Friday, December 12, 2014

Building Buy In: Movement is Not Just for Kinesthetic Learners

by Dan Bruno, M.Ed., NBCT

"Jab." "Jab." "Jab." "Jab." (Sung) Dance...Boogie Wonderland. Sounds like the weirdest location for a boxing match ever or the most aggressive disco in history. It was neither. This was my C Block today, learning what I learned this past July at the 2014 Teaching Shakespeare Institute. As we learned in one of our acting sessions, Shakespeare's language is meant to tasted, touched, heard, smelled, and seen. This full bodied experience of the language helps to internalize meaning. But my third block class wasn't studying Shakespeare. So what was I doing? Why was I doing it? Who is the mysterious author with whose works I was engaging?

The English 11 class I am currently teaching is just starting their work on A Streetcar Named Desire. Getting Williams's work on its feet is no different than putting Shakespeare's work on its feet, so I decided to engage the students in some warm-ups that would teach them some of the basics of acting.

I feel the need to interject a note here about what I mean when I say "acting." The students were not channeling Meryl Streep or Denzel Washington. Rather, when I say "acting" in this context, I mean getting up, playing with words, imagining oneself in another's skin. Sometimes that looks like good acting. Other times it does not. Either way, the opportunity presents the possibility for learning a lot.

So, to warm up today's English 11 class, I decided to do some of the punching activities one of the acting instructors taught us at TSI. We stood with our legs shoulder-width, secured our bases by tightening our leg muscles, and extended both index fingers. The first round is simply a point, not a jab. This helps students direct the focus of their eyes to the target beyond the end of the hand. As we progress to jab, I ask the students to visualize the word jab exploding from the end of their fists and hitting a point on the wall. Before you knew it, the glass at my door became crowded with confused faces as people passing by were wondering why the English class was jab the air as though it had just recited the most cutting momma joke in history.

We stopped jabbing and set up for the scene: scene one of Streetcar. When we got to the section where Blanche and Stella begin to argue about the loss of Belle Reve, I could instantly tell the jabbing exercise had worked. Two students, one male and one female, played the parts. Not only was the intensity of each italicized word or word before an exclamation point given the force of a punch, the entire emotional intensity of the scene erupted. The students had gotten so far into the scene that when Stella leaves to wash her tears and says "Does that surprise you?", the ice in her voice and eyes froze me to the core. These students have known me for five days and they were willing to perform at that level already. A testament to their abilities, but also a testament to the power of experiencing language with the entire body.

As a postscript to my day, the freshmen in my homeroom pour in before and after the final bell to plug their Chromebooks back in and store them for the night. As they came through today, they were full of questions about the purpose of the bizarre activities they witnessed in the hall or heard about through the proverbial grapevine. One young man made my week, but he doesn't know it. He said, "Whoa! That sounds like the best class ever" as he and his buddy walked out the door. That level of pure energy and excitement that causes young teenage boys to stop being cool for a minute and express an actual emotion, that is why I teach.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Preparing to Dive into the Wreck Again

by Dan Bruno, M.Ed., NBCT

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters. - from "Diving into the Wreck" by Adrienne Rich 
So, I have been unemployed now for the better part of the first semester. Soon, I will be taking over classes from a teacher taking time off to have a baby (Congratulations, again!). As I am preparing to go back to the world of pencils, books, and dirty looks, and coming off of the 2014 NCTE National Convention, arguments about education are again dragging me down rabbit holes of  quiet contemplation and not an inconsiderable amount of angst.

This morning, as I was dropping my wife's laptop off at her school, I heard a commercial from the NEA on SiriusXM. The fact that it was on a widely accessible radio station really bothered me because, as is the case with many easily digested tidbits about this complicated work we do, the message was based on incomplete and relatively unsupportable claims. After nine years of teaching, I am still shocked at the amount of anecdotal or apocryphal knowledge that seems to permeate our professional world.

To draw a parallel, let me tell you a story. An oncologist has a patient ill with leukemia. This current manifestation is the second recurrence of the disease. This time, while treating the patient, the doctor added a steady diet of only chicken, potatoes, and peas. Miraculously, the cancer goes into remission. How would the medical community react if this doctor decided to start treating all of his patients with specifically tailored nutritional plans as a means of driving cancer into remission? Unless the laboratory science was there to back it up, including numerous experiments that can be repeated with the same results, I cannot imagine many doctors who would accept this as a valid practice.

