Or at least, don’t buy a new set for your classroom

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Photo by Romina BM on Unsplash

Textbooks are relics of the past, and yet you’ll find them in nearly every Social Studies classroom around the country. They take up cabinet space, litter countertops, and hang out in the metal cages underneath students’ desks.

They are a waste of space. And they are limiting your students’ ability to think critically.

Too often in classrooms, to this day, teachers depend on two things: a textbook with questions in the back and chapter checkpoints, and sit-and-get lectures.

Many times, this is all that students get in Social Studies classes, particularly at the high school level.

And it’s part of the reason why so many students hate Social Studies, and why they learn and retain so little after graduation. …

And neither should you

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Photo by Tim Wildsmith on Unsplash

Words have power, as much as we might like to say otherwise. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is a ridiculous lie. Of course words hurt. And if we read words like the n-word in class, we are complicit, giving our students permission to use these words against each other.

Let’s get something out of the way because I think it needs to be said: I’m white. My kids are white. My husband is white and Jewish. I took his name, so I have a Jewish surname. Something I had never realized before I married him was how people might treat me differently because of my last name. I am not saying that I have experienced out-and-out bigotry or prejudice, but there have been situations since we’ve been married that have made me uncomfortable, to say the least. And it’s made me think of how my children, also having a Jewish surname, may sometimes be treated in school. I get irate when I hear about graffiti of swastikas on the doors of bathroom stalls at schools or when a kid is called “the Jew” in class (I’ve heard it first hand, and it became a major issue). …

What happened today at the Capitol in D.C. cannot, and should not, be avoided by teachers

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Photo by Dustin Humes on Unsplash

This evening, a teacher friend of mine texted me about the situation that exploded in Washington, D.C. today. She said, “Really struggling to think through how to talk with students about what happened in D.C. today. How does one even begin to talk about such a thing?”

I used to be an Early U.S. History teacher for 8th graders at a middle school just down the street from my home. I took a leave of absence this year and saw many of the questions I posed and topics we explored in my classes come to life over the summer. In class, we had talked about slavery, racism in the United States then and now, the KKK as a terrorist group, white supremacists, the utter failures of Reconstruction, the Civil Rights movement. We talked about Jefferson’s hypocrisy, Westward Expansion, genocide of Native Americans, the Indian Removal Act, the Trail of Tears, reservations, massacres. We talked about the Civil War, secession, and monuments that at that time — in early March of 2020 — still stood. So much has changed in America this year. The statues are coming down. The Land ‘O Lakes girl is gone from the butter package. And white supremacists took off their hoods and instead picked up flags. …

This is not a pep talk, I promise

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Photo by Константин Маманович on Unsplash

Dear Teacher,

I can’t claim to empathize with you — not this year. I stepped away. You are still in it. Despite that, I’ve been thinking about you since the start of the new year. Yes, it’s 2021. Does that mean all of your problems and challenges from 2020 will fade away? Hardly. You’ve had a week or two off, but now you’re headed straight back into the fire.

I am not a person who believes in false, toxic positivity. I believe in being real. And no, that doesn’t mean being pessimistic. I am actually a hopeful person. It is possible to be a realist and to be hopeful. …

It all started with a simple question: “Teacher friends, if your school were to offer to take something off your plate to help you with your workload, what would you choose?”

In just a few days since I posted this question on a handful of teacher-focused pages on Facebook, over 200 educators from the state and Colorado and around the country responded, not to mention the hundreds of “likes” for various answers.

And teachers’ requests were highly similar.

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Photo by Valentin Petkov on Unsplash

During the holiday season, some teachers are given recognition with a small gift, a token of appreciation. Every teacher I know loves being recognized for their efforts — whether it is a heartfelt bit of praise from a student or a Starbucks card from a parent. But this year, teachers don’t want gifts, so much. What they really want is less, not more. They want their leaders to stop telling them: “Take care of yourselves” when there’s no action behind it. …

Don’t worry about cramming it all in; focus on what you really want students to be able to do

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Let’s stop and think for a moment. What is really important, in terms of a student’s learning? What is most important?

A few years ago, I was introduced to the concept of standards-based grading. Now, to any teacher who’s been around for a while, this is nothing new. And yet, it’s still not widely practiced. Yes, there are Common Core standards, and state standards, and literacy standards, and on and on. But in this crazy marathon called the school year, where teachers are off with a bang, PLCs, IEGs, IEPs and 504s, MTSS, and more nipping at their heels, a teacher finds it tough to step off the track for a minute to catch their breath and think for a second. …

It’s so simple, yet overlooked

As a working mom, I thought my aspirations of being a writer were over. I was a high school English teacher with a two year old, pregnant with another on the way, a mortgage, and a car loan. I could see the epitaph on my tombstone already: She worked in education for 30+ years as a teacher, raised a family, retired in place, and passed away at a ripe age. Not that any of that is bad; it’s not. I love my family, and I feel fortunate. But it’s just not everything I’ve wanted to do with my life.

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So at the age of 32, with a two year-old in the stroller, I found myself walking down a dim fluorescent-lit hallway inside a gothic red brick building at Regis University in Denver, Colorado. The short trip up from a nearby suburb was exhausting: car seats, blankets, strollers, snacks, diapers, a hangover of night terrors, and a demanding stack of essays to grade had manifested as an utter lack of sleep. I felt like the walking dead. And inside, I felt like my life was dimming, too; maybe it was time to throw in the towel on my life’s purpose and give it all to these two little humans I’d had a large part in making. …

Teachers, You Should Encourage Them To

This year, knowing that I was taking a year off from in-person teaching and that my kids were going to do remote learning, I decided to go in with my son’s best friend’s family and create a Learning Pod. It is the best decision I made this year — without it, we all would be having a much harder time. It’s not always perfect, but we make it work through frequent communication, trust, and support. …

When teachers get sick this year, what happens next?

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Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton on Unsplash

Taking a day off has never been more difficult, it seems, than it is for teachers this fall.

While we all (should) recognize the value of a teacher in the room, the key role of the substitute has been egregiously overlooked. Teachers are human, and need days off, whether because they are sick, in quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure, or to take care of personal matters. Real life doesn’t pause between 7am and 3:30pm. And work in the classroom never stops, and cannot be put off until tomorrow. …

And not just for the reasons you might think

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Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

On October fifth, I will go in for my annual mammogram. Though they can’t explain why (I’ve asked), I have been put into a higher-risk category, so I go every year.

I am almost afraid to tell you that — what if a future employer sees that statement and decides not to hire me? What if an insurance auditor looks it up if I apply for independent insurance, and they decide I can’t be covered or they jack up my rates? …


Cindy Shapiro

Cindy Shapiro is a Colorado teacher on a leave of absence from her school district this year. Her two children are engaging in remote learning.

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