I used to teach third grade. Right by the door I had a box. The “Turn It In Box.”
Everyone has one of these, right?
Students complete work, and then, instead of handing it to the teacher, they walk over and turn it in.
At the end of each day, I would walk over to that Turn It In Box and empty out a ream of cursive worksheets, friendly letters, and math problems. With a sigh, I would lug them back to my desk to begin the task of making sure everything looked “okay enough” and then in the corner quickly scribble a star, or put a rubber stamp of a dinosaur holding a wooden sign that said “Good work” in green or purple or bright pink ink. Some papers would receive a checkmark, or if, upon my fleeting glance, if it seemed to be rather good work, the paper would adorned with a “checkmark plus.”
The dinosaur with his sign, the checkmark-plus, they would never make it into my grade book.
These symbols would be hurriedly placed on the work, proof that I had looked at the assignment, and then the papers would be placed back into individual cubbies to be taken home at week’s end.
Things obviously get busy as a classroom teacher. The reality of the situation is that two or three days would go by and I wouldn’t empty that Turn It In Box. As the busy days would pass, the Turn It In Box would transform into a Turn It In Pile, and then grow into a Turn It In Mountain.
Students would come up to me and, looking at the floor as they spoke as though to avoid the embarrassment in my eyes, let me know that, “Umm… the Turn It In Box is full again and the papers are beginning to fall off the sides.”
The Turn It In Mountain had yet again become the Turn It In Volcano spewing ungraded work from its peak.
The taller the volcano of papers, the more guilt I would feel each time I walked past it. All that work, denied my stamps and stars and scribbles.
Now comes for my confession. I have never publicly admitted this before. I need to get this off my chest.
If you are reading this right now, chances are you have a social media account that you use for your work as an educator. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram... it doesn’t matter which platform you use. That social media account is an often underutilized tool that can give your students access to an authentic, global audience. We should be leveraging these accounts everyday to show students that their ideas and stories are not completed to fill their teacher’s grade book, but to actually have an impact on people they will never meet and even potentially change the world.
Before social media ever existed, when I was in 8th grade, I signed up for my school’s journalism class. Every month or so, we would put out Paw Prints, a school newspaper that covered school issues and popular culture. In order to get our stories published, we would pitch article ideas to our classmates and, when eventually approved by our teacher, we would work on writing them.
One afternoon, during the last trimester of my first year of teaching, my principal grabbed my attention during lunch and asked me to come see him as soon as school was over. He mentioned that he had received a letter from a parent of one of my students and he wanted to get my take on it.
On the outside, I responded confidently. “Sure, not a problem,” I said. On the inside, it was a different story. I started thinking if there was anything that had happened in my class over the last few days that could have warranted a parent letter sent directly to the principal. Needless to say, I sweated bullets for the ensuing hours. My first year of teaching had been at times bumpy (see Evidence Exhibit A: my first evaluation observation). I wondered if this would be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Or, in this case, the letter that broke the teaching career of a young, well-intentioned educator
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