What would you like to see on beyond the bell?

Hello everyone!

First, I want to say thank you… we had an amazing response to our teacher retention poll, and we loved hearing from you. And doing that poll gave us an idea.

This blog, at its core, is about building community. About delivering quality content you will find useful and entertaining. About giving you a space to find your kind of people and feel like you have a tribe behind you. And because of these things, this blog will always be evolving to suit the needs of our readers.

So what we want to know is, what do you want to hear? Which of our content has really hit home for you? Which content did you feel was less than stellar (don’t worry, you won’t hurt our feelings)? What is something you would like to see more of, or maybe have us introduce to the blog? Help us make this a space for you, our readers.

I’m attaching a Google form. Please, pass it along and help us to grow and improve the beyond the bell community! We can’t wait to hear from you 😊


To Teach or Not to Teach…

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In the short time I’ve been a part of this profession, there is something that keeps coming up that concerns me. And that is the number of teachers that leave the profession after only five years or less in the classroom.

As a professional, this raises many questions. And as a mother, it raises many concerns. Why is it that so many educators, after so short a time, leave the classroom?

So far, the answers seem to fall into one of these categories:

  • Teachers don’t make enough money
  • The demands of the job outweigh the rewards
  • There isn’t enough support for teachers, from the community, administration, or even on the government level

A lot of good teachers are ditching the profession for something else. It’s something I’ve considered doing (after only one year in the classroom). It’s something Bridget has also considered (after a decade in the public school system). I’m sure it’s something that has crossed many of your minds. And my question is…why?

Yes, I know I listed the categories above. But I want to hear from you. I’m doing something here that we’ve never asked you guys to do before. I’m attaching a Google form in the hopes that you will fill it out with your own personal reasons for leaving the profession. Or maybe you’ve decided to stay, but there are some things you think would make your job and your life run more smoothly. The bottom line is, I want to know what is missing from the profession that makes so many people leave/consider leaving.

I really hope you take the time to fill out this research survey. This research is essential to a couple of things I have in the works, and I can’t do it without you!

I want you to know you have a space to voice your concerns. Your reasons are being heard. Someone is here to listen.


**Here is the link to the Google Form. If you are an educator, past or present, I strongly encourage you to fill it out!


Book Review: Half of a Yellow Sun—Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Every now and then, I come across a book written, not by an author, but by a storyteller. Someone who has mastered the art and power of language. Half of a Yellow Sun immediately struck me as a novel written by such a person. Raw, real, revolutionary, it was one of those books I lost myself in. I forgot I was reading, I was so immersed in the story.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has a way of writing that is both hard-hitting and beautiful. In the past, Bridget and I have talked about books that contained language so beautiful, we felt compelled to write it down. If I’m being truthful, this was not one of those books. There wasn’t a line that stood out or that compelled me to record it. Rather, the words did one thing and one thing only–that was convey the brutally fragile humanity of a society in turmoil. It wasn’t the words that stood out, but the characters. It wasn’t the language that drew me in, but the complexities of the relationships Adichie so expertly navigated. It wasn’t poetry, but stark portrayal of loss and remorse, triumph and love that kept me coming back for more. Adichie didn’t just write a story–she captured a volatile record of a country in wartime. And she did all of these things expertly.

To say I loved this novel would be to misspeak. The terminology would be all wrong. Rather, this novel challenged me intellectually. It filled me with questions. It drew me in. I respected this novel. I knew, right away that I would recommend this novel. In short, Half of a Yellow Sun did what a good novel should do. It made me notice and experience it.

You will not find any book quotes in this post. But you will find a challenge–if you are looking for someone who so expertly depicts the complexities of the human condition, then I challenge you to go out and read this book. Experience this book. Because it is a novel of true, masterful storytelling, and it deserves to be experienced.


Setting Professional Goals During Summer Break

If a day ever comes where I stop learning, it will be a sad day indeed. Like any good teacher, I believe in the revolutionary power of education, and I know that learning drives progress. But how do we continue to set professional goals during summer break and battle teacher burnout?

If any of you are like me, the first two weeks of break involved as little intellectual stimulation as possible. Pleasure reading, playing with my daughter, online shopping, and countless episodes of Call the Midwife have dominated my summer so far. But, as inevitably happens, as we near the midway point of week 3, I find myself needing to be productive.

We all know that professional development is important. And for many of us, it’s mandatory, so whether you like it or not, sister you’re learning something new (or brother… we don’t discriminate here!) But my introductory exposure to PD has led me to see that the options for approved professional development don’t always align with what we want to learn. Rather, we must try to find a course that has something we can grasp onto that might align with next year’s goals. Or, if we do find something that perfectly aligns, it may conflict with other obligations, which means we have to bypass it.

