Social Justice Through Popular Culture

I have put a lot of thought into how I am going to supplement my new curriculum to make sure I am representing all of my students. I have decided to take a note from one of my favorite3 YA authors, Kwame Alexander.

Kwame Alexander has shown so many students what the power of song and poetry is. I wanted to take a note from him and work with my students on the power of poetry. I have always stopped just shy of this when working with poetry before because I am so uncomfortable with writing poetry. I took several classes in college on poetry writing and analysis and I never felt like I fit in. I think it is because I never had a story to share.

My entire first unit is usually spent showing students the art of story-telling. They write personal narratives and short stories as well as a few poems that have specific forms or rhythms. Ideally, I would push past this boundary of forms and let students move into the story-telling aspect of poetry and rhythm like Kwame Alexander has in his books. If I am lucky and my district decides on the curriculum I am hoping for, I will be able to partner this new project with Kwame Alexander’s book, The Crossover. Here are a few songs/poems that have inspired me, and I hope to use in my classroom.

Latinoamérica” by Calle 13 – I have linked to the translated version of this song so that all of my readers can see how this song tells the story of someone who is trying to find their place in a world they don’t feel like they belong or are being kicked out of. This is familiar to so many of my students and their families. It would be a great project to use a this song as an inspiration for my students to write their own.

“Mexico Lindo y Querido”by Vicente Fernandez – This is an ode written in Spanish declaring his love for his home. There are poems in my current curriculum written from an African–American perspective that are odes to their homes. It would be such an easy addition to have this poem as an option to read.

Rolas de Aztlán: Songs of the Chicano Movement– This compilation of songs is a overture to the Chicano Movement. This is a great example of what a “playlist” might look like for a time period. It would also be a great idea to split these songs up between groups and have them analyze them individually and then come back together to see how each songs fits into this album.



Boxed Curriculum and Social Justice Dilemma

Boxed curriculums have been carefully designed and curated by teams of teachers who are all more than qualified. These curriculums are great, for certain people. They are designed to be “one size fits most”. What happens if your school is not ‘most’?

My school district is the home to thousands of students, the majority of which are Hispanic and not performing at grade level. Most have an apathy for ELA and sometimes school in general. A lot of my students know two languages, work jobs, and take care of siblings before and after school. My students are brilliant human beings. According to state and national standards they are “at risk”. In order to help my students get the best education possible, my district started using a free version of a boxed curriculum called Engage NY. Immediately, teachers noticed these materials were notstudents friendly. In 8thgrade, we were expected to read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and The Omnivore’s Dilemma: The Secrets Behind What You Eat Young Reader’s Edition by Michael Pollan. These texts are great, but they are not 8thgrade level texts, at least not in my district. My students worked with these texts and we made it through successfully according to the tests, but they were not engaged in their learning. They were remembering what I told them to and struggling to connect. After giving an end of the year survey to assess school climate we also noticed that our students did not feel our curriculum represented them. I knew they had a point.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, my district is getting a new curriculum for the fall. We wanted to look in-depth at three curriculums: Wit and Wisdom, Springboard 2018, and Engage NY Going through curriculums I noticed a few things. The first thing I noticed was the reading/Lexile levels of all of the curriculums. They are all higher than what I would choose for my students. I would prefer to use one text that is complex and a multitude of texts that my students would be able to explore and understand on their own.

After realizing that I would not be able to find a curriculum that worked like that, I started to look at a second success criteria: perspectives. I wanted to find a curriculum where the characters and perspectives are as diverse as those in my classroom. According to several researchers and teachers, students are more apt to push themselves deeper into their learning when they have background knowledge and can see through that character’s perspective. Check out this article by Matthew Lynch because I could not sum up why diversity in the classroom in needed better than he already has.

I went through these three curriculums as they are represented on EdReports and took note of a majority of the texts used in the curriculums and organized them into categories based on race of primary character or perspective. There is no doubt these curriculums have diversity, but there are holes. It was interesting to me to see exactly where those holes are.

