Guest post for McGraw-Hill Education…

This post originally appeared here, as I served as a Guest Blogger for McGraw-Hill Education. Honored to have been chosen…

“I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy. I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”  — Art Williams

 It’s just not possible, I said to myself, over and over and over. While sitting at my desk after hitting submit on my last set of grades for the 2015-2016 school year, it truly set in that I had just finished my 18th year of teaching. 18 years. No longer would I be working with students who were even born when I first started this journey – and make no mistake about it, it’s definitely been a journey.

It was at this point that I also thought about just how much I’ve seen change through those 18 years – and without getting too sentimental, what I’m really referring to here is the change in me.

About 10 years ago I literally almost threw punches with a colleague who had the nerve to tell me that part of our job description was to be both a friend and a father to our students. I was on fire at this suggestion and, if my memory serves me correctly, I believe I actually laughed it away in order to deal with the stress associated with this debate. There was just no way that he could be correct in this line of thinking.

That’s not my job. I’m here to teach English and get them prepared for college, no more, no less. That’s the Spark Notes version of what I had myself convinced was my purpose. And I believed it wholeheartedly.

And then the massacre at Sandy Hook happened. It left me stunned. It left me searching for answers about just about everything. And it left me searching for a better understanding of what my purpose is as a teacher. I just couldn’t get it through my head that somebody could be driven to believe that nobody cared about him and that shooting up a school was a reasonable answer to anything.

We can argue about guns until we are blue in the face and our jugular veins are bulging from the side of our necks – or we can come to the realization that a way we can work to prevent these types of tragedies is by simply letting kids know how much we care about them, that what they do matters, that they aren’t alone.

My high school created an Advisory period three years ago (30 minutes, once a week) after we decided that we needed to build a better community within our school. We decided to try to be proactive, to mix students amongst grades, and to try to create a core group of kids who would have the chance to see that they’re going through many of the same things – that they aren’t on an island when they think it’s all coming down on them.

I was so excited about the possibilities that this period of time presented us. I had all of these mini-lessons planned. I couldn’t wait to get this going. And then we started – and I pretty much fell on my face. The kids didn’t want to be there. There was rebellion, distrust, complaining, questioning, and just an overall lack of effort on (seemingly) everybody’s part. What I found out more than anything was that it was hard.

And that’s what brings me to my reflection on those 18 years. I wish that somebody had sat me down when I was just starting out, so full of enthusiasm and fire, and let me know that this is going to be hard. It’s going to take a ton of work, and even when you dig in and do that work, you’re going to have days that seemingly never end. You’re going to have days when you think it’s not possible to do anything right. In fact, you might have nine of those days in a row. Your lessons will fall flat, your interactions with students will fall short, you’re going to get a headache that won’t go away, and you’ll wonder why you chose to enter this profession in the first place.

And then you’re going to go to school the next day and everything will just click.

Your kids (and make no mistake about it, they are your kids) are all over your lesson and they’re demonstrating that they get it. You get a thank you card from a student for helping with a Senior Project. The little ding goes off and there’s a notification that you’ve gotten an email – and find that it’s a kind word of thanks from a parent who appreciates that you’ve pushed her daughter beyond where she ever thought she’d be willing to go. It’s jeans day (c’mon, aren’t things always better on jeans days?) and Chick-Fil-A is delivered to your door for lunch (I’m not kidding about that one, we do this as a fundraiser for our Red Cross Club).

I’d love to tell you that every day is a jeans day and that Chick-Fil-A will be delivered to your door on a daily basis, but we all know that’s not going to be the case. I’d love to tell you that I’ve made meaningful connections with all of my students or all of the members of my Advisory group. I’d love to tell you that I’ve become more of a friend or a father figure to all of my students. I’d love to tell you that I won’t get frustrated when a student isn’t willing to produce at a level that I know is possible – because it’s hard. I’d love to tell you that after 18 years I won’t make any mistakes next year – but we all know that’s not going to happen.

You get the idea…

And I’m just now starting to get the idea because I’m trying to take the same advice that I’ve given to my students in the form of the poster hanging in the front of my room – the one with Art Williams’ words on it. The one that reminds me that nobody said this was going to be easy, but it’s definitely going to be worth it.



Truer things may have never been said…


…and it’s a shame that they need to be said.

GS Advanced Art & Portfolio Show 2015

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the opening of this annual show, however, I did get the chance to stop by to see the incredible work produced by some truly talented GS Art Students. I’m constantly amazed by the work that our students are producing and their talent level. I’m also constantly in awe of the high interest assignments and the guidance that are provided by the members of our Fine Arts staff – some really, really hard working teachers are working tirelessly to foster these talents.

After seeing last year’s show at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art’s temporary location, it was great to see it back to being housed in the newly renovated Museum’s Community Room. It was also pretty cool to NOT be at the opening show when I was viewing the pieces, as there were several members of the community there at the same time that I was who had no tie to the artists or the school. I must freely admit that I did a little bit of eavesdropping while I was there and it was great to hear the unbelievably positive comments and compliments directed toward our students. Several were, appropriately, in awe of the work.

cantilever2 cantilever1


The following are but some of my favorites – and the phone photos and crops do not even come close to doing them justice.










