My dirty secret.

I’ve been wary of saying this publicly, but I think it’s something I can’t dance around anymore. So here it is:

I throw everything out at the end of each school year.

Lesson plans.
Handouts.
Presentations.
Quizzes.

Actually, there are maybe half a dozen lesson that I’ll keep from year to year- but I only keep the idea of the lesson, not the stuff attached to it.
I’m saying this for a simple reason: I’ve been bombarded for years with people trying to move stuff they’ve made from one format or platform to another, newer one. I usually try to help, and the efforts are usually messy and only partially successful. They always ask how I’m managing the transition, and I always say that I don’t have the problem. I think they must assume that I have some secret method for reformatting my teaching resources, but the truth is more simple. I simply make new stuff, all the time.

I think it’s because I bore so easily. I can’t imagine re-using something I’ve already used. Or maybe it’s because I believe that each year’s students are fundamentally different than the last, and the things I’m using to teach should reflect that. Or it’s that I believe that my job, as an educator, is partially to create content, and if I’m using content from years ago I’m shirking my duties. I think that if I taught the same thing the same way twice, that would be me saying that the lesson is perfect and cannot be improved. Which is never the case. Otherwise, why wouldn’t I change and improve it?

Whatever it is, it keeps life good for me. I’m always solving new problems, always re-imagining how things should be presented, always looking for a better way. And I never have to deal with moving my stuff from one platform to another.

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Control the Content

I’m looking at this from the standpoint of a High School English teacher.

The reality is that it doesn’t matter much which books I teach my students. While I like and have predilections towards more thoughtful literature, I really don’t need to use those books to do what I do. If this seems strange, I blame it on my labeling as an “English” teacher. I don’t teach English. Never have. Don’t even know how, really. What I teach is skills via literature. And if we can all agree for a moment that the “skills” part of that is the important part, then it becomes clear that the literature is really just a prop to help me teach those ever important skills. I honestly don’t really need any specific prop- I just need something to work with.

All that said, I’ve become increasingly agitated by the constant questions about “text books.” So let’s talk about those. First off, textbook companies exist for one reason: To make money. That’s it. Any motivation they have to provide a quality product is dependent on that product being able to make them money. As a result, it’s in their best interest to create a product for the largest possible market. Practically speaking in the US, that means building textbooks that fulfill California and Texas’ requirements. Everybody else gets to buy it too, but the content is engineered for those states. Fine. Second, textbooks were a thing created out of need. There was no practical way for an educator to compile all the resources they would need for a year’s worth of instruction. Books could be rare (or obscure), there was a lot of writing to be done, and a huge amount of organization to be undertaken. All of which is to say that we got lazy. We started to think that it was easier to just buy a textbook than it was to build what we wanted for ourselves. We were led to believe that we should leave such stuff to the “experts.” Here’s the thing: we are the experts. We are the educators, we do know what we need in the classroom.

Several years ago now, I spearheaded a project at my school to have the senior English text be an in-house self published book. We did it in one summer- and yes, it was a lot of work. But from that effort we had exactly what we wanted- nothing more, nothing less. Once that initial push was made and the text existed, every year we could revise it, tweak it, modify it to fulfill our ever-shifting needs as educators. I’ll also tell you that self publishing a textbook was wildly less expensive than buying one- printed commercial textbooks were $80-100 each, and our books were less than $6. It was so much less expensive, actually, that we could give them to our students every year- they would keep them, write in them, take contextual notes in them… and it’d still be cheaper than buying some published book. Now, given that my school has gone 1:1, things are looking even better. We’re slowing the printing of texts and moving to ePubs. We’re building a modular contextual vocabulary unit that will allow each teacher to pull from the same bank of words, but easily re-order their vocab books to reflect the order in which they intent to teach texts.

If we can’t, as educators, be bothered to take control of the very content that we teach- if we hide behind the facade of a textbook, then we do ourselves and our students a profound disservice. We become the same as a chef who takes no interest in the quality or provenance of his ingredients. We become a farce.

The State of Things

Here’s where I’m at with all this transitioning:

  • My About page is nearly done- though the email I’ve listed isn’t working right now
  • My Current Projects page is up, and is, in fact, current.
  • My twitter feed is showing the five most recent posts, in near-realtime.
  • My banner at the top of the page is from me, and not some stock image

All of which is good. Sadly, the list of things that remain to be done is longer:

  • Content, content, content
  • Email up and working
  • Rotating banners for pages
  • Migration of my content from other hosting sites to here

And it’s that last one I’m not sure about. Over the years, I’ve moved from platform to platform, trying to find something that works well, but in the course of that leaving my work strewn across the web like some angry toddler. I aim to move all (most?) of that content here. The drawback is it might seems as though I’m double posting old stuff. The solution to that, I think, is to selectively move the relevant stuff all to here, and in the process of that update it as I can to keep things current. I also have decided to not remove the older sites I’ve used- I’ll leave them there, untouched, in the meantime. That way, if people want to see what I was thinking about an issue at a specific time, that record will still exist. Seems like the only fair way to do this.

First Post

Please, stick with me here.

I’m moving my site from my old, self written and deeply outdated solution to this much slicker (and hopefully more up to date) solution.

That said, there are going to be a few migration issues. Patience, peeps.