Perspective of Primary and Supplemental Resources
Curricula White African or African-American Hispanic or Hispanic- American Other Unknown
Springboard 2018 ·  Excerpt from the Odyssey by Homer

·  “Where I Find My Heroes” by Oliver Stone from McCall’s Magazine

·  “O Captain! My Captain!” by Walt Whitman

·  “Grant and Lee: A Study in Contrasts” by Bruce Catton

·  The Giver by Lois Lowry

·  Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

·  Excerpt from Night by Elie Wiesel

·  Life is Beautiful, film directed by Roberto Benigni

·  Excerpt from Elie Wiesel’s Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech

·  “A Man” by Nina Cassian

·  “Private Eyes” by Brooke Charlton

Engage NY ·  To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

·  A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare

·  Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, Laura Hillenbrand

·  The Omnivore’s Dilemma: The Secrets Behind What You Eat, Michael Pollan (Young Readers’ Edition)

·     Ain’t I a Woman?” Sojourner Truth

·     A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School, Carlotta Walls LaNier and Lisa Frazier Page

·     Little Rock Girl 1957: How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration, Shelley Tougas

·  Inside Out and Back Again, Thanhha Lai

·  “The Vietnam Wars,” Tod Olson

Wit and Wisdom ·  All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque

·  A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare

·  In Flanders Fields, by John McCrae (poem)

·  EPICAC, by Kurt Vonnegut (short story)

·  The War to End All Wars, by Shari Lyn Zuber [Cobblestone article] (historical account)

· The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander (John Newbery Award)

· Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, by Phillip Hoose (John Newbery Award)

· Filthy McNasty, by Horace Silver (musical selection)

· The Block, by Romare Bearden (painting)

· Slam, Dunk, & Hook,by Yusef Komunyakaa (video)

·  What is Love? Five Theories on the Greatest Emotion of All, by Jim Al-Khalili, Philippa Perry, Julian Baggini, Jojo Moyes, and Catherine Wybourne (opinion piece)
*this chart is categorized by the main characters of the story. Most stories have multiple races represented but the main characters or the perspective the story is told is representative of their category.

I chose to analyze based off of these three main categories because these are the three main races of found at my school. I want my curriculum to connect to my student’s identity: race, age, and gender. Race is the most pressing issue to me because I know that each culture has a story to share that deserves to be heard. It was also important to me because I felt like the last curriculum I was assigned to use did not recognize my students. Once I broke down the texts and categorized them I still noticed that the Hispanic column was sadly empty.

From what I have seen these curriculums are not equitable.Just as a disclaimer, I am not an expert at all of these texts and this is not a full picture of these three curriculums. I am going off of information found on Google, my brain, and, the one thing all of these curriculums have in common is that there is no Hispanic-American literature! Considering this is the majority of my students, I am upset. There is no possible way that there are no credible stories coming from the Hispanic perspective. I have already used Gary Soto, Matt De La Pena, Meg Medina, and many more other Hispanic authors in my classroom and I know they have incredible educational merit. Why are authors like these not being represented in curriculum? They use the same universal themes and literary techniques as any of the other authors. The argument can be made for new vs classic texts, but literary techniques are literary techniques.


Well, I’m triggered. How do I teach any of these curriculums with fidelity if I am morally not ok with the fact there are no Hispanic perspectives included?

Beating the Imposter Syndrome

If you haven’t heard of the “Imposter Syndrome” read this article by the amazing Megan Allen. She talks about the terrible truth that is the imposter syndrome.

Check all that apply:

  • You feel like you are the weakest link on your team.
  • You think everyone else is thinking lowly of you.
  • You don’t think you will ever be taken seriously.
  • You feel inadequate.

You checked all the boxes? So did I.

My crippling social anxiety kept me from standing up in front of my peers and showing just how educated and prepared I was. I thought that if I did, they would reject me. Who am I but some twenty-something who teaches and drinks her way through her twenties? Oh that’s right, I am a highly educated, qualified, passionate, and determined teacher. Here are some things you can do to beat the imposter syndrome.

  1. Find your passion – besides your curriculum, what are you passionate about happening in your school? Passion projects are what will keep you from losing your mind, but also give you your own place in your school. It is something that sets you apart. My passion project is my dance team. I saw that my students were not able to finance after school activities like dance so I started a team. I call this a passion project because I still have yet to get a paycheck from it and you might not ever get one either. What I did receive from it was evidence that I can create something and it can be successful.
  2. Voice your triumphs – once you start doing what you love and making a difference, you are going to start getting questions. Own up to it. Don’t just say “oh geez” or “it was nothing.” Stand up and own what you have worked so hard on. Be proud. Fake the confidence until you have it. 
  3. Say something in your next staff meeting – how many times have you sat in a staff meeting thinking that no one is saying what everyone is thinking? Be the person who takes a stand. Say it kindly and say it with authority. Use sound logic and evidence to support that opinion. If it is purely emotional, it will not be taken seriously. 
  4. Take risks – when there is a time to step up and help plan something, take on a new role, or go to a meeting that isn’t required, do it! What’s the worst that could happen? 
  5. Stay informed – it is so important to know what educational moves are happening around the world and in your district. Spend time reading and go to a board meeting. Being in the know means that you are valuable. Amp up your twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest with all of teacher resources you can get. Eventually reading educational articles and surfing the ed-web will become second nature. 

