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.