Summer is a time for catching up on your Next List or traveling or chasing after kids, etc. It’s also really easy to waste all of those weeks doing nothing productive, then looking up with the new year looming just a few days away and realizing you are in no way prepared. So how do we battle this? Here are some tips and tricks to help make sure you stay on track this summer.

Make a List

The first thing you need to do is to decide what you want next year to look like. Are there new strategies you want to try? New classroom norms you want to implement? Do you need to create a Donors Choose for something your classroom desperately needs? Making lists is such an easy place to start. And, the great thing is that a list will give you some direction when you find yourself floundering in all of that newfound free time.

Set a Schedule

Now that you have that list, you need to put it to use. Which means setting a schedule. If it’s a Donors Choose, you know you need to have that created ASAP or it won’t be funded in time. If it’s something that requires research, you can set reading goals and determine a finish date. Either way, setting a schedule will help prevent that dreaded monster we fight with our students all year–procrastination.

Read the Books

If there’s something new you’re thinking of trying (and if you haven’t tried anything new in a while, then it’s time to revamp!) then seeking out the expertise of those who have gone before is never a bad idea. Ask your PLN for book recommendations (maybe that PLN includes us. And if it does, we are always glad to offer up what we’re reading/studying). Peruse your shelves for books that maybe you’ve read, but you could revisit for new strategies. Maybe you have books that you’ve been dying to read but just haven’t had the time. Or maybe your Audible que if full of the recommendations you’ve been stockpiling throughout the year. Whatever it may be, there is no better time than summer for reading. So. Read the books. Learn the things.


I don’t know about you all, but I am very stingy with my personal time. Having to pick my daughter up at daycare insures that I leave work by 4 every day, and once I’m home, I try to be home. Which means I need to make the most of the hours I have at school.

This also means that if I use my summer wisely, I can better prioritize my time during the year.

Obviously, I can’t plan my whole year to a T (read my Back to Basics post for the importance of adaptability), but I can produce an outline of what I want to cover when (ex–180 days by Kittle and Gallagher). I can roughly decide how I want to approach concepts. I can brainstorm and develop creative, engaging activities that will (hopefully) get my students excited about learning.

By putting in the work now, I’m saving precious time later, so that school doesn’t dominate my life when I’m not there.

Summer should not be dominated by work. With the time and energy educators put in during the school year, you’ve earned this break. And, realistically, for many of you this is a time of second jobs (or third jobs) so you really don’t get much of a break at all. So I’m not saying you should dive all in and monopolize time that should be spent with family or on self care.

I do think, however, that by being proactive, we can set ourselves up for a little less stress later. I hope the tips listed above help, and if you have anything that specifically works for you, please share below.

So set those Professional Goals. But remember to take care of yourself too! Happy summer.


Back to Basics: Rewinding and Relearning

Since I’m home with my daughter this summer, I’ve decided to make it my mission to teach her how to read. We’ve always kept a text-rich environment in our home, and recently, she has been showing me signs that she’s ready. So for the past two days, we’ve been doing “school”–setting aside about 20 minutes to work on the basics.

Primary education is not my forte. I do NOT do well with other people’s small children, and I thrive more in an environment where I am just as intellectually challenged as my students. But lately, I’ve been considering the possibility of homeschooling my daughter, and I thought teaching her to read would be a nice little indicator if this is something she and I can do successfully together.

It’s funny. Working with a three year old, I realize in some ways, I do not have strength in some of the skills needed to be that rockstar teacher for her. On the other hand, I feel like teaching secondary last year is helping me in ways I wouldn’t have realized.

Teaching her to read is kind of like coming full circle–going back to the beginning, where my love of literature started, and hoping that passion transfers to her. And this whole process has made me look at teaching in a new light. It’s refreshing, and it reminds me of some of the things I think it’s easy to forget.

Individualizing Instruction Makes All the Difference

J. is three. This means she has a short attention span, boundless energy, and endless curiosity. I have to switch gears pretty quickly to keep her engaged, involve technology, and practice patience as she wriggles and moves during one of our lessons.

We all know that every kid doesn’t learn the same. And with a system created during the industrial revolution, we know that many of our students are not in an environment that is conducive to optimal learning. As class sizes grow and teachers fall under more strain, it’s difficult to keep up with everything we have to do. But there are few things that can compete with individualizing instruction for our students. Obviously, we cannot create a custom learning plan for every student that comes through our classroom. It’s just not possible. But we can incorporate strategies that focus on choice and self-directed learning, through which we can help guide our students so that they receive the best education we have to offer.

