Teaching Thoughts

Some things I’m thinking through this week, written here so I can find them later.

Evan Weinberg has a good string of posts on his blog related to student assessment. This one in particular has me thinking through 1) what I assess, 2) how I’m assessing, and 3) what information I actually get from students on the assessment.

– I really struggle with setting consistent classroom expectations, which has led to a lot of the frustrations I’m dealing with in class.

– My instruction, even though I often call it “student centered,” is still too focused on me.

– But I’m not sure, because of the two items above in conjunction, that I’ve moved my students to a place where they can be self-directed more often.

– The influence of standardized testing on our students is increasingly negative and I need to keep a positive attitude during the testing windows even though I’m incredibly frustrated.

– I need to make consistent time to either code or read, because those have helped me relax more than anything else these days.

Christmas 2015

I’m overwhelmed by the feeling of immense blessing and immense wretchedness each year. The birth of Christ – King of Heaven, seated at the right hand of God Himself – born in a barn…the lowest of lows. Entering our world to serve as the perfect sacrifice for our sins, a plan set in motion from the moment the fruit touched the lips of man, as a baby, completely dependent on those he came to save.

Parallel to his birth, Christ dying on the cross as a criminal. Crucifixion was saved for offenders who needed to be examples. Cruel and torturous, saved for the worst of the worst. Broken and returned to the lowest of lows.

From Ann Voskamps’ book, The Greatest Christmas:

… and on a chilled night under stars, there is no grand mass of people whose efforts pry the stars into place.

In an obscure caved barn, down some backstreet of Bethlehem, there is no great host whose good works unlatch heaven & impress God into coming.

Tonight, at the foot of the cradle of Christ, like at the foot of the Cross of Christ, there are no big ­people—​­no powerful, no proud.

Tonight there are only those who tramp to the manger with nothing; there are only the manger tramps, the men who lay down all the ­self-​­made, the women who lay down all the ­self-​­sufficiency, the children who lay down all the wants. We, the manger tramps, who kneel where thrones tremble and demons fall and the self-​­made crumble and the ­self-​­righteous weep.

Tonight there are only the manger tramps, who tramp in with all our poverty of spirit . . . so there can be an abundance of God.

And the bulk of all your worn shreds slip off the weariness of your back.

You have tried to polish enough for Him with these rags.

You have tried to patch together so much for Him.

You have tried to produce too much for Him with these rags.

And ­you—­we—​­who are the manger tramps see it tonight, what He’s written in red on all our filthy rags: “But I did it for love.”

All of conquered heaven and grateful earth echo and throb tonight with the heart cry of the ­God-​Child: “I did it for love.”

What can all the manger tramps do but wrap the vulnerable God in strips of our bare, broken hearts so He can lodge in the intimacy of us?

The greatest Gift laid into our empty hands…Grace is weightless.

Even the winning stars singing it over the manger tramps tonight.

God came because he chose us.

Merry Christmas.

Thoughts from Home

My wife had our second daughter last week. I’ve been fortunate to be able to stay home with them this week and help out with the newborn and our two year old.


In the in-between times, usually late at night, I’d think about school stuff. In no particular order:


  • I don’t do a good job recognizing culture in my classroom.
  • I also don’t do a good job of having performance evaluations for students. Work is limited to the scope I set.
  • At the same time, I don’t have a good way to have students access outside content. Many have devices, but many don’t.
  • We’re moving into chemistry soon and finding those connections are difficult.
  • I don’t want to give multiple choice tests anymore, but I have to stick with the other teachers in the department with the same course. So, how do I evaluate differently but maintain parity?
  • When issues with ed tech are brought up, people take it really, really personally (I’m included there).
  • Sometimes those personal feelings get in the way of good decisions (yep. Still including myself).



I went about four months this year without a smartphone. I used an unlocked flip phone that barely made calls and didn’t have reliable text prediction. I was back to thinking in threes, and I can tell you on which number lies any letter in the alphabet without thinking too hard. The only times my phone made noise were when I received calls or texts, and that’s if I remembered to turn on my ringer.

Then, I bought a cheapo smart phone after reading a great article on Medium about minimalistic thinking when it came to buying a smartphone (the author uses the word “shitphone,” which I like, but find a little crass for day-to-day discussion).

I bought my own shitphone economy smartphone and rejoined the world of tweeting, instagramming, emailing, and other various -ings that I’m supposed to do with one of these things. I also rejoined the world of constant notifications. Buzzing, beeping, and LED blinking.

I hated it.

These low-angle shots really make it look more sexy than it is.

I’m enjoying the rate at which I can send a text with a full keyboard, which is what really keeps me from bouncing back to ye olde flip phone. Other than that, I enjoyed being relatively disconnected. I enjoyed reading email when I happened to open it during the day. I enjoyed not knowing someone had liked a photo I put up. Notifications fed my ego and pushed me back into always wanting to know what was up.

So I turned them off.

I find it eerily similar to turning off tracking and stats for this site. I enjoy writing much more. I’m enjoying my life with a smartphone much more now that it isn’t always squawking at me.

All my phone does now is buzz when I get a call or a text. And that’s if I remember to turn my ringer on.

I have a shitphone economy smartphone with the noise-making capacity of a flip phone. And I love it.


I’m really struggling. I lost my job in November and I’m in the midst of trying to balance what I do with who I am.

I wrote in January about the confusion I feel with identity. It’s even bigger now, with more questions than answers. Bill Ferriter was kind enough to leave a very wise comment for me:

I definitely think there’s an expiration date for people who walk away from the classroom — both in your own ability to understand just what it means to be a real-live bona fide full time classroom teacher and in your ability to maintain credibility as a practitioner in the eyes of those of us who are still in the classroom.

That’s unavoidable. It is what it is.

Your challenge is reminding yourself that your work still carries value. In many ways, you get to empower teachers now in ways that you could never do before. It’s a different kind of rewarding, but it is still rewarding, none the less.

(That’s just a snippet, but it helps.)

In May, I wrote more about being a teacher…what it means for identity and working. I still think that a teacher is a holistic undertaking – you don’t do teaching. You are a teacher. It’s unique in the sense that not many other professions can make the same claim.

I think I had it right back in January – I need to stop defining myself by one quality. I may not be in a classroom, my expiration date may be past, but I’m inextricably wound up in education, regardless of what I do. Maybe that’s the real lesson.

More Email Management Tips

Email is a bear. The Oatmeal covered it pretty thoroughly. I use a few little tricks with Gmail that many people don’t know about, so I figured I’d share a few. Maybe one will help you out.

1. Use filters and create labels. Our inboxes get filled up so fast with so many different things, it’s easy to lose an email from your wife or a friend. Filters and labels are sort of like automatically-applied tags. You set them up ahead of time, and then Gmail does the rest.

The easiest way to set this up is to save a search for emails from someone you want to pull out specifically. For me, I want all emails from my wife to be labelled so I can find them later.



I would say avoid using the “skip the inbox” option because it’s easy to forget to check for emails from your friend (or wife), and that’s bad.

Essentially, just like filters, labels can let you find emails quickly. They just set the email off to the side for a quick reference. I wrote a post the other day about a helpful search, and I’ve made a label for that so I can find those emails with one click. Note that you can add, delete, or edit any label you have in your Gmail Settings > Labels.

2. Multiple inboxes are your friend. A few updates ago, Google introduced the managed inbox where you were given tabs and emails were automatically filtered into things like Social, Promotional, or Important. Ditch that thing immediately. You miss emails in the long run, and that can be bad. You need a filter and a label for that filter in order to get this to work correctly.


I love this because I can customize what I see when I log in. I use stars to remind me to do things because I can add them in the mobile app as well. They’re right there at the top, reminding me to take care of those messages. Using “Add Section,” you can apply any filter that you have set up and get it’s own section in your inbox. Be intentional about what filters you set because they can really make your life easier.

3. If it doesn’t need a response, and you don’t need it, delete it. Or archive it. Get it out of your Inbox.

4. Use Google’s advanced search operators. You can use a filter for this, but it’s more about using the Gmail advanced search operators in savvy ways to narrow down your results. For instance, you can use:

has:attachment pdf

and you’ll get any email with an attachment that’s a PDF. If you get a lot of one kind of attachment, this is incredibly helpful. Another one of my favorites is to use:

is:read newer_than:7d

The newer_than:7d returns emails from the past week only. You can search by date, but seeing what’s there from recent days is helpful when you’re trying to stay on top of correspondences.

