One of our own is National Teacher of the Year

In case you missed it, an ELA teacher has just been named NATIONAL TEACHER OF THE YEAR. Her name is Rebecca Mieliwocki and she teaches 7th grade English in Burbank, California.


Ain’t no doubt that Rebecca rocks. However, unlike so many other things American, this isn’t really a competition of “who is the best teacher” because such a contest would be silly and run counter to the spirit of the profession. The National (and State) Teacher of the Year Programs are designed to recognize what educators do each day and shine a positive light on a challenging and very often under-appreciated job. Rebecca is an ambassador. She’s an emissary of English.


And how cool is it that she’ll be on the road all of next year traveling the nation advocating for kids, literacy, schools and so on?


Congrats, Rebecca! It’s nice to have a teacher make the news for the right reasons. I am sure you’ll do us all proud.

A note to aspiring writers

For the first 15 years of my life as a teacher I secretly aspired to be a published author. This is a post for anyone who might have the same lurking dreams.


I was inspired to write this post today because yesterday, how do I say this… yet another new book of mine hit the shelves. (Not to be flippant – or arrogant – but I have two books slated for release this year, one book for next year, and two – perhaps three more – in my sights for 2014. But this one is my first children’s picture book with Disney. The title: DADDIES DO IT DIFFERENT. It’s quite special to me. (Though admittedly, they all are.)


Basically, it’s a comedy with heart, a dad book based on the premise of, “Hey Mommy does it this way but when Daddy does it, he can’t help but do it different.” It’s kind of a Father’s Day read for those with young kids but getting it out early enough so that it can find some traction in the market before June 17 (Father’s Day) is the plan.


Anyway, I am very proud of this book. Also, I am very grateful. Fact is, I almost never became “an ink stained wretch.” (But for the grace of God, in more ways than I’ll ever confess.)


One thing I think the publication of this book proves, though, is that in order to become an author, one has to be willing to strike out a zillion times rather than not swing the bat. I spent a lot of years not swinging the bat. (And I now regret SO MANY of those days.)


The following T.H. Palmer poem was ingrained in me when I was a young boy and as a growing adult, I actually bought into the underlying premise… and that, I believe, has made all the difference (to pilfer from yet another poet). Never underestimate the value of one great ELA lesson to the entire life of a kid, that’s the moral here.


Try Try Again

by T. H. Palmer

‘Tis a lesson you should heed,
If at first you don’t succeed,
Try, try again;

Then your courage should appear,
For if you will persevere,
You will conquer, never fear
Try, try again;

Once or twice, though you should fail,
If you would at last prevail,
Try, try again;

If we strive, ’tis no disgrace
Though we do not win the race;
What should you do in the case?
Try, try again

If you find your task is hard,
Time will bring you your reward,
Try, try again

All that other folks can do,
Why, with patience, should not you?
Only keep this rule in view:
Try, try again.




What’s funny is that I spoke to my literary agent yesterday (in regards to a separate project) and when I asked him how his afternoon was going, he informed me that he was feeling a bit down because he had a few novels “out” but they’d been rejected by a variety of publishers as of late.


I, grateful for my own lot, paused. “Sheesh, I’ve been there,” I thought. “Virtually every writer I know has been there.”


But the difference between celebrating “yet another book” hitting the shelves and writhing away in frustration (something I did for at least a decade) was the simple, unswerving commitment to “try, try again.” I am not sure talent has as much to do with it as people think. (Read enough books – especially bestsellers – and I am sure you’ll agree.) But fortitude, unreasonable dedication, refusal to succumb to doubts, setbacks, rejections and naysayers is why a book like DADDIES DO IT DIFFERENT is now available nationwide today.


Will it win a Caldecott? Hey, love to think so but in a way, do I really care? This book is dedicated to my daughter, sort of a nod to a daddy’s love. Ask me if there is anything more rewarding in this world than being able to accomplish that.


Aspiring writers, try, try again. And God’s speed to you.


Common Core: Kan U Speel IT ouut pleeze?

The Common Core ELA standards lay out a pretty clear, if ambitious, picture of what a student ought to be able to do (and know) at a variety of demarcation points along the K-12 educational scale.


A question I have is (and I am wondering if anyone else has this question), “What foundational literacy skills are pre-requisite to entering K in order to be well-prepared to meet the demands of Common core?”


After all, a host of presuppositions have been made about the skills a student will own before they enter kindergarten but where are they illuminated?


Without this guideline, parents are just throwing darts in the dark.


We know what CC expects kids to be able to do by the end of K, 1, 2 and so on but what do they need to know before K in order to be able to meet these aims by the end of K?


The answer is most certainly not, “Uhm, nothing… just send your kids as is?”


Yet, why does CC make inferences about these foundations instead of identifying them clearly for us?


