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How and Why I Try to Bring Democracy to the Classroom

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What Apple Spritzer on a High-Speed Train Taught Me About Challenging Students

There we were, me, my wife, and my two young children, one day out from a six-hour drive followed by a nine-hour overnight flight and a two-hour connection, operating on just one night of jet-lagged sleep, hiking through the cars of a Karlsruhe-bound InterCity Express train in search of the restaurant car.

We finally found it, and the menu was happily, gloriously German. Currywurst and eintopf and pancakes with applesauce, and, much to the kids' delight, there was apfel schorle to drink. Apfel schorle--apple spritzer--is the ingenious German combination of apple juice and sparkling water. Not only does it cut down the amount of sugar your kid ingests, but it's also much more fun than regular juice.

So I dust off my passable German and order auf Deutsch even though the cashier surely knows English. And as she hands me the bottles of schorle, she also hands me a pair of stemmed, glass goblets. For the kids.

You heard that right: Glass goblets from which the kids are to drink th…

What Teachers Really Think About Summer

The lockers are all cleaned out. The certificates of achievement have all been printed and the yearbooks are stacked up and ready for distribution. Lesson plans have been replaced with Minute to Win It games. And candy. Oh boy, is there candy. Everywhere.

The last day of school is nothing if not festive. The tension that has been building up the past few weeks is finally released. The students worried about summer school have now pulled out passing grades. Teachers stressing over how to keep students engaged as the weather warms up now begin planning their own time basking in the sun. It's all sandals and sunglasses and smiles.

School's out for summer. Let the celebration begin! Amirite?

Meh.

I can't speak for every teacher, but for me, the end of the school year brings very mixed feelings. Yes, a part of me is happy, but most of me is experiencing a complex combination of feelings and emotions. What follows are four things I feel when the final school bell rings:

I feel m…

It Takes a Faculty

I can distinctly remember the first time a student gigglingly told me I was her favorite teacher. Honestly, it came as a shock. I knew that she and I had a good relationship, but it had never occurred to me that I, struggling first-year Mr. K, might actually be a student's favorite.

I realize that being the "favorite" is not our job as teachers. But I think most of us will also admit that we like it when a student bestows us with this title. It's nice to have that confirmation of a good relationship, and it often seems as though the student feels he or she is giving you a gift by letting you in on the secret.

Sometimes, I'll have a student tell me I'm their "second favorite" teacher. Not bad. And on the last day of school last week, a student left a package of Skittles on my desk, along with a note that said she was getting candy for her four favorite teachers (she didn't say where I ranked within the four). It gave me a chuckle, but it also go…

Public School Teachers: It's Time to Speak Up

I'd like to make an argument that might sound self-serving, or even audacious, but which is actually quite defensible, and, I would argue, indisputable:

Public school teachers are the linchpin of the American Dream.

Your reaction to that statement probably has a lot to do with your background, your career, and maybe even your political beliefs. Some of you will zero in on the word "public," and notice that it excludes private school teachers. This is intentional, but not because private school teachers aren't important. It's intentionally exclusive because private schools aren't accessible to everyone, and universal accessibility is crucial to the American Dream.

Others of you might focus on the word "linchpin," and think I'm over-stating the case. You might agree that public school teachers play an important role, but you might disagree that their role is essential. Or, you might argue teaching is one of many professions that are important to t…

Failure-Friendly Classrooms Must Be Socially Safe, Too

"I didn't think this was going to work!"

Those were the words that came whispered out of my student's mouth as we both looked on at a group of her classmates exuberantly playing the game she had designed.

It was Tuesday, the day after a three-day weekend, and even though I wouldn't have put it in those terms, I had started the day with my own concerns about how exactly things were going to go.

At the start of each unit in my Ancient Civilizations class, I have the students brainstorm classroom decorations and activities that align with our subject matter for that unit. We vote on each idea, and the best ones become part of an end-of-unit celebration.

Originally, we'd planned to hold our Ancient Mesopotamia celebration just before the holiday break. But as December began to draw to a close it became clear that many students would be out of town and would miss the party. So I rescheduled it for after the break. As happens with 12-year-olds, many students heard …

We Make Magic Happen

Since I became a teacher I've become less concerned about embarrassing myself. So I'm not afraid to admit that I spent much of last week listening to 90s-era ballads from the likes of Boys II Men and All 4 One. In other words, I've been listening to the music of my high school prom.

The reason for this musical mini-obsession is that my students had their Senior Prom last week. Their excitement filled me with memories of my own time in high school. I relayed this to my friend, mentor, and fellow teacher, Mike, who responded by saying that prom is "The most romantic part of high school." He's exactly right -- not in the "short-term-high-school relationship" sense of "romance" -- but rather, in a magical sense. Prom in particular, and high school in general, feels special because it is special. And it's special not because of some inherent specialness, but because it has been deliberately imbued with meaning by students, school staff, pa…