There are tons of articles online with more tips, these are just some I use to manage my life. My inbox typically only has a dozen or so emails at a time, which is a pretty big accomplishment. Leave your own tips in the comments.

New Adventures

I lost my job on Friday.

It sucks, but life moves on.

I’ve started applying for schools, but it isn’t really a good hiring time right now. So, in the meantime, I’m speaking and doing some freelance web design. If you are looking for someone to lead a PD day at your school, please contact me through my homepage for more information. I’d also appreciate referrals and recommendations.

I’m excited about what opportunities are ahead.

Living the Connected Life

Everyone is connected. There are reports of so-called “disconnect anxiety” afflicting our society because our desire to know what’s happening all the time. I have to admit, I’ve suffered from this. When I had a flip phone, I felt like I was missing out on the flow of my PLN and missing out on great ideas being shared. I have a smart phone now, but I’m ready to take it to the next level.

Tomorrow, beginning at 8AM, I’m going to begin my Connected Life experiment. For one entire day, I’m going to broadcast my life through a Google Hangout on Air.

Want to know what it’s like to work from home? Tune in to the Hangout. Want to know what my house looks like? Tune into the Hangout. Curious what I wear when I work from home? Tune into the Hangout.

This is an unprecedented look into my life, and I want my PLN there. Feel free to share it with your friends, turn it on in the background, or just hop on to see what’s up. I’ll also be doing a live Q&A through Twitter all day, so if you want to know more, hit me up at @bennettscience.

Looking for the live stream? Here’s the link. It’ll go live tomorrow morning at 8AM!

Straddling the Line

“Walk the line” could work, too, but I’m no Johnny Cash.

I moved to TechSmith nearly a year ago from teaching. All I ever wanted to do since starting college was teach. I never changed my major, and I never held a job (except for summer work) prior to jumping into my own classroom in 2009. I also managed to work in public, private, and charter schools since I began teaching. I’ve added to my license as well as added to my interests. Last winter was the first time I seriously considered, and subsequently acted on, leaving the classroom.

When I left, I had a real identity crisis. What was my focus? How do I identify myself? To be honest, my first instinct is still to say, “Hi, I’m Brian, and I’m a teacher.” That’s how I feel, but it’s strange to not have that be the truth anymore.

It’s something I think about a lot today. Most of my friends are teachers. All of my contextual references for how to handle certain situations come from teaching. Nearly all of my favorite stories to tell about “work” come from teaching. I understand that most of my professional life was in the classroom, so the number of references are to be expected, but those memories feel more crisp…more alive.

I feel like I can’t talk to some people the way I used to. I’m someone else now, on the other side of the glass, looking in. I relish stories of students doing great things, of teachers having major wins and major fails. I feel the pain in the struggle and I feel awkward when I realize I don’t have to think about the politics anymore. But I also feel like a cop out when that happens, so I make sure to stay informed.

I feel the shift when I say, “I used to be in the classroom.” Is it a loss of respect? Of appreciation? I’m not sure. Probably not. But it’s still there.

I also get looks from the other end…looks from teachers who wish they were in my position. Longing for something…release? Relief? Just a chance to get out while they still have their sanity? Those unsettle me the most.

Switching gears is really, really hard. I don’t feel like I’ve escaped the inescapable system. I also don’t feel like I’ve given up on public education. In fact, I feel stronger about it now than I ever have before. But, and this might get me in trouble, being on the other side of the line, I see how much mistrust there is when it comes to education. I don’t know what else to call it. I’m also guilty of the same judgements.

How many lines do we all straddle? Who’s burden is it to manage the dissonance? Can (should?) we favor one side over the other?

I think I’m learning that the value in relationships come from our experiences walking our lines. Playing the teacher on one side, and the parent/professional/author/athlete/astronaut/whatever on the other three or four sides. Life isn’t black and white, so how can out self-identifications be?

I know that before I left, I was a teacher. My lines have become irreversibly intertwined, but that isn’t a detriment. I’m thankful for my time in the classroom. I’m thankful for my time (so far) at TechSmith. I’m looking forward to getting even more tangled up every day.