The Daring English Teacher Goes Back to School

This post is part of a blog hop that introduces the Literary League! Check out all of the blogs in thelink-up below to read about great first day of school activities and to get to know the teachers that make up the Literary League! 

About Me
Hello! I’m the Daring English Teacher, and this will be my sixth year teaching high school English; however, teaching is actually my second career. I started out working in public relations after graduating with a degree in journalism. I loved writing press releases, managing media campaigns, and traveling to different parts of the world with my clients, but I felt this strong desire to do more for my community. So, I went back to school and earned my teaching credential and Master’s in Education.

I mainly teach freshman English, although some years I teach sophomores as well. However, I must admit: the freshman curriculum is my favorite. I mean, who doesn't love it? I get to read “The Odyssey,” “Romeo and Juliet,” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” every single year!

The majority of my students are English Language Learners, and many of their parents do not speak English at all, so I differentiate my curriculum and utilize scaffolded instructional materials. That is actually how my Teachers Pay Teachers store started: I needed very specific differentiated assignments and lessons for my students.

My Favorite Novel
Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” is my favorite novel – to read and to teach!

I remember the first time I ever read it. I was a junior in high school, and I was drawn to Scout’s narration. Then, I became a teacher and I was able to teach this beloved novel to my students. I developed a whole new love and appreciation for the book. I didn’t think I could love the book any more than I already did, but that all changed the first time I read the book after becoming a parent. Reading the book again through the eyes of a parent was like reading it all over again for the first time. It’s amazing how that happens, and I have to admit that I have sort of a “parent crush” on Atticus. I love his strong moral compass, even though it seems to be a bit tarnished now that “Go Set a Watchman” has been published, and the way he guides his children to see the whole picture.

You can checkout my differentiated lesson plans for Mockingbird here: To Kill a Mockingbird Lesson Plan

My Back to School Activity
Though I did not include this icebreaker in my Back to School Activities for Secondary Students packet, it’s one that I’ve done for the past few years, and I absolutely love it.

Let’s face it: high school students deal with so much more pressure than past generations have. Between social media and growing up a little too quickly, I think, perhaps, that it is actually more challenging to be a teenager now than it has ever been before –and that’s why I LOVE this Post Secret-inspired icebreaker.

I was first introduced to the Post Secret blog (and this activity) in a creative writing class in college. Every week this blog posts readers’ anonymous (and sometimes very deep, dark, or private) online (with permission –the secrets were sent in by their owners) for the world to see.

So, on the very first day of school, I say hello and hand out a notecard to every single student as they step through the threshold and enter my classroom. They probably think the notecard is for the typical name, address, parent contact information –and they couldn’t be more wrong. I tell them that I will be able to convince them to share their deepest secret with me, and that I’ll share it aloud in class. You should see their shocked faces!

Then, without telling my students the name of the blog, I explain the blog and show them a generic PowerPoint that I created using some of the recent (and more appropriate) Post Secret secrets. 

You can download that PowerPoint for free here: Post Secret Icebreaker PowerPoint
I explain to them that writing down a secret like this can be therapeutic and cleansing, and that it might make them feel better to get it out in the open. I also explain to them that by doing this exercise together as a class, we might actually learn that we are not alone and that other people in the class are going through what we are going through at the same time.

>>> Icebreaker Rules <<<
1. Students write down their deepest secret on the notecard.
2. Teacher collets notecards face down as students finish (without looking!).
3. Teacher includes his or her own real secret in the pile.
4.  Teacher tells students to keep track of how many secrets they can relate to.
5. Teacher reads all secrets aloud.
6. Teacher rips up secrets and throws them away.
7. Teacher asks students to raise their hands if they related to one secret, two secrets, three secrets, and so on.

If done correctly (and I cannot stress just how important following the rules is), this is a very powerful, emotional, and moving icebreaker. While we don't get to know quirky facts about each other on the first day, everyone in the room (teacher included) learns that we all have our strengths, weaknesses, and struggles. We all learn that we have more in common than we initially thought. We all learn to be a bit more empathetic.

