Teachers Need Soup

Teachers, you need soup.

Good soup. Immune-system-bolstering soup. Vitamin-rich, high-protein, thick-with-veggies, bounce-back-from-long-days soup. Homemade soup.

If you think you’re too busy to make soup during the school year, think again. This over-scheduled, corner-cutting working mom makes a vat of soup every Sunday afternoon (and lives off of it all week long).

First, one caveat: quick soup is still slower than boxed pasta or a frozen meal. You soup will be ready about an hour after you start cooking it. Fortunately, you can grade papers for most of the soup’s cooking time.

Second, please don’t expect gourmet soup. I’m an over-scheduled, corner-cutting working mom. This is survival soup, people. If you want foodie soup, come see me over winter break.

Third, all soup is pretty much the same. Soup recipes follow a similar 3-step template. There are many delicious permutations – this one is really simple and will perk your immune system right up.


The Joy of Giving Back: Citizen Science

If you’re a science teacher, you might find it difficult to cross a crowded room without hearing the words, “Have you heard of this citizen science project, eBird/Be a Martian/Air Quality Treks/etc.?” A science teacher looking for a service learning project is spoiled for choice these days. Our students can dial into global databases on almost any topic, supporting professional scientists brave enough to crowdsource data collection or analysis. I’m all for it.

Examples from My Classroom
My 7th grade students recently followed the lead of Belwin Conservancy’s intrepid director by planting 50 Red Emperor tulips for Journey North’s climate tracking Tulip Test Garden program.

My biology students removed invasive species and gathered prairie seeds at local parks this fall, in cahoots with an array of local partners. After the seeds complete their “winter” in the staff break room fridge, we’ll grow them in the greenhouse and plant them in park restoration projects this spring.


#notalkWC for Owl Pellet Dissection

I was recently captivated by Alice Keeler’s #notalkWC – No Talk to Whole Class approach. This teaching method employs individual, partner, and small group lesson designs that students can complete without a teacher’s whole-class instruction.

I originally discovered this approach out of sheer necessity in 2012, when working with a bright, creative, lively, and oppositional group of high school students. Although this class was motivated to learn and had positive interactions with me as individuals, any whole-class instruction efforts I initiated quickly imploded. Large-group instruction triggered many of the students in this class to act out, and their disruptions were so severe that they completely derailed lessons that had worked for every other class I’d taught before.

So I shifted my approach. When students arrived in class, I greeted them individually, provided learning materials, and gave one-on-one instructions for how to get started on the lesson. During the whole class, I…
I’ve been imagining happy biology students. Indulging in summertime rest – feet up, ice water in hand – I love looking forward with optimism. When I imagine effervescent 14-year-old biologists, they're talking. In Designing Groupwork, Cohen and Lotan note research showing that learning is significantly related to talking on-task. I’d love to get my students talking next year, but figuring out how to group them has always been a stumbling block for me – it’s a job that’s time-consuming and riddled with potential potholes.

Then I read Sarah Brown Wessling’s blog post on making magnets for student grouping. She sprayed black board paint on business card magnets, and then wrote a student name on each magnet. Sarah keeps the magnets on her white board; this allows her to moves student seamlessly from group to group.

I wanted to try Sarah’s idea, but …

Megan + paint = disaster.

So I found adhesive chalk labels and stuck them on business card labels – a perfect fit!

Come Sept…
Monty Python, Matt Damon, & Teacher Powered Schools
By Megan Olivia Hall

When it comes to film characters, I’d say I most identify with Dennis the Constitutional Peasant from Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail. Well, Dennis and his nameless mother. You remember the scene where King Arthur comes upon two peasants mucking around in the fields, and they engage him in a political debate? My favorite line:

Dennis: I’m 37! I’m not old!

Just kidding. Although I do like it when Dennis says this. I just turned 37 and was starting to feel old. Problem solved by Dennis. Here is my actual favorite line:

Dennis’s Mother: I didn’t know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective.

Like Dennis’s mother, I embrace the delusion that I’m working in an autonomous collective. I’m not – I teach within a very large, very hierarchical school district – my work is in no way autonomous. By the grace and mystery of the universe, my teacher colleagues and I occasionally …

I #loveteaching!

I #loveteaching because teaching is real. When we teach, we are accountable to our students and their families in a way that can’t be measured, but can be felt. I’m connected to my students and their future lives by every kind word, every carefully worded note of feedback, every call home — even the grades I enter in the digital grade book mean something real and visceral, serving as the steppingstones to college and professional livelihoods.

There’s a story about my husband that’s told within our circle of friends. Before he met me, my husband went on a blind date with a woman working on product development for a major food company. As they ate their dinners, she told him about working nights and weekends. My husband, who is no stranger to 60- and 80-hour weeks, finally exclaimed in mystification, “But…they’re just snacks!” Our long hours in teaching are driven by the compelling connection with kids and their lives – every extra bit that we do can make a real difference. Somet…

Reflections While Gardening

"Reflections While Gardening" is published on the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) website.