One of the interesting parts of the show, for me at least, is to read the artists’ statements. I’ve been fortunate to work with many of these students in the English classroom, but it’s great to see them put into words where they’re coming from, artistically. And while Sara certainly does a great job of explaining her motivations, I was struck by this portrait – I’m not sure that I’ve seen many that better capture what I see in a kid.






And I had to share this one as well. I love when an artist is able to make a statement and I also love when she is able to poke a little fun at everything going on around her. I think that this artist did exactly that when she created this piece:


Once again, bravo to all of the students and teachers who took part in this tremendous display of their talents!



Caesar Raps…

This is an oldie but a darn goodie from not too long ago. I’ve always liked the assignment – update to modern language either Antony’s or Brutus’ funereal speech from Julius Caesar – and do it in rap form.

For the most part, the kids do a great job with it; they have some fun and demonstrate that they get it at the same time. Admittedly, most of the students aren’t that talented when it comes to rapping, however!

So these are two of my favorites – you can definitely tell that they got into it – but pay attention, the content is king – and both really impressed me with their content!

(I mean, she deserves props just for that outfit!!!)

And for the second, these ladies decided to channel their inner JT to create “Bringing Caesar Back.” Just don’t try to cut them short!

And do you know what I love the most about these? I guarantee that this has stuck with them. I think they had some fun with it, but they got it, too, and isn’t that what it’s all about?


To just have an ounce of this talent…

To just have an ounce of this talent…


Last night I had the chance to check out the Advanced Art Portfolio Exhibition (I think I just made that title up, so please don’t hold that against me!) at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art’s temporary location. To say that I was blown away would be an absolute understatement.

I’ve been to plenty of Museums and I’ve seen a ton of great art, some famous and some not so famous. I love walking through a gallery and then just being crushed with a piece in front of me. It’s hard to explain what my taste is in art, but when I see it, I just know.

We have an extremely talented group of artists at our school and several had the opportunity to show off their work – some of it I had seen before, but some was completely new to me. It was also really cool to get the chance to read the artist’s statements – some really took the time to examine what has brought them to where they are now. In addition, we also have some incredibly dedicated teachers who’ve worked extremely hard to foster this student talent (thank you Kelley and Renee!)

I was absolutely stunned at how many pieces just stopped me in my tracks — almost rendering me breathless at times. These were just a few of my favorites from the show. Please keep in mind that these are pics from my phone and some were taken quickly with horrible angles – so don’t hold these against the artists!






Just so much talent.

I’d also like to take a minute to thank the Westmoreland Museum of American Art for enabling our students this wonderful opportunity. By no means do they have to do this, but I can assure you that it’s appreciated.

If you aren’t aware, the Museum is currently undergoing major renovations – exciting things are happening for sure. It was also great to see a small section of the temporary location that is dedicated to this construction. I can’t wait to see the new building once completed.





Imagine the possibilities…

We have a Senior Project requirement at Greensburg Salem and I have a little bit of a love/hate relationship with it. I truly like that we have this requirement and feel that it’s a strong one at that. I know that many students get a ton out of their project, and for that reason, I think they’re great.

But then there are those students who simply go through the motions and have to be pushed and pulled and prodded to get through them whatsoever. (And I am very aware that this is part of my job with many!) In my opinion, however, the positives far outweigh the negatives – and I base this even more on talking with the seniors after they’re done, especially the ones who will provide an honest response concerning the whole process. And it’s the actual process itself that I feel is the most valuable aspect of the whole thing.

All of that blabbering brings me to this: we can do better. And here’s how: we can demand more – the students will rise to the expectations that we set, in fact, they’ll go way past them. They will amaze us if we push them and they will struggle though the process and they will have doubts and they will have ups and downs and they will learn about life. And they’ll have an incredible project at the end that they can be proud of. Isn’t that what we should want (and demand) out of each of these?

So where did this all come from you ask? Why are you writing about this now??? Well, my brother Tony, a Case Western grad, posted a video to Facebook today and I took the time to watch it. I hope that you do, too. It’s a relatively quick video and you might say to yourself no high school kid could do that. And I would tell you that you’re wrong. We just have to show them that we believe that they can do it and they will.

Or maybe they’ll fail after trying. And there’s nothing wrong with that, either. We fail in life almost daily, don’t we? And that’s a lesson, too.

So check out the link by clicking on the picture – then click on the video – I really don’t think you’ll be disappointed.




Remembering just how fortunate I am…

I talk to friends who don’t teach and always hear about them complaining about those they work with and I realize that I really am fortunate to work with some great people — people who are dedicated to not only helping others, but to becoming better at what they do at the same time.

Oh, and they’re funny. Really funny.

Exhibit A? If you have read my blog, then you know about my little rant about Mr. Ashton Kutcher telling us how important it is to learn to code. Well today, after getting some flak from the person who was responsible for putting said posters up, I later found this staring at me after closing my door for the day:


Now, I will freely admit that I cracked up when I saw this. She got me – and she got me good. But, what I also noticed, since it was outside my door and I had a little more time to examine it, was what else it said:


And now it makes total sense. Unless it really was just his good looks that got him to where he is. Hmm – come to think of it, I’m not sure that I’ve ever thought his acting to be all that good…

Good one, JoAnne!!!