Why I Teach Text Annotation During the First Week of School

With the new school year on the horizon, many teachers across the nation, myself included, are preparing for the back-to-school season. The first few days back to school after summer break are always a bit chaotic: students’ schedules are changing, the new year’s routine is beginning, and teachers and students are getting to know one another.

Once the ice-breakers and getting to know you activities of the first week back to school are over, I like to teach my students a quick lesson on annotating text before diving into our short story unit.

How to teach annotating text to middle and high school students.

How to teach annotating text to middle and high school students.
There are two reasons why I start the school year with teaching annotation: one, I find it to be a very useful skill that helps students in all areas of school; two, I want all of my students on the same page (or at least the same chapter) when it comes to reading text; and three, knowing how to annotate text is part of the common core curriculum. Also, I like to teach this in the beginning so that students don’t highlight an entire document.

One of the most important aspects of teaching annotating text to secondary students is to emphasize tackling just a small section of text at a time. All too often high school students will dive right into too much of a challenging text at a time. With teaching annotating text, you want to make sure that students only work with a small portion of text at a time. This allows the students to really look at and understand what the text means. Don’t be afraid to ask students to read just 1-3 sentences at a time. The goal as you annotate is to read the text closely, not in its entirety at once.

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Another thing I emphasize when teaching text annotation to my students is to go back and reread all of your notes and annotations to make sure that they still make sense and to see if there is anything else that can be added. For example, as you read through more of the text, you might find that the meaning has changed, or that, perhaps, you have a deeper understanding of the first few paragraphs now that you’ve read the entire document!
Annotating Text Made Easy: Ideal for middle and high school students.
I sell my Annotating Text Made Easy lesson in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. It goes over both of these points as it walks students (and teachers) step-by-step through the annotating process. This resource is a zipped file that contains an editable PowerPoint presentation and a PDF filled with an annotation guide and annotation activity with suggested answer key (& more). I’ve used this lesson for an observation in the past, and my administrators were very pleased with the thoroughness of the lesson and with how engaged the students were.

Three Tips to Ace Your Teacher Job Interview

You’ve send out dozens of resumes and finally landed an interview for your first teaching job. After your celebrate getting the interview, you need to do some preparation to make sure that you do your best.

In order to stand out and be the best candidate you can be, you need to:
Be Professional
Be Prepared
Be Yourself

Be Professional
1. Dress appropriately. I can’t tell you how many job interviews and career fairs I’ve been a part of where potential candidates did not dress professionally. A suit and tie, or a suit and collared shirt isn’t necessarily required, but you should at least wear dress slacks or a knee length pencil shirt and an appropriate top. This helps your stand out and look professional. The last thing you want is to look like a student.

2. Use appropriate language in your interview. Do not, I repeat, do not talk about inappropriate topics during your interview. You are a professional. The interview is no place for jokes, sarcasm, slang, or foul language.

3. Be aware of your body language. Yes, job interviews can be intimidating and nerve-wracking, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to slouch and relax. Sit up straight, keep your fidgeting at bay, and make a conscious effort to make eye contact with every single person on the interview panel!

Be Prepared
1. Practice what you are going to say and how you will respond to typical interview questions. The key to practicing what you are going to say is to pretend that you are in your interview. If you mess up, stumble, or say something incorrectly, go with it until you finish answering the question. Then, start all over again with the same question. The more times you respond aloud to certain questions, the better prepared you will be.  There is a list of common teacher interview questions at the end of this post.

2. Research information about the school, school district, and surrounding area. Before going into your interview, it is important to learn as much as you can about the school, school district and surrounding area. Look up the school and school district’s demographics, strengths, weaknesses, school-wide learning goals, mission statement, and more. The more you know about the job, the better. It will show the interview panel initiative.

3. Prepare some questions and comments of your own. Typically, interviews will end with the panel asking you if you have any questions or if you have anything else that you would like to add. While you may feel relief that the interview is coming to an end, the last thing you want to do is keep quite here. Iterate why you are the ideal candidate for this position and/or ask questions about the job, the department, or when the panel will be making their decision. This shows that you are interested in the job.

Be Yourself
An interviewer is going to see right through you if you try to be someone else or embody a different education philosophy than you believe in. In your interview, be the best version of YOU, and you will go through. You want to seem genuine and sincere, and being yourself is the best way to achieve that.

