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Amy Williams / @MsWilliamsEng

Amy Williams / @MsWilliamsEng

Amy Williams holds Masters degrees in English and teaching. She was a New York Educator Voice Resident Fellow in the 2014-15 school year, and was a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar Grant recipient in 2014. Her writing and lesson plans have appeared on ReadWriteThink, EdWeek Teacher, and in other publications. Amy was a tenured educator in New York where she taught grades 10, 12, English electives like Mass Media & Society and dual-enrollment courses with Tompkins Cortland Community College. She now teaches at an IB World School in Germany.

Posted by on in Education Resources


"Frustration" is probably the best word that can be used to describe my feeling after watching the film adaptation of JoJo Moyes' Me Before You. The film centers on William Traynor, a man who sustains a disability after an accident, and who ultimately (spoiler) chooses assisted suicide over life in a wheelchair. The film came under fire by critics for perpetuating harmful, inaccurate stereotypes about people with disabilities. Indeed, Me Before You would have us believe that people with quadriplegia are asexual beings who cannot enjoy truly robust lives. And who can't visit Paris for some reason.

Me Before You was clearly written by someone who has little experience with disabilities in the same way that, say, Heart of Darkness was composed by someone who had very little interaction with Congolese natives. I wonder, though, how many students out there would be able to recognize the problematic nature of the text. Or how many would walk away from the film feeling mere pity for those with spinal cord injuries? Likewise, how many students who read John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men are troubled by the ending and skeptical of Steinbeck's portrayal of intellectual disabilities? How many see Lennie as an animal-like creature whose death was inevitable?

How many students have only been exposed to what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls a "single story" about disabilities?

Education provides us with a vehicle for breaking down stereotypes and for exploring difference - or perceived difference. Here is one activity that can help teachers to lay a groundwork for helping students to recognize and counter disability stereotypes.

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Posted by on in Professional Development

classroom observation eye

A powerful professional development tool exists that may be underutilized in your school: Peer observations. That is, the practice of teachers observing teachers with the goal of improving their own teaching. 

When I started a new teaching position mid-year, peer observation played a crucial role in my integration because it gave me insight into the school culture. Through the simple act of sitting in a colleague's classroom and taking notes (well, six different classrooms with six different colleagues), I was able to see a range of teaching styles and classroom management techniques. I got a clearer glimpse of my students' daily experience, and I saw new opportunities for collaboration across disciplines.

Here is a simple process that educators can use to refine their own teaching practices and engage in free professional development during the school week:

  1. Form a question or focus for your observation. What do you want to get out of this observation?
  2. As a colleague if you can sit in on their class; branch out to different departments if possible. If they say yes, then pick a time and agree on protocols.
  3. Be a fly on the wall and take notes (doc): What classroom management strategies do you notice? How does your colleague organize his/her lessons? How are they using technology in the classroom? What do they do to motivate students? Note: Try sitting with your back to groups of students; they may be more authentic when they don't feel observed. 
  4. Thank your colleague.
  5. Keep it confidential: Don't discuss your colleague's lesson with others.
  6. Reflect & plan: What's something new that you saw that you'd like to try out in your classroom?
  7. Try something new in your classroom! Let your colleague know what tool or strategy you learned from them.
  8. If your colleague wants your feedback, offer it - but with caution. Remember that you observed one lesson, on one day, in one school year. Avoid offering "quick fix" solutions and avoid passing judgments.

What administrators can do facilitate peer-to-peer learning:

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Posted by on in School Culture


If your students need opportunities to build their resumes to become viable college applicants but your school doesn't have multiple clubs and societies, all hope may not be lost. Here are a few things that all teachers can do to create privilege for their students:

  1. Learn how to write a really good letter of recommendation.
  2. Create opportunities for students to showcase their leadership skills that will pique the interest of college admissions officers, and that can be specifically referenced in letters of recommendation. For example, my English department created short-term, peer-tutoring positions last year when we realized that some of our middle school students needed help with discussion skills; we're also hoping to put students in charge of literacy initiative efforts so that students have the chance to collaborate with librarians and community members. This kind of student involvement benefits everyone.
  3. Implement a rigorous, and well-rounded curriculum so that students can develop strong research, writing, reading, and critical thinking skills. 
  4. Advocate to keep or build music and drama programs.
  5. Invite college representatives and alums into your classroom. Students may need to hear about prestigious universities from multiple voices. We also need to find a way to make university recruiters aware that they should be visiting talent in your school.

Why This Matters

Students enrolled in prestigious (and costly) prep schools have a distinct advantage in college admissions because, as Shamus Khan writes in Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School, prep schools are particularly good at creating opportunities for students. Schools that have multiple clubs, organizations, and socieites will have multiple students who can boast about their leadership skillls, community involvement, and personal initiative. Not surprisingly, it's easier for students to gain access to an elite university when they have a team of adults working on their behalf helping them to earn a number of achievements that impress university recruiters.

This discrepancy between wealthier schools that can easily fund a number of programs that serve students and other schools that are struggling in the midst of budget cuts contributes to the end result of prestigious universities tending to serve those who already have advantageous backgrounds.In 2013, for example, only 15 percent of Yale’s student body came from families earning less than $65,000 ($12,000 more than the median income in the US). If students living in underserved communities aren't able to get their foot in the ivy door, they will be missing out on access to important connections and opportunities that may be their best tickets to upward social mobility.

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Posted by on in Miscellaneous

furniture 640x398

I loved the idea of desks with wheels. My lessons usually involve some combination of partner work, small-group work, whole-class discussion, inner circle/outer circle discussions, independent work. Movable desks seemed to make sense for this kind of collaborative practice.

And I have noticed  a few distinct benefits:

  • It can be fun to push oneself around in one of these desks
  • It's very easy to push the desks around the classroom (no heavy lifting required) and scratches on the floor are significantly less likely to appear
  • Students can more fluidly shift between partners
  • It's easier for students to turn around to see what's happening in different parts of the room.

With that said, I can't say that this new desk necessarily makes collaboration easier for my students -- particularly since my students are already so adept at team work. Classroom furniture should reflect our pedagogical values. I do see the potential benefits of Node chairs, but it seems like a stretch to dub them "real world" or "21st century."

A few issues that I've noticed:

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Posted by on in Curriculum & Unit Design

To Kill a Mockingbird 1

Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird is a foundational text in the American canon that attempts to deal with the complex issues of race and discrimination in the United States. Set in the Great Depression, this novel takes us to Maycomb, a fictional Alabama town where community members are wary of difference and where legal justice remains out of reach for men like Tom Robinson, a black man who is convicted of raping a white woman despite ample evidence of his innocence. While Lee’s novel succeeds in revealing many of the mechanisms by which discriminatory beliefs and attitudes are formed and perpetuated, the novel is also limited and limiting.

On Representations of Class

When we talk about Mockingbird, our discussions tend to skip over class and focus exclusively on race. This is something that some students — say, those living in low-income, rural areas — might pick up on. As one former student with whom I worked during a student teaching assignments wrote in an editorial:

...everybody talks about the Cunninghams because they are poor and can't afford for their kids to eat sometimes. People might not like that and might think that is rude that had to be in the book when it could have just been left out. Also maybe some people who read this book might not have a lot of money and the book makes it sound like it is the [poor people's] fault for being poor and they don't try to do anything about it.

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