So, imagine my chagrin, when the voice of the current NEA president pours from my car speakers expounding 1) the virtues of learning styles, 2) the need for parents to identify these, and 3) the need for parents to ensure schools are teaching their individual children in ways that correspond to these learning styles. Chagrin, perhaps, is a bit of an understatement.

People who have read this blog before know my feelings on the learning styles theory. If not, click here for a prior post on learning styles. Is the work of educating students not hard enough already that teachers need numerous misleading and, largely, profit-driven curricular approaches to put distance between us and our students? That really is the bottom line. As I sit here preparing to teach again, I find it necessary to remind myself that I teach people.

That is where the world of science and the world of education part ways (in fact, that is where education departs from many disciplines): the student. Many theories that are touted as solid, foundational, and "best" practices are based on marginal changes that have more to do with the unique moment in which they happen and less to do with the children they are intended to help. This disconnect exists because children do not repeat behaviors in a predictable and systematic way that can guarantee a consistent result. As I often do when I face this particular frustration, I went back to a great article by Daniel Willingham on the AFT website. In the article, Willingham lays out some important facts about popular educational myths. I still remember reading it for the first time and thinking Oh, that is what I have been trying to say.

Cognition is at the core of what we do; moreover, cognition is a human process that relies heavily upon numerous factors. The best thing a teacher can do is view his or her students in two ways: 1) As the mass of students in need of knowledge and 2) as the individuals who make up that mass. Children have more in common when it comes to learning than we are often willing to admit; the individuality matters more in terms of environment and special circumstances than the actual acquisition of discrete information.

I guess I should thank the current president of NEA. Because of that commercial, I got an opportunity to remind myself of how vital a teachers work it--and how much vitality it provides. The wet suit is ready, the tanks are full, and I cannot wait to dive deep with the students who been entrusted to my care.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Getting Together with the Secondary Section: 2014 Convention Edition

by Dan Bruno, M.Ed., NBCT

It is almost here. In two days, the 2014 NCTE Annual Convention kicks off in Washington, D.C. If you are going to be attending in person, the Secondary Section Steering Committee would love to see and meet you at any of our major events throughout the convention. Below, you will find a complete list of the SSSC events as well as descriptions of who will be there and what the focus will be. Additionally, interact with and follow the Secondary Section throughout the weekend by tweeting with the hashtag #HSM2014. We believe that high school matters and that high school teachers do the most important work in the world. Come socialize, celebrate, and inspire each other in the SSSC events this year.

Secondary Section Get-Together - Thursday, November 20th from 4:30 PM to 6:00 PM in the Maryland B Room

Come hear from researcher and filmmaker William Kist as he shares Running from Crazy and leads a discussion of the film. Following William Kist, Jim Burke of Burlingame High School will share inspiration and his trademark good humor with us. Before the talks and in-between there will be ample time to socialize with your section, make new friends, and reconnect with old colleagues. A good time is guaranteed.

High School Matters - Friday, November 21 from 2:30 PM to 5:15 PM in the Potomac A/B Room

Our annual smorgasbord of secondary ELA ideas and inspiration is guaranteed to leave you feeling enlightened, excited, and enthusiastic. As per the usual, we will kick off with Carol Jago's list of must-reads from the year. Following Carol's talk, we will continue the tradition of sharing our own book recommendations and then launch into the first roundtable session. This year's roundtable list features a ton of really interesting topics including sessions on text complexity and multicultural voices in the canon of high school literature. Following the first roundtable, Kelly Gallagher will share some of his insights about teaching in his usual entertaining and thought-provoking way. After Kelly's talk, there will be two roundtable sessions, giving you more opportunities to network with colleagues and learn something new about our field. This double session always generates great ideas to take back and use in the classroom; don't miss it!

Secondary Section Luncheon - Saturday, November 22 from 12:30 PM to 2:30 PM

Come lunch with your colleagues and hear this year's guest speaker: science fiction novelist, blogger, and technology activist Cory Doctorow. Note: This event requires tickets to attend. If you haven't purchased your tickets yet, there may still be time to snag one if you act fast. Ask at the registration desk when you check in.