So go forth and conquer your schools and districts, but keep me informed! I want to know all the cool things happening around the ed world.

My Teacher Leader Manifesto

A teacher leader manifesto is an ever growing and changing document. This document is supposed to represent my why as a teacher leader. The idea for the teacher leader manifesto was not my own, but inspired by teachers before me.

My Teacher Leader Manifesto

Teaching is at the core of my being. To teach is to give people the power to be more than they currently are. Unfortunately, when decisions about how to teach or what to teach are made, classroom teachers and students are often left out. Teachers, on average, will leave the classroom by their fifth year of year of teaching. We are overworked, under paid, and underappreciated. I believe this is largely because lifetime teachers care more about what they do and who they are teaching than almost anything else. Love of the field. This is both the curse and the blessing of being a lifetime teacher. That is why I pledge to be both a classroom teacher and a teacher leader.

I will work to make sure teachers are informed, involved, and loved. Teachers are powerful humans with an undying desire to better society. As a teacher leader, I will try to harness that power to evolve the teaching field from what it is today to a field where lifetime teachers have the power to improve policy and curriculum.

I pledge to work to better my students.

To have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge of my subject. To work to improve curriculum while it happens and to use constant formative assessment to make sure I am aiding all my students in their quest for knowledge.

I pledge to work to better schools.

To make schools a safe place for all students to learn and all teachers to teach. To educate teachers on how to reach new heights. To work with administration to build trust with their teachers. To promote teacher’s voices above all else.

I pledge to better the field of education.

To research in order to educate myself and others on important policy decisions and on who policy makers in my area of influence are. To stand up for what is right even if the times are tough. To never give up on education.

I pledge to be an open book.

To not keep my success and my struggles a secret so that I may be able to help others and they may be able to help me. To make sure I never stop learning and leading.

I pledge to seek to connect to people.

To learn from other’s experiences. To not reinvent the wheel, but bridge the gap in minds and create places where educators can discuss successes and hang-ups. To connect the community to their school. To make learning transparent.

I pledge to love.

To show all humans that they are cared for and respected.

I pledge to be human.

To care for my family and my health first and foremost. To make mistakes, but learn from them.


Haley Kennedy – 2017

Beating the year one blues.

Year one sucks! You have a bunch of book knowledge and very little practical experience. To be honest, I almost didn’t make it through my first year. Well, to be completely honest, I almost didn’t make it through my first month! By the end of the first week my students were walking all over me and I was lost in the curriculum. Did that make me a bad teacher? NO! It made me a bad classroom manager. Every problem that had boggled me my first year lead back to that first week and how unprepared I was. My student teaching taught me how to make an effective lesson plan, but it did not show me everything I needed to know about being an effective classroom manager.

Here’s how I changed that!

1. Steal from the best and forget the rest!

You are going to come up with brilliant ideas…eventually. Before your school year starts, go to your coworkers and ask to see what they do on the first day of school. Take a lot of notes and ask them to share their presentation or whatever with you. I did this before this school year started and I am so thankful. I got a plethora of incredible ideas. Make sure you continue stealing from the best during the school year too because they really are the best example you are going to get. Thank you L. Macey, P. Moylan, B. Boyd, and B. Mainord for letting me steal off your best ideas and using them as my own.

2. Read up!

I did not do enough research on classroom management before my first year. I thought that I no longer needed to buy bulky teacher resource books and I could find everything I needed online. Oh boy was I Wong! Oops! I meant to say wrong, but thank you Harry and Rosemary Wong for your book “The First Days of School: How to be an Effective Teacher.” Without this book I would not have had thought of some of the most minuscule but necessary classroom procedures. This book contains countless pieces of advice and even gives practical examples form real teachers. This is not the only book I have used to help craft my first week of lessons, but it is the book that changed my perspective on reading those boring, bulky, wordy teacher resource books.

