“Am I Saying ‘Yes’ to Too Many Things?” With Matthew M. Johnson

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Dear Teacher,

When I was in my ninth year of teaching, out of the 180 I was contracted to spend in front of my students, I was out of the classroom for 33 of them. For thirty of those days, I was out of the classroom for one of the three district committees I was participating in. I’m ashamed to admit, that the other three were due to illness and the birth of my third child! Luckily, for our family, she was born at the very beginning of a break in the calendar. At the end of the year, I had to look at my situation and ask, “Am I saying ‘yes’ to too many things?”

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Several months ago, I started interacting with Matthew M. Johnson. Beginning a friendship around the content we publish online, we eventually learned one another’s stories about the twists and turns of our teaching careers. There were a few stand out parallels, and I asked him if he would be willing to share about the time he almost left the teaching.

As Matthew learned what opportunities to say ‘yes’ to–and which ones to pass on–not only did he become a better, more focused teacher, he was also able to make time for what mattered most: his loved ones. With the little time what little time remains on his calendar, he writes about how writing teachers can give timely feedback, deeply improving student writing, all while make it home in time for dinner each night.

Listen to our conversation and get more details about how to connect with Matthew HERE.


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In Her Words

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the week I sat down with all of my students to conference about their letter grades. It was eye-opening! Like, in a career altering change my life kind of way, eye-opening. I don’t know any other way to describe it.

I held about a dozen conversations that week that I will never forget for as long as I teach. Four of the conversations were really striking because the students were all facing similar experiences, thoughts, and emotions even though none of them had talked to one another, and as far as each student knew, they were the only ones who were thinking that way. Of those four conversations, one went so well that this student claims it changed her whole outlook on her place in school.

That got me thinking. What if you could hear her words in her own voice? Well, keep reading. And get ready to listen up because she let me record our conversation.

Continue reading “In Her Words”

Why More Teachers Should (Re)Start Blogging

If you’re reading this post, then you are looking to get back in to blogging, or you are seriously flirting with the idea of jumping in for the very first time. And if you’re like me–an educator with a compulsion to think about teaching to a point that skirts the limits of  what’s considered “healthy” AND someone who, at the same time, finds starting new projects scary–you want to get your ducks in a row before putting yourself (back) out there.

Since I have some experience starting and restarting blogs, and we are facing a new year, I would like to offer the small amount of wisdom I have. And, just as you are reading this post, I also want to state up front that I am positioning myself as a reader of this post too (because I can really benefit from my own advice). Continue reading “Why More Teachers Should (Re)Start Blogging”

How Do You Put It?

Have you been in this scenario before? You’re in the middle of what has unintentionally turned into a long-winded explanation, and you start to feel it: the students are losing focus. You still have a little more to say, so you want to stay on your train of thought just a bit longer. But you’re concerned you’re losing students at one of the critical junctures. Then you think you’ll pause, just really briefly, and check in with them with a simple yes-or-no question. You just want to know if they are making the effort to take it all in, and snap their focus back into place for a few minutes more.

At this point, which version of this question are you likely to use:

A. Does this make sense to you?

B. Does this make sense?

C. Am I making sense?

Let’s think about this from another angle. You’re attending a professional development workshop, and as a member of an audience drifting off, your presenter asks the crowd if one of his points is making sense, which version of the above would you prefer? To what extent does it matter? Continue reading “How Do You Put It?”

1 Week, 170 Conversations: What Students Really Say about Learning, Letter Grades, and Anxiety

A coupe of weeks ago, I did something that I have never done before in my classroom: I sacrificed invested a week of instruction to hold a one-on-one conversation with each one of my students. I had always made the excuse that it took up too many instructional minutes, and that I couldn’t sacrifice the time. And after that long-winded week the only regret that I have is that I did not start doing this much, much earlier in my career. That week, was an absolute revelation!

Before I share everything I learned, I need to inform you why I met with all of my students. This year, for many reasons, when it comes to assessing learning, I have decided that I will no longer use points. Instead, I am asking my students to apply the standards through purposeful effort on their assignments, on submitted work I am giving them feedback only (no mark), and I am holding a conference with them at the end of each grading period. They bring a showcase of their learning to the conversation, and together we determine the letter grade we will send home. Continue reading “1 Week, 170 Conversations: What Students Really Say about Learning, Letter Grades, and Anxiety”

Lost in the Push for Literacy? 6 Reasons to Read THESE 6 THINGS

I recently finished reading an incredible book by Michigan teacher, Dave Stuart Jr. It was one of those reads that felt like a mixture between a vacation and conference. There were refreshing and affirming words of encouragement, but there were also mighty challenges put forth.

The title of the book is These 6 Things: How to Focus Your Teaching on What Matters Most. I have read books that boast they have the most important ideas for teaching, and usually they meant that the reader would have to buy into some sort of system that would be a complete overhaul and redesign of his or her classroom. No thanks, and this is not what These 6 Things is about. At. All.

Come along and I will show you six reasons why every secondary teacher, regardless of what content area he or she teaches, should read this book.
Continue reading “Lost in the Push for Literacy? 6 Reasons to Read THESE 6 THINGS”

This Tiny Change Had a Big Impact

When it comes to New Year’s Resolutions, I never win. Well, except for the last New Year’s Resolution I ever made, which was “Resolved: I will NEVER make another New Year’s Resolution for the rest of my life.” So far, I have been holding to that one flawlessly!

But why am I talking about the New Year? For us teachers, it might as well be the new year. And it is the time when many of us take our reflections from the previous school year, the wins and loses, and decide what we want to tweak, add, throw out, or change (or, as I teach my students how to revise their writing: Replace, Add, Delete, and Reorder).

Last year I made one tiny change to my day-to-day, and was able to do it all year long. Every. Day. It pushed me and challenged me. It has shown me that I really can set goals for self-improvement and make real changes, really! The thing is, the goal I set is kind of stupid. I’m almost embarrassed enough to not talk about it at all. I thought it was so silly when I decided to do it, I did NOT share it with anyone. I kept it to myself. But it was such a success, I think I want to share it. Just promise not to judge me. Continue reading “This Tiny Change Had a Big Impact”