The SSSC looks forward to seeing you in person; however, if you cannot attend, please engage with us on twitter, through e-mail, or on this blog.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Asking the Questions that there Are not Enuf Lifetimes to Answer

by Dan Bruno, M.Ed., NBCT

One of the most prominent discussions in the teaching of literature in high school is what makes a work worthy of review, thought, and criticism. In other words, why study To Kill a Mockingbird instead of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (or whichever)? The more I engage with good literature and even-better scholars of that literature, the more I begin to think it has to do with the questions we ask about people. While I will admit to the all-night read-a-thon that would happen when a new Harry Potter novel hit the shelves, I will also admit that there is nothing surprising or even intriguing about the characters and the choices they make. I can still remember reading the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and thinking (spoiler alert; although, at this point, really?) Harry, you do not need to dump Ginny simply because you are the hero. It was about as close to blatant formula as one can get. On the Mockingbird side of things, people are still mystified at the existence of non-racists in a town, community, or family of them; what makes people like Atticus rise above prejudice to do his best for a man whose social status has not changed that much since slavery?

This aspect of characters who puzzle us leads me to what I have recently decided must be my number one criterion for a novel, play, or poem to be considered worthy of critical reflection: does it make me ask questions that I could only answer in the span of a lifetime (and, if I am honest, multiple lifetimes)? I had the privilege recently of seeing a new theatrical piece at the Atlas theatre in Washington, D.C.: Caleen Sinette Jennings's Not Enuf Lifetimes. Before I go any further, here is what the website for The Welders, a DC playwriting collective with an excellent mission, says about the play:
It’s 2004, and Frank Riley—a well-meaning, white 50-something car mechanic—can’t understand why his son Ian dropped out of medical school to live and work in what he considers the ghetto. When Ian disappears, Frank must enter Ian’s world in order to find him. He must learn to communicate with Dante, Ian’s black roommate, and Manjit, Ian’s South Asian girlfriend. He must figure out whether Ronnie Holmes, Ian’s black protégé from the projects, could also be Ian’s killer. Most importantly, Frank must figure out why the child of his heart walked away from the life Frank worked so hard to give him. This exploration of rifts and potential bridges between the Boomer and Hip Hop generations features a hip hop-inspired structure with rhymes and music.
The play says one thing outright: Caleen Sinette Jennings loves people. In her profile on the The Welder's website, she declares that she is a Weldebecause "a welder doesn't talk a lot. A welder looks and listens." The people that exist on the stage truly do exist; they have so many facets and contradictions of being that build into the beautiful complications of their relationships. Few of the characters are likable from the start, much like we all are. But as the layers are peeled away, not one character exists as a type. There are moments when characters seem headed for the territory of stereotype, but then Jennings's words transform them in the space of a single utterance.

And those utterances can carry a power that seems unlikely given their brevity. There is a line from Dante, Ian's successful programmer roommate, about the type of hip-hop heard popularly. In response to Frank's denigration of the form, focused on all of the worst aspects of gangster rap, Dante simply replies that that type of hip-hop plays to something in the popular culture, creating greater divisions and keeping the money in the same pockets that have always had it (I am not quoting this line because my paraphrase is far clunkier than the way it came out on stage). It was one of those instances where a line comes out that so pithily synthesizes something you knew but could not articulate.

Even more powerful are the lyrics of Ronnie Holmes, the young father who works hard to take care of his mother and daughter while he tries to survive the Glendale projects. The lines he spits with Ian from his composition book reveal a man yearning to live his dreams, but dealing with the disappointment of failing to realize them. The frustration and righteous anger come through in each syllable, providing an interesting counterpoint to the manically optimistic Ian.

As the play closed, I found myself invested in the futures these characters might have ahead of them (which is no small feat in a show with no intermission). I could easily imagine teaching this play for the questions it was already generating as I left the theatre: What does it mean to love one's children? How can we best teach our children to live in the world? How can they best teach us to do the same? Where is the line between patronizing and supporting? My head just kept spinning. What I could say for certain is that this play taught me, again, the value of love over all other concerns. What is a better message than this with which to send students out into the world? Another very good question.

Not Enuf Lifetimes is still on stage and I would encourage you to go and see it if you can. Click the link here to get details.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Tell Us About Yourself: The College Essay

Writing about the self is the hardest thing to do. Whether this results from social pressures to put the self aside, from familial pressures to be part of the whole, from peer groups who often (unintentionally or not) supplant the individual with a group self constructed from the impressions of others, knowing the self is hard to do at any age. Whether we are five or seventy-five, the protean concept of who we are shifts and changes as our lives shift and change. We move our lives about, hoping to hold onto a sense of who we were in the last moment even as we grow into the next. No one has a harder time wrestling with identity than the very people we ask to define that self in 250 words annually: high school seniors. Just take a look at these Common App essay prompts:
  • Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn? 
  • Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  • Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
  • Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
Anecdotally, 40 percent of teachers who apply for National Board Certification will successfully complete the program and be certified. A large part of this process is the ability to reflect on one's own practice, to "discuss an accomplishment or event" to "recount" moments when a lesson fell apart and he or she "experienced failure." If 60 percent of grown teachers applying for an advanced certificate have a hard time writing about these things, how could we expect so much from 17- and 18-year-old teens?

And yet, the requirement is there. More so, these colleges need to know who they are letting in; their institutional capital rests on the quality of the people they admit. So, what is a young person to do?

They are to turn to their teachers. October's Engage Now from Lawrence Butti of the Secondary Section Steering Committee is here to help provide some very clear, stable structures for teaching seniors, or even juniors, about the college essay process. Of particular note is Lawrence Butti's college essay brainstorming sheet that helps students frame the narrative of self in clear, discrete pieces of information that can be hard to pull out of the fog of memory in the context of writing the college essay.

As with all really difficult tasks that students complete, teachers are there to help guide students to be their best. In this case, we get the privilege to be there for our students at a time when stress is high and futures are on the line. What a great part of the ever-changing self known as teacher.

Friday, September 19, 2014

More Sinned Against Than Sinning: King Lear in the Classroom and On Stage

by Daniel A. Bruno, M.Ed., NBCT

I really thought that I would not be able to watch it. Up to the minute the play began, I thought I would only be able to see Will Smith's wry and knowing butler attempting to play one of the most tragic and emotionally exhausting roles in theater. Then, the play began. In classic Globe fashion, it began with a lively folk song. As soon as Lear came on stage, Joseph Marcell, better known as Jeffrey to my generation, had the audience in the palm of his hand. What struck me as I watched the play unfold was not the production itself, but the conversations I could have in my classroom with students if we had all attended together.

One reviewer claimed that this version of Lear gives us the "Boomer Lear." The review can be found here. You may wish to read it before finishing this post since a lot of what I have to say is almost a direct response to the reviewer's idea of what this production means.

Marcell's Lear certainly alternates between entitlement and rage. In fact, this production establishes early on a confusing atmosphere. If a director wishes to make the daughters more sympathetic in the beginning, he or she could cut some of the lines at the end of 1.1 and make Lear a carouser in 1.4. But the sisters already appear to be scheming when we arrive at 1.4, and the director here has chosen to have one of the most riotous Lears I have ever seen. Were I Goneril, I would be pretty upset, too. For example, Oswald is not only struck and then tripped, but Kent then proceeds to wallop him for a good thirty seconds while Lear looks on approvingly. This paints the picture of a petty a violent king, not necessarily one I would feel a whole lot of sympathy for.

Perhaps this is why the madness scenes in this production come across so farcical. There were only a couple points where Lear's madness wandered into pathos, but for the most part, it stayed in fairly unmoving territory. When his madness is most emotional, it is made so by the presence of other grieving characters; this move almost feels like the director knows that his Lear is unsympathetic so we must have bathos from every character in a scene with him. The effect was so alienating that when Lear says he is more "sinned against than sinning," all I could think of was the old Bill Cosby Noah routine: RIIIIIIIIGHT...

Mad Lear and Blind Gloucester from the Globe's Facebook Page
The final scene was done with a bit more gravitas than I expected. Were it not for the snickering teenager over my left shoulder who couldn't stop his laughter at Lear's "howl"s, I would have been completely engrossed. Marcell got the mania and misery of the last scene in a way that few have. He swung from manic denier to morose accepter as a child swings from monkey bar to monkey bar: graceful and surprising. That, more than anything, brought the humanity back to the character and inspired the chain of thought that follows.

