance. While the specifics were not shared about how this performance is decided, one can assume that a certain percentage is from test scores. (spoiler alert) Many of the teachers in the film left teaching altogether because of the stress and low pay, which is disheartening for those of us who have either watched those around us do the same or for those of us who feel that we have become martyrs for doing what we do.

The biggest con? The website’s real website URL is “The Teacher Salary Project.” ??? ( is portal to the real site) If you read the fine print, you will also find that the movie is partnered with the Microsoft Partners in Learning initiative. Just recently, Bill Gates’ Great Schools Compact took hold here in Philly. While I fully support collaboration between charters and the district, I wonder why it took Bill Gates and his financial sway to bring such a change to the troubled school district.

There was a lot of talk in the movie about figuring out new ways to compensate teachers, with the TEP Charter School in New York being highlighted for it’s $125,000 annual salary for its teachers.  Money troubles and scraping by were common themes in the movie, and while I am not saying that I don’t empathize with a passionate and successful teacher who is also a Harvard grad with a Master’s degree making $45,000/yr, it was not clear that monetary compensation was the message of the movie. That is, until I saw the website.

So I wonder—what is the true message of this movie? I don’t think it had a very clear message. I also wonder if this film would make any difference to a non-educator. A lot of it rang true for me, and I found myself shaking my head almost like a devout worshiper during a particularly moving sermon as the teachers told their stories, but how would a non-teacher react to these stories? Would it seem like sappy drivel?

To learn a little more about the movie, check out the trailer.


Nov 142011

Many people argue that all of the stress on high stakes testing has taken the fun out of learning. Not anymore!

So what if fun can’t be tested…we can still make sure our kids are having fun with this handy Fun Rubric. Through this simple assessment, you can be guaranteed to know whether your students are laughing, smiling and enjoying your classroom at proficient levels.

Thanks to Kim, Ann, Kristen, and Dan for the inspiration for a chuckle!

What I Have Learned About Teaching With a Netbook Cart or “No, They Won’t Break Them”

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Oct 272011

This year I have had the exciting adventure of teaching my Technology class in our K-2 classrooms using a netbook cart.

Some kindergarteners practicing using the trackpad with Starfall.

I have been teaching in a lab for over 3 years, but I had never taught using laptops and I had never taught using a cart before or teaching in a classroom rather than a lab (It is a dream!). I could imagine what some of the challenges might be and planned (pretty well if I do say so myself) for them, and I also laid out a plan for teaching procedures in order to cut down on the time spent on management of the devices, thereby leaving more time for learning with the devices.


Here are some things I’ve learned along the way:

  • Take your time to teach procedures. Sure it may be October and we may not have accomplished much, but man can my kids handle the equipment well.
  • Motor skills can make the trackpad difficult. It’s worth it to take the time to let them get used to it while using  a simple website, though. 90% of my Kindergarteners can successfully click and scroll. For those with vision issues, they can use the touch screen feature. For a couple with a lot of difficulty, I will be bringing in a little mouse.
  • Think about what the students need to be able to do independently. Do you really want to spend the period helping kids navigate a site? Spend an entire class period on the navigation buttons and make sure every kid knows where they are and what they do.
  • Once procedures are fairly in place, put the responsibility into the students’ hands. Why should you be giving out headphones when a first grader can do it just as well?
  • Have a procedure for when it’s time to stop working and set the expectation for what students should be doing with their hands during modeling or instruction. I have kids put their hands in their laps until it’s time to use the netbooks.
  • Make sure the programs that you want to use are on the desktop or the taskbar (Windows) if you are working with little guys.
I’m sure that I will learn a whole bunch more in the coming months, but I feel pretty confident that we are ready to jump in to more complicated work. I couldn’t help but smile yesterday as I sat back and watched

One first grader was in charge of passing out the netbooks. Another was passing out headphones.

some of my first graders facilitate passing out the netbooks and headphones. We really underestimate children sometimes. If we model and teach them the responsible way of doing something, then we can trust that most of the time they will live up to our expectations.

Oct 202011

photo courtesy of CC Chapman on Flickr

As many of you may know, tomorrow is the National Day on Writing. I feel compelled to write this post mostly because I have been writing consistently for almost 20 years and it is part of who I am.

Tucked away in my hallway closet upstairs, wrapped in a plastic bag, are the scribblings, musings, rants and poetry of the last 15-20 years of my life. I’m not sure why I started keeping a journal, but I now have at least 6 of them full to the brim that document everything from detailed descriptions of hanging out with my friends in high school to larger ruminations on themes in Demian to poems lamenting love lost or heart broken.

Perhaps I started writing because I needed someone to listen. I never expected anyone to ever read what I wrote, but it was therapeutic to get my thoughts down on paper. Sometimes, when forced to do so, I might stop and think about how silly I was being. Or, I might be able to work through some kind of emotional pain or anger and come out on the other side with a clearer mind. Whatever the reason, writing was my solace, my savior and my best friend.

I didn’t have a lot of close friends growing up. I wasn’t the kind of girl who whispered secrets or poured her heart out to a BFF. I was a pretty secretive person. Writing filled that burning desire to tell someone, to share my experiences and my opinions or fears or shortcomings or doubts. It was safer for me to write down my feelings than to share them with someone else.

If I could call myself a writer back then, then I would say I was also a voracious reader. Much of my desire to write came from the way that books filled me with inspiration, ideas and caused me to reflect on my own life. Reading was my pathway to the pen. In many ways, this has not changed.

One of the landmark changes in my writing occurred when I began to dabble with poetry. After reading some poems of Saul Williams and taking a writers’ workshop in high school, I began to enjoy the word play, symbolism and brevity of emotion that poetry enabled. These were also some of the first pieces of writing that I ever shared with others, that I opened up to critique. It was powerful stuff.

I continued to write poems throughout college, performing one at a spoken word event and eventually turning them into a handmade books as Christmas presents for my friends and family in 2004. (I actually just self-published a book on Lulu of some of the same poems. I don’t profess it to be the best poetry you’ve ever read.)

About 3 1/2 years ago, I had another huge transition in my writing. I began my Philly Teacher blog. I was still writing in my journal, though the hectic schedule of a teacher prohibited me from visiting it every night. (To this day, I continue to keep a journal next to my bed in case I get the urge—which I still do from time to time.) I decided, though, on December 23, 2008, to trade in the personal, tucked away writing style for something more public. I wrote my first post, The Purpose.  Since then, my writing has been anything but private. Now I write, not for myself, but for others. I am transparent, open and honest. I have readers, I receive feedback on my writing.

I’m not sure what flipped inside of me to make such a transition. Maybe it was that transition into adulthood. Maybe the internal need to share became less selfish. I’ll never know.

What I do know is that it has made all of the difference.

It doesn’t matter why I write–it just matters that I do. I think more clearly, I learn better and sometimes I just manage to stay sane.

Why do you write? 

For more on the National Day on Writing: