My name is Kathleen Stern. This is my sixth year teaching and fourth year at Boston Collegiate Charter School. I currently teach 7th grade reading and this spring, I will finish my Master of Arts in Teaching degree at Simmons College. Prior to BCCS, I taught 10th grade reading at Hillhouse High School in New Haven, Connecticut as a Teach For America corps member. I also spent two years working for Teach For America’s regional and national staff—first fundraising and then tailoring the organization’s performance review system for its staff members.
In 2006, I graduated from Trinity College with a degree in international studies and human rights. As a teenager, I had planned on working for an international organization like Amnesty International or the World Food Programme. In college, I lived with a host family in Mali, West Africa and studied public health and gender issues. Over time, though, I saw a glaring human rights issue in my own backyard. Children in the United States are not guaranteed an equitable, excellent public education. I became a teacher to address this issue and believe that teachers can be levers of change in someone’s life.
I love teaching reading because, like traveling, reading reveals universal truths and contradictions, makes us uncomfortable at times, but ultimately builds empathy. A teacher’s job is limitless—there is always more I can do to push a student or figure out who they really are. There are also an infinite amount of resources, texts and theories that I need to carefully navigate and bring to the classroom. It makes my brain hurt, in a good way.
The Common Core Standards (CCSS) are already making a huge difference in my classroom. Two years ago, I had a general understanding of the standards and started to envision how they could change how and what my students read, learned vocabulary, wrote and discussed. Last year, I started to implement these changes in my curriculum. I added two informational anchor texts into a new unit—Chew On This and Fast Food Nation. In other units, I embedded narrative nonfiction, film clips and songs alongside traditional literature and short stories. Using various genres and access points, my students practiced close reading with rigorous “texts.” In my first few years of teaching, I typically asked students to identify literary devices and summarize texts. Last year, I also asked my students to analyze the effect of those literary devices and certain words on a text’s meaning or tone.
For a book club unit last year, my goal was to develop students’ discussion and synthesis skills. In four-person “book clubs,” students posed open-ended discussion questions and debated issues like a book’s message or motives for a character’s change. With CCSS in mind, I encouraged students to support their claims with evidence, play devil’s advocate and change their minds when appropriate. I have also started to change the way I assess students. For example, at the end of the Chew on This/Fast Food Nation unit last year, students engaged in a two-day debate about whether or not to allow our school to sell chocolate milk. Students took a stand, argued their position with compelling evidence, and presented counterarguments in respond to others’ comments.
This year, I want to continue to anchor my class with the close reading of texts, but would like to use these texts as a springboard for more student writing and discussion. I want to give my students more choice in how to show what they know. I want my students to connect and synthesize key ideas, form their own opinions and share them in a compelling and authentic way.