3. Prepare 3x the amount of content you think you need

Any “free time” will be taken as a sign of weakness and your head will be eaten. That might be an exaggeration, but only by a little. Students decide the first day of school whether they will take you seriously or not.  You want you and your students to be busy from bell to bell that first day. When you are prepared, they know that you mean business. If you have three minutes left and decide to play silent ball or some other game, they will think that the last three minutes of every class should be playtime. Unfortunately, their concept of time is a little off, so by three minutes they really think 30. Maybe 40. Instead, with your three extra  minutes ask them to write down the easiest expectation for them to follow, the most surprising classroom expectation you have, and one thing that they are looking forward to this year. This way you are reviewing your expectations and getting to know your students a little bit.

4. Focus

Make sure you are fully aware of what your students should be learning everyday and what they should learn by the end of each unit. In other words, plan backwards then go forwards. Start with your final asessment which would somehow prove that your students learned what they were supposed to learn. Then, plan benchmarks. Make sure you have at least two benchmarks on the way, pre and mid. Next, fill in the blanks starting from the beginning. What should they know by the end of week one, week two, week three… After that, go back to each day and write learning targets and success criteria. This is the best way I have found to make sure I am focused everyday. That way when an administrator comes into my class, they can tell exactly what we are doing and why we are doing it. It’s also helpful for the students. Students want to know what they are supposed to learn and how to tell if they were successful that day.

5. Don’t forget about yourself

By the end of my first year I had gained an obscene amount of weight and I was missing my friends. I had been so focused on keeping my head above water at school that I had completely ignored my physical and emotional needs. This year, I started dancing again. Every Sunday I practiced for three to five hours in order to prepare for a show I was in called “Traditions of Christmas.” Since that is over, I have decided to plan at least one girl’s night a month and get my nails done. If nails and girl’s nights aren’t your thing, figure out what your thing is! Do something once a week that makes you selfishly happy. In other words, you do something that is just for you. When you are unhappy or stressed, you take it out on your students. They don’t need that and you don’t need to be stressed!

This is not the complete list of things to do to survive your first year, but it is what I consider my life-saving tips. Without learning these things, I would not have become the successful, happy, and thriving teacher I am today.

Teaching and drinking my way through my twenties.

I’ve always been a very driven person. I set goals and I achieve them. Letting myself down, or anyone for that matter, is one of my greatest fears. It all started in high school when I realized I hadn’t applied to any colleges, yet my parents were expecting acceptance letters. It’s not that I didn’t want to go to college, it’s that I had no idea what I was doing. I applied to three colleges and I got accepted to three colleges. No big deal. I chose one and went there. Go to college – Goal Accomplished.

Well, I was there, on scholarship, and not doing awesome in classes or personally. I still had no idea what I was doing. 

Not even a year in and I am calling my mom in tears because at this rate, I won’t keep my scholarship or graduate in four years. I let myself down and I thought I let my family down. Panic set in. I am going to be a failure. I set my own fate. In that moment, I had given up.

After a good long hour of tears, I decided that I was not going to be a failure and not moving home. I had taught dance classes and I was always pretty good at writing, so my mom suggested I try out English Teaching. I went to one class and knew this was the mojor for me.

Fast Forward – April 2015.

I had just learned I had qualified for graduation (thanks to my science and math classes I didn’t really know if graduating in four was a possibility) and I was panicking about adult life. I kept asking myself: How do I get a job? Will I ever get a job? How do I adult? Wait, do I still have health insurance? So basically, I still had no idea what I was doing.

I was too afraid to ask anyone how to apply for jobs because what if I was the only one who didn’t know how to job search? So, I went to the Boise School District website and clicked around until I found job applications. I think that’s called street smarts? I don’t know. I’m not even 100% sure I actually filled out a job application there, but I guess it doesn’t matter anymore. On April 28, 2015, one month before my graduation, I was offered my dream job. I accepted a job teaching 8th Grade English Language Arts in a smallish town outside of Boise, Idaho. I was so proud to say that had been offered a job before I graduated. My parents were so proud that their daughter had both graduated college and accepted a job offer. I was over the moon. I did it! I didn’t let them down. I didn’t let myself down! *Phew*

I was so naive. So SO naive

I forgot that getting the job was 1 millionth of the struggle of being a teacher. I nearly, and maybe deservingly, almost lost my job the third week of school. Talk about letting people down. My students. My bosses. My family. Myself.

So, that’s where this blog comes in.

I’m here to help new teachers or returning teachers beat the odds. I’m here to talk about becoming a confident and independent teacher. It’s not an easy process. It’s incredibly scary. I was given the gift of a second chance at the amazing school I work at and I am not going to mess it up. This is my journey to becoming the teacher I dream of being. One step at a time.