Adaptability is Key

I can try to plan a lesson. I can script what I’ll say, do hours of research, and create amazing activities. But all of that means squat if I can’t be adaptable. We all know that with toddlers, you must be able to shift gears quickly, but the same goes for the seniors I taught last year.

Yes, do the research, write your script, go crazy with adorable supplies you found at your local craft store, and create those truly incredible activities. All of these things are important, and I’m a firm believer in approaching teaching in a way that makes you feel energized and excited. BUT none of those things take into account the fact that our students are human. That they wriggle, fall asleep, have angry outbursts, will not (for the love of all that is holy) quit trying to sneak in time on their phones, and ask questions we could never in a million years anticipate.

It doesn’t matter how many hours you put in. At the end of it all, if you can’t roll with the punches and adapt to the needs of your students, you are not going to be able to reach them.

Students Know When You Care

Are you excited about your subject? Do you radiate enthusiasm in your classroom? Or have you lost sight of why you began teaching in the first place and dread going to work?

Students can tell. No matter what society may tell us, students are intuitive. They know when you’re there for them versus when you don’t even know why you’re there anymore. They know if you care about them and their learning. They know if you love (or hate) what you teach.

If they don’t like you, kids aren’t going to work for you. That’s the truth. And if they know you don’t care, then they’re definitely not going to. Your energy in the classroom is infectious, and students are going to give back what you put in.

Sometimes, we have to forget the standards, forget the obligations, forget the mountains of stress and just show up for our kids. At the end of the day, if my students have learned something from me, even if it doesn’t fall under a state mandated standard, I feel I have accomplished something. We spend more time with our students than anyone else. We have more influence than we realize. So when we show that we care about what they’re learning and if they’re learning it, we can make a difference.

The tips listed above may seem obvious to you. At first, I wondered if they were even worth writing down for you all. But I think in the midst of everything educators have to worry about, we sometimes forget even the most basic things. We fall down that dark hole of obligation, crushed by the expectations heaped on us by the state, by our communities, by our colleagues.

I’m hear to tell you that when you feel lost or overwhelmed, take it back to the basics. Remember why you stepped into the classroom. Remember your mission. Because in the end, we are there for our kids, and they are what’s important.


Teaching writing starts with teachers writing

Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on Pexels.com

If you tell your students what to say and how to say it, you may never hear them, only the pale echoes of what they imagine you want them to be. ~Donald Murray

In the last several years, I have been challenged (in the best possible way) to get out there and write by one of my teaching idols, Amy Rasmussen, of the Three Teachers Talk Blog. In her professional development sessions at TCTELA, she has challenged her attendees with this question, “How many of you consider yourselves writers?” That first year, I lowered my hand. She followed up with, “How can we truly appreciate the difficulty our students face when we don’t struggle through writing?”

**Insert knife in heart**

Before that moment, I would bring my carefully-crafted piece of writing, complete with its correct spelling and punctuation and strong introduction. Something I spent hours creating, laid in front of students in a quick flash. It was left to them to assume the creative process I went through to get that piece of writing on the document camera in front of them. Since I was an English teacher, surely it was easier for me than it was for them.

Amy was right. I had robbed my students of the opportunity to see the struggle that comes with writing. That it took me HOURS to get the words on the page to be “just right.” That I had to use an electronic thesaurus to come up with more precise wording. That I wrote one sentence twelve times before I liked the way it sounded.

Writing is freaking HARD! And we cannot teach our students to write effectively if we haven’t gone through that struggle ourselves.

So, I had to change. I started writing in front of my students. I modeled the vulnerability I wanted to see in them. I let them watch as I failed (sometimes miserably) to pull the best words from my brain, to spell words correctly, to begin and end a piece of writing powerfully. I let them help me try and try and try again. In conjunction with this process, I began implementing Writers Workshop. I watched students as they began to blossom in their own writing. Through workshop, they began to raise their voice through writing. Through the workshop approach, I became an English teacher.