Domestic violence is a huge topic right now because of the high-profile athletes involved in legal scandals. Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, the NFL's reaction, Roger Goodell's fickle and inconstant method of punishment (although I should just write retribution) all have soaked the front pages of major newspapers for weeks. The Lear we have in this Globe production is less Boomer Lear and more Beater Lear. He falls in line with much scholarship on the character that sees him as a violent and unstable father; a reckless leader bent on control of his subjects with fist and foot, not palm and heart (for a great discussion of this see the Arden Shakespeare Edition edited by R.A. Foakes or A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley, a novel based on Lear that turns the character into a sexually abusive father). Marcell's Lear seems first to rely on his fists, then on his equally lacerating words. In many of the early scenes between Goneril and Lear, she visibly flinches as he menaces toward her or rails on her as though she expects the fist of her father to come crashing down any moment. Regan's ruthlessness only serves to deepen this image of Lear as abuser; her ruthless behavior feels like survivalism.

Lear hears Regan's speech about how much she loves him from the Globe's Facebook Page
So this Lear brings up contemporary notions of domestic violence in the form of a violent patriarch, but pulls no punches as the daughters move to eclipse their fathers. The eye-gouging scene featured a bloodlusty Regan who would not let Cornwall take the first eye. Rather, she removed her shoe and used the heel to leverage the eye from its socket. She them tossed it to Cornwall who literally set his foot upon it--hard. He then picked up the remains and chucked them into the balcony. In a parallel case, footballer Hope Solo is currently awaiting trial on domestic abuse charges of her own; however, no one has much mentioned her or demanded her deactivation.

One final teaching point that I noticed in this production is the casting. Normally, Lear has ten principle roles and can include a variety of extras. There were only eight principle actors in the performance who were occasionally accompanied by two stage crew members in costume. This short casting led to a variety of doubles. The usual Fool/Cordelia doubling was present, and much has been said about the emotional symbiosis of the two. The ones that are most interesting to me as theatrical choices are the doubling (or rather tripling) of Daniel Pirrie as Edmund/Oswald/King of France and the doubling (again, rather tripling) of Alex Mugnaioni as Edgar/Cornwall/Duke of Burgundy.

Daniel Pirrie is brilliant. He swings from Edmund to Oswald so completely that one does not know he is the same actor except for his costume. He even manages this change in a scene where both characters appear at once. As Goneril addresses each man, she turns, points, says the name of the character, and waits for Pirrie to run to that spot (donning a cap if Oswald, removing it if Edmund). Oswald's self-serving sycophancy melts into Edmund's arrogant posturing seamlessly; this scene provides much needed, and not normally included, comic relief after the removal of Gloucester's eyes. The choice to make him the King of France is also confusing. Seeing an actor who clearly plays the "bad guys" so well portray one of the few "good" characters in the play is less jarring than it should be because it happens in 1.1; however, it sets an odd tone wherein I want to like Edmund. After all, his ambition to climb beyond others' classifications of him as "illegitimate," "bastard," and "base" is a quintessentially American theme. It is Edmund's lack of a moral direction that makes him so despicable in the end (even though his final acts are acts he does freely because he wants to do some good before he dies). The conversation that could be had about this multiple casting in class invite much close reading and analysis of all three figures.

Alex Mugnaioni's range is unbelieveable. He makes a rather convincing Edgar, Poor Tom, Cornwall, and Burgundy without making any of them anything like the other characters. He even seems to command his face to shift its shape a bit as he goes from naive, schoolboy Edgar to ruthless and conniving Cornwall from scene change to scene change. His Poor Tom borders on theatrical stereotype, but his belief in the character brings through a spark of humanity even in the madman's rantings. I also was confused as to why Mugnaioni would play the sniveling Duke of Burgundy, but he carried the part well. The early portrayal had an equal effect to that of Pirrie's France: I felt less sympathetic toward Edgar early on than I did in the end. Again, this tripling makes for a great close reading and analysis discussion of the character.