Finally, remember to smile and thank your interview panel for their time and for the opportunity to interview.

Common Interview Questions
  • Tell us a little about yourself
  • Why do you want to work at this school?
  • What are you the best candidate for the position?
  • What is your educational philosophy?
  • What is your classroom management philosophy?
  • How do you handle parent contact?
  • Run us through a typical day in your classroom.
  • What is the most challenging thing you’ve encountered in the classroom?

English Teachers on TpT Come Together for American Author, Harper Lee

I remember the very first time I read Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I was in tenth grade, and I immediately fell in love with it. I fell in love all over again with the classic American novel the first time I read the book as a teacher. And now, as I read the novel as a parent, I’ve gained a whole new love, appreciation, and respect for everything this novel is and everything it stands for.

Several months ago, you can only imagine how delighted I was to read that Harper Lee would soon be publishing another novel –and that it was tied to Mockingbird. I was giddy with excitement. And today, the eve of the novel’s publication, it feels like Christmas Eve.

My book is preordered on Amazon, and I can guarantee you that every.single.time I hear a truck driving through my neighborhood my heart rate will increase in anticipation of its delivery!

To celebrate Harper Lee’s new novel, “Go Set a Watchman,” several English teachers on TpT came together to throw a sale, and you can save up to 20%. My entire store will be on sale tomorrow (20% off) to commemorate this glorious day!

To see other stores participating in this sale, visit this link: Study All Knight blog.

Back to School Writing Prompts for the Secondary Classroom

Back to school writing prompts and activities for the secondary classroom.
One of the simplest ways to get to know your new students is to have them write about themselves. This is one of the reasons why I typically assign a personal narrative essay or personal statement within the first couple weeks of school. I don’t grade these essays critically, and I don’t look for specific grammatical errors, either. Instead, I am interested in getting to know my students. I want to know who they are. I want to know where they come from. I want to know what they’ve experienced. I want to know their hopes, their dreams, their failures, and their fears.
Back to school writing prompts and activities for the secondary classroom.
Getting to know my students through their personal narratives allows me to have a glimpse into their life –one that if often times very beneficial for me as their English teacher.

Assigning a personal narrative in the beginning of the school year doesn’t have to mean assigning a full, five-paragraph essay. These personal narratives can be anywhere between a sentence long to several paragraphs.

Here are some of my go-to back-to-school writing prompts for secondary students.
  • What did you do over summer break?
  • What was your favorite thing about summer break?
  • What was your least favorite part of summer break?
  • What song best represents your summer break and why?
  • What movie best represents your summer break and why?
  • What life lessons did you learn over summer break?
  • What accomplishments did you achieve over summer break?
  • What hardships did you experience over summer break?
  • What was your favorite thing about school last year?
  • What was your least favorite part about school last year?
  • What class was your favorite and why?
  • Which class did you struggle with the most and why?
  • What life lessons did you learn last school year?
  • What accomplishments did you achieve last school year?
  • What hardships did you experience last school year?
  • What obstacles did you face last school year and how did you overcome them?
  • What are your goals for this school year?
  • What is the most frightening thing about a new school year?
  • What is the most exciting thing about a new school year?
  • What are you most excited for this year?
  • What are you dreading about this school year?
  • What current obstacles or hardships are you facing this school year?
  • As your teacher, how can I best help you succeed in my classroom?
  • What do you want me to know about you?
  • What is your most cherished childhood memory? Describe the event/memory in detail.
  • What is the biggest challenge you have ever faced? How did you overcome this obstacle?
  • What is your life dream and how to you plan to achieve it?
  • Describe the most frightening moment of your life.
  • What are you most proud of and why?
  • What is a typical day in your life like? Explain in detail.

One of my favorite things about the back-to-school season is getting to know my new students. There are many different Back to School resources I use to learn all about my new students. My Back to School Activities packet is filled with getting-to-know-you activities and ice breakers. My Growth Mindset Activities packet helps students begin the school year by cultivating a growth mindset.

Going digital this year? I transformed my BTS activity packet to for the growing need for digital resources. Check out my SMARTePlans Back to School Activities for the Google Classroom!

Back to school writing prompts and activities for the secondary classroom.