Since moving into teacher leadership, I try to be a disciple of Amy’s message with the teachers I work with, particularly when it comes to teaching writing. This week, I got to spend two days of professional development working with my beloved secondary English teachers discussing literacy practices that last. We spent ample time participating in authentic reading and writing practices, approaching the training as students of literacy rather than teachers. In one particular activity in which I did a model lesson for integrated reading and writing, I asked teachers to read two texts related to loving one’s heritage and beauty. I have included the lesson sequence below:

In the writing phase, we explored madman writing discussed in Betty S. Flowers article, Madman, Architect, Carpenter, Judge: Roles and the Writing Process. According to Flowers, there are four personas a person should adopt when writing. The madman is the initial phase when a person lays a gush of language on the page with no outside voices governing the words and flow of the piece of writing. The architect looks at the writing and selects large chunks of writing to arrange them in a pattern. The carpenter nails ideas together in a logical sequence, making sure each sentence is clearly written, creating a flow of one sentence to the next. The judge comes back to inspect for punctuation, spelling, grammar, etc. Sometimes, the judge tries to come in during madman writing. When the judge enters, imagine the voice of a grouchy English teacher saying, “You need a comma there!” In our writing activity, we practiced shushing the judge until it was her turn during the final look at the piece of writing.

I loved watching the teachers rapidly laying words on a page in any structure of their choosing. I saw them think and write and think and write and cross out and write. I saw them as their judge began to creep in, and they shook her away. Some had a hard time shushing their judge. (I can fully connect with these individuals as I find it very hard to turn my judge judge off as well.) As we shared our drafts with a shoulder partner, I saw them shyly give an introduction to their writing but not before giving a disclaimer about how rough a draft it really is. I saw myself in them, afraid to let other English teachers see weakness. Feeling very much like my students when I ask them to put their writing into the world. But, at my request, they bravely shared parts of themselves with others in the room, gifting another with a piece of their souls.

And because of their bravery, I was able to newly meet teachers I’ve known for years. Because of their bravery, students can feel like equal partners in their writing journey, rather than pupils to a master. Because of their bravery, we have the gift of words.

Thank you to Sue and Katy for allowing me to publish your drafts!

Poem by Sue Penry

Poem by Katy Wheeler

Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones, in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.

~Tom Stoppard


Guest Post: Remind

The students left school on Thursday.  They physically removed themselves from my room, but the reminders of their presence still hang on my walls and clutter my bookshelves.  

Friday was a teacher work day. I cleaned out paper and digital files; I organized and deleted, but the reminders of the student presence was still there.  I saved key samples of work and archived Google Classroom assignments. I said goodbye to a principal and joined my department in presenting him signed mementos of our Major League efforts under his coaching and supervision.

I woke up on Saturday morning trying to remind myself that it was my first day of summer vacation, but I really didn’t have that feeling until I woke up on Monday. As my eleven-year-old daughter slept late, I snuck in a few Netflix shows I can’t watch when she’s around and tried to remember all of the errands and plans I had, not only for that day, but for the whole summer. There were many things on that list—everything from self-care to planning for the next school year. But first thing was going to the school to prep for this summer’s professional development.

I looked forward and I looked back.  As I recalled and reflected upon what went well last year, a myriad of student faces populated the walls of my memories.  Then, *Ding* I got a Remind.com text (an app that so many people still call  Remind 101) from a parent about her son.  I answered her question, but then decided it was time to clean out this account.  

So, I have since learned the recommendations to archive classes and reuse favorite codes (https://www.remind.com/blog/class-cleanup), but, yesterday, I just went through and clicked on each connection, then clicked “Remove From Class.”

I was not prepared for how much it broke my heart each time I severed that tie.  The act of willfully letting go, then the emotional impact of each deletion needed to be put to words as my core being strove to find meaning and process these reactions.

What metaphor could I choose?  This feeling reminded me of the old practice of marking people out of an address book once they mysteriously moved with no forwarding information or the modern practice of unfriending someone on social media.  My former students, their parents/guardians, and I no longer have that seemingly instant and direct way to communicate.

As I contemplated metaphors, I found an interesting resource that I want to remember to order:

And just like that…as I sit here and read excerpts from this resource, my melancholy takes flight.  The raven is no longer pecking at my heart. An owl has swooped in….a Hedwig of inspiration, giving me hope and perspective out of these clouds and tears, guides me towards the adventures that my next school year holds.  

Through the effort of trying to remember words to express my grieving for the connections that are done, I have found mentor texts and examples for next year’s lessons.  

The lesson cycle has moved past closure to the rest that separates it from the next engagement.  

The sun is a daily reminder that we too can rise again from the darkness, that we too can shine our own light.

Sara Ajna

Katy Wheeler is looking forward to her 12th year as a public school teacher.  She has wanted to teach as long as she can remember. Her educational philosophy incorporates the following ideas:

Education must be holistic and comprehensive in its approach. Education must be ongoing and progressive. Education must be student-centered.

Whether it’s teaching public school, private school, university level, or overseas, Mrs. Wheeler tries to always focus on doing what will help her students find success.