Brother vs. Brother from the Globe's Facebook Page
In the end, the play does what Lear should do: it interrogates us about our notions of justice. If Lear is truly the heavy-handed and violent father/king he appears in the play, then the loss of all he holds dear and his own life seems a sort of cosmic account, a reaping of the bitter oats he has sown. Before the play began, as the actors sang and danced, pulling on costumes as they did, an already costumed Lear pulls a string revealing a huge map of England. The daughers then grab chalk and sketch it onto the floor of the stage itself. In the final scene, as Lear cradles his dead Cordelia, the faint echo of the Britain of Lear's rule still appears on stage. Edgar authoritatively delivers the final commanding lines while standing atop this relic of a lost kingdom while the actresses who portrayed Goneril and Regan emerge humming a funeral tune; they grab the same chalk from the beginning and outline the body of Lear like a crime scene. Lear and Cordelia rise to their feet and morose trace the outline of his body with their fingers. The old kingdom has faded. The old king is dead. Nothing came from nothing and so the cast moves on, surprisingly singing a rousing version of Feste's song from the end of Twelfth Night. The wind and the rain have brought tragedy, but have washed away the violent and bloated kingdom of a small and petty king.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Gift of Opportunity: An Open Letter to Teachers Starting a New Year

I remember going to practice for rugby and thinking that all of the running and diving and sliding in the summer heat was fun, but not that fun. Then, I got into my first game. The intensity and athleticism required pushed me to a new point of physical exhaustion. I was spent, but exhilarated. I went back to practice with a new enthusiasm. I played harder and harder, pushed my exhaustion point further and further. I felt like Superman because of what I was proving to myself I could do.

The same is true of the opening of school years. The relentless drudge of the meeting machine. The mind-numbing banality of printing lists, labeling folders, etc. The more exciting, yet still somewhat low-impact, drive to revisit lessons and revise them into better, more effective incarnations of themselves (or to pitch them on the fire of high-minded yet unpractical ones). The moment when the chrysalis of anticipation blooms into the butterflies of the first day. Getting to know new kids while saying hello to those already known. Some teachers say that the first day is almost like Christmas morning. I agree. Teachers on the first day are just like those children on Christmas morning: recipients of a gift that we know is beyond our deserving, the gift of opportunity.

I encourage you all, as you start or are preparing to start after the holiday, to remember the what it means that people entrust us with their children. Some might do so because we are an institutional constant, a necessity born of truancy laws and a vaguely democratic ideal, but that does not change the respect I have for my position as teacher. It is an awesome (and not in the trite, cliche, Spicoli-esque use of the word) responsibility to be a teacher. I find that most issues that arise in the classroom are the result of the moments when we forget that.

And I do not blame you if, in the middle of your planning weeks or your first days, you get frustrated, question your decision to return. I have been there. This year, I have the opportunity to see it from a different perspective. This year, I have to watch from the sidelines as colleagues go back to classrooms. Having recently moved to the Southeastern region of Pennsylvania, I am currently without a teaching position. My wife, also a teacher, was asked to come work in the region because of her exemplary success with her choral program. We made the move unaware of how difficult it would be for me to get a job in the area. So, now I am on the sidelines, trying to get back to the classroom, but grateful for the opportunity to observe. In my observations, I have seen teachers complaining about having to go back, wishing that their summer-long lack of students would go on. As they complain, I seethe. How could they be so unhappy when they have jobs? Then the self-righteousness of my soapbox collapses and I return to earth. I have done the same thing. I have made the same complaints.

So, from my seat on the sidelines, I have become more aware of how special a time the beginning of the new year should be. I now lay this challenge before you: before you launch into the day's issues, before you complain about that kid, before you lose your patience with that administrative policy, try to think of something for which you are grateful. I would never support the rhetoric of the past few years, the idea that any one should just be thankful they have a job, but I would encourage each of us to take the time to remember why we love what we do.

This letter is my attempt to do just that. Of course, the job search is frustrating and infuriating; however, I am grateful for what I have learned about myself while I sit on the bench. Take up the challenge, and take it to twitter. The High School Matters twitter feed is @HSMatters. I am challenging you to comment here or tweet there (or both) about what you are grateful for at the beginning of this school year. When you tweet, use the hashtag #teacheropp so that others can easily find them, especially when they need a shot of optimism. I look forward to seeing what you all write. If I have learned nothing else in all of my professional development with teachers, it is that we are surprising sources of hope and optimism. Let's see if we can start a movement of hope and optimism this year.

Best wishes as you embark on the new school year,

Dan Bruno