I did not have a particularly successful October in my internship, though I started the month off feeling very confident. Coming out of undergrad, I felt like I had a solid foundation of knowledge, both English and pedagogy related, to use as I worked with my eighth graders in a Title I, majority-minority school. All of the semesters I spent following the history and growth of African American literature, and all of my experiences being a marginalized person myself and and my passion for intersectional disability activism have shaped who I am as a learner and who I am as a person, so I thought that that part of me would help me connect to the students as a teacher.

I never considered the possibility that my students would consider me racist, yet that happened. I know not all of them felt that way, but enough did that the dynamic of the classroom shifted and some of the students even went to the principal to relay their suspicions. She told me that the students were feeling that I treated the students of color differently than the white students, and this immediately perturbed me, so I started to do research into what I could do better and then managed to fail to implement what I had learned from my readings or from direct suggestions. Here is some of what I learned during October, my reflections, and the evidence to back up what I was trying to do.

I’m a white girl from an upper middle-class background in Northern Virginia. My students see my privilege. They don’t see my experiences being a marginalized person because of my disabilities. They don’t see my health problems, my grief and changed outlook on life from my mother’s somewhat recent suicide, and the lasting effects from having a very difficult time as a trouble teenager who was ostracized and ignored. The students started out suspicious of me, and I couldn’t blame them. I was yet another white woman standing over them all day.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s report on The State of Racial Diversity in the Educator Workforce, a large majority of teachers across the country are white. My middle school is classified as Urban, which I found kind of laughable at first. I grew up right outside of Washington D.C., so I had a hard time seeing what I view as a sleepy area as urban. I learned quickly that how the students saw themselves and their experiences were incredibly important and I am mental kicking myself for not realizing this earlier, as important as self-identity and non generalizations about a group of people are in the disability community that I love so much. What I should have done was been able to break through whatever barrier that existed between me and the students and connected with them, and I couldn’t do that. I know that is going to take a lot more reflecting and change on my part to make sure that I can do so with my future students.

I know just how important it is that I as a teacher (let alone I as a human being) need to see color. I didn’t correct students when they used grammar from other than the so-called Queen’s English, as one of my beloved professors likes to call it, and I worked hard at quickly learning names and correct pronunciations because I know the importance of names to one’s identity. When I encountered a surname with a rolled double R that I am incapable of pronouncing, I never made him feel like his name was the problem. Instead, I turned his name into a thing of pride: he had bested me! We bonded over his name and he enjoyed asking me to try and say words in Spanish that have that dreaded rolled R. I embraced his heritage and native language and he and I had a more positive relationship after that.

And yet.

When my mentor teacher asked me to reflect on who I most often had to verbally discipline. The black boys, I quickly answered, but not because I as targeting them. They made up a large chunk of the classroom’s population and were the ones who most often were not following directions or following behavioral expectations. My mentor questioned me to make sure I wasn’t falling to into common trap of being prejudice while disciplining and challenged me to look at these experiences from their point of view. I realized that to them, it seemed like I was always nagging at them to get off of Snapchat when that white girl over there was allowed to be on her phone, and I always asked specific students of color if they needed pencils because they were poor. My rationale was that the girl I allowed to be on her phone was reading a book on the Kindle app and had asked me permission after finishing her work, whereas the group that I reprimanded were all playing a cooperative nonacademic game and had not finished their work. I also thought that I was being kind to show the students that I would non-judgmentally give them pencils if they needed and that I had taken the time to get to know the students’ frequent needs to anticipate what they might ask for before they even needed to ask.

I learned that I was very guilty of Belief #2 on this list. I asked the students for song suggestions to use in analyzing text (or songs) for mood and tone. After asking the students for song suggestions, something I did to try and show them that I am interested in their interests, I went through and tried to find school appropriate suggestions. I chose one that somebody had written down as a joke, used the wrong version of another, and chose a different rap song after none of the hip hop/rap suggestions could be used. Apparently nobody listens to Kanye in 2017. Who knew? I should have known or found out before my lesson. Instead of connecting with the students like I had hoped to do to make Gloria Landson-Billings proud, the students thought that I was making fun of their choices.

I’m still not entirely sure what went wrong or how the students progressed to believing that I am racist, wanting to leave class if I was teaching, and making fun of my weight to my face. I’ve certainly learned that knowing the literature about a culture is not the same thing as being able to connect in the moment with somebody who happens to be from that culture. I’ve learned that teaching content is much different than teaching people and that I am better at the former.


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My Transformative Experience

I was tasked with writing a 500 word statement on a transformative experience that has happened during my time in the College of Education at the University of Mary Washington. There was only one possible thing I could write about, but it is deeply personal. I avoided writing this but in the end have found that even thinking through my feelings on the topic and putting them into this essay have helped me learn about myself.