  • Too much work to do so?
  • An oversight which no one really considered when they were locked in the think tank?
  • Too little expertise owned by the authors of CC at the primary level?


We’re already hearing lots of criticism about how little attention seems to have been paid to the cognitive development of primary learners whereas a whole lotta expertise seems evident in the secondary expectations. To wit, here’s a piece of an argument written by Joanne Yatvin:


“…I could not see many elementary school children of any background or ability meeting the standards at the grades designated. In my view, as a former elementary teacher and principal, the standards overestimate the intellectual, physiological, and emotional development of young children, asking them to think analytically as they read or write, extract subtle meanings from a text, and make fine distinctions within and across texts. Such deliberative and intensive behaviors are not supported by the research on child development, nor are they expected anywhere else in children’s lives today.”


People are asking where the research is. I am willing to grant the authors of CC the latitude that they actually do have the research in their back pockets – not that I have yet seen it – because, hey, if you don’t, my goodness are you in for a karmic journey across the rack of teacher wrath and public humiliation. I mean it’s not like ALL OF AMERICA is watching. And if it turns out that you showed up to this game without all your ducks in order thinking that you’d just be able to pull the wool over all our eyes, well… I’ll save that for future blog fodder.


Me, I am curious about the skills you very much infer as needing to be owned by a kindergartener before you actually enter K.


Common Core: Kan U Speel IT ouut pleeze?

Common Core: The Coming Cavernous Gap

Sorry I haven’t been blogging much as of late. My wife is due within the next 2 weeks for baby #2 (another girl), it was Spring Break (can you say, “Pass the suntan lotion?”) and I won the lotto (but decided to remain humbly anonymous).


Now, to the subject at hand…


A few issues are getting ready to bubble up over which the CCSSO really has little to no control. And yet, these issues are gonna play an immense role in the ultimate success and/or failure of Common Core’s literacy’s ambitions.


I am speaking of the cavernous gap about to be experienced in terms of reading readiness for kids entering kindergarten.


That’s right kindergarten. K is about to move from the place where all are welcomed to the place where all are “identified” (and tracked, I wonder?).


See, as a result of CC amplifying the literacy expectations at the upper levels of secondary education (text complexity being the buzzword of the day; goodbye differentiation, I assume) there is a “push down” effect which has arisen in the elementary grades (for more complex text, of course. And Informational text, too… more on that in another blog.) As a result, the primary grades are feeling the tidal force of the CC ELA standards and guess who now has to carry more water on the reading and writing front?


Kindergartners. But the thing is, the education of a kindergarten kid rests tremendously on the shoulders of… drumroll please… the parents.


Do they know this? Are they aware of this? Are they taking steps to elevate their kids literacy skills BEFORE they enroll their students in the magical world of K?


Uhm, I have a feeling some people have missed the Common Core memo.


To wit, CC expects 2nd graders to be able to…


RF.2.4. Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.

    • Read grade-level text with purpose and understanding.
    • Read grade-level text orally with accuracy, appropriate rate, and expression.
    • Use context to confirm or self-correct word recognition and understanding, rereading as necessary.

And CC expects also 1st graders to…


RF.1.4. Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.

    • Read grade-level text with purpose and understanding.
    • Read grade-level text orally with accuracy, appropriate rate, and expression.

Which means that, in the backwards planning model of College and Career Readiness, CC expects kindergarteners to…


RF.K.4. Read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding.


A noble goal indeed. And being that my daughter (#1) will be entering Kindergarten this year, I have done a ton of work to prepare her academic soil. But I’m an educator so I understand about phonemes and CVC’s and sight words.


Yet, isn’t the general American perception that K is a place where you go to “learn to read”? I mean don’t lay persons/parents send their kids to school to learn sight words, phonemic awareness and decoding? But Common Core expects kindergarteners to be able to “count syllables”. (Look it up.) Sure, that’s by the end of the year but right now parents are sending their kids to K without having absolutely ensured their children understand things such as “the T makes a Tuh sound”.


And, not to call out anyone, but parents who are not very literate themselves kinda have this issue of not being able to raise literate kids themselves. If K now expects kids to come to the first day with certain abilities and the kids do not have those certain abilities, they are behind the proverbial 8-ball before they have even grabbed a freakin’ crayon.


Of course, what’s going to happen is that crayons will be determined to be an unacceptable methodological approach towards educating tomorrow’s leaders so recess will be cancelled, fingerpainting will be determined non-beneficial and books like The Cat in the Hat will be replaced by text which explain How to Stitch a Hat.


Expectations have been raised across the board with Common Core, but there is a cavernous gap (as often determined by socio-economic status) framing literacy levels in the U.S. today and unless someone sends an email to a few million Americans, we are lookin’ at one heck of a monster issue.