I wear my heart on my sleeve and social justice is one of its driving forces, but my advocacy used to be selfish. What was wrong, I argued with myself, about wanting to accessibly pave the world with good intentions? As long as the world changed for the better, what should it matter if the intentions were mainly to make my own life easier at the end of the day?

That changed when my mom died. It feels like cheating to use her suicide as a transformative experience and I don’t know how to talk about her death and my grief without seeming like I’m looking for sympathy. I don’t know what to do with sympathy, or pity, or any of those weird and difficult feelings I have welling up inside me other than to use my restless energy to do and to make and to (electronically) yell.

My mother’s death took me outside of myself and my struggles and made me more aware that others are fighting battles just as hard as mine. I know how to give a voice to somebody who can’t or won’t speak out, but more importantly I have learned the importance of giving others that voice before it is gone. My classroom is going to be a place where voices are heard. We are going to read our away around the world and write until we know ourselves.

My advocacy isn’t simply selfish anymore. Now it’s angry and frustrated and so very sad. It’s personal and it’s universal. My advocacy, and who I am as a person, has changed for the bittersweetly better.

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Unit Lesson Plan

I have enjoyed creating a lesson using digital technology this semester. Some of the tools I can see myself using in the future, but others completely frustrated me. I actually found a piece of software that allows you to annotate website (InsertLearning) for this class and could not find a good way to integrate it into this unit; however, I created a digital assignment for another unit.

Something that I learned this semester was how important it is to cite your image sources. I know that I am very guilty of taking pictures off of the internet to use, especially to help with multiple means of representation. I know that I need to get better at giving credit to the artists who created what I am using. If I want my students to cite their references when working, I need to model that behavior and show them how it is done.

Working with media literacy in a class on digital integration in education has been the perfect blending of topics for me to learn and work through. I myself had to constantly evaluate new sites or technology I was using at the same time that I was writing lesson plans on how students need to evaluate things they come across while working. Advertisements are different from how they were when I grew up; my students are now seeing ads on websites, on apps on their phones, and in nearly every direction they look. I don’t want my students to mindlessly buy into what they are being shown.

In an age where a Pepsi commercials can spark controversy, I want my students to think critically about the messages they are seeing. After going through my unit on media literacy for advertisements, I think that they will be able to.


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Teaching of English Unit

Here is my unit lesson for the book Monster by Walter Dean Myers.


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Real or Fake?

As my middle-schoolers are using technology more to learn the importance of media literacy, I have been giving them examples or resources that I have personally vetted to make sure the information I present my students is always accurate and factual. I felt that they needed to learn the basics how to analyze things found online before I started showing them that the internet will very often lie to them.

To me, one of the most important part of VA English/Language Arts SOL 7.3 is:
b) Distinguish … between evidence and inference.

The students will gather themselves into groups, making sure that each group has either a iPhone or an iPad with the Aurasma app. I will hand out the four example (“trigger images”) that I created (or search for #emd) and in their groups, the students will look at the images I presented to think about them. I still need to make the worksheet to go with this activity, but it will have questions that reflect both the trigger image and the overlay.

At first glance, does the image look like it could be true? How do they think the images circulated around the internet? I want them to really think about the image as it is presented to them with little context, as when they are scrolling through social media and see pictures like these ones, the students might not always the background information necessary to understand the image. The students will need to know who Vladimir Putin in, what ‘euthanasia’ means, and have some understanding of suicide bombers.

When they have discussed the images, they will take turns using the Aurasma app to see the truth behind each image; some of the Aurasma overlays include the original picture before it was digitally manipulated, some use other socially relevant memes or social media posts. After learning the reality behind each image, the students will discuss how knowing the truth changes how they see the image I gave them. Was there any way to tell that the image was false now that they know? If they saw these false/fake news spread around social media, would they call out the posters for spreading false information? Are any of the misconceptions presented in the images more important to correct than others?


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Flipped SuperBowl Classroom

Most of what my students have been looking at when dealing with persuasive advertisements in previous lessons have been static images or words, so I wanted them to start connecting how imagery and word choice are important in video commercials as well. The exit-ticket for the class period before this one will ask the students “How do you think we might evaluate videos differently than posters?”

I didn’t want to use precious class time to research and watch videos, so instead the students are going to be doing the main activity of this lesson at home. As they are exploring different mediums that persuasive writing can take, the students are getting closer to the end of unit assessment, creating their own advertisement. They will be put into pairs in class; each group has the option to narrate a PSA, create a poster, act out a commercial, or any other teacher-approved method they can think of to either sell a product or bring awareness to an issue.

The students will be tasked with going home and watching commercials aired during any of the SuperBowls of the last five years. They have to pick four commercials to analyze by completing the following evaluation. I wanted to make sure that the students were watching commercials with appropriate content, and SuperBowl commercials are overseen by the Broadcast Standards and Practices, ensuring that the commercials would be safe for my middle-schoolers to watch.

By having the students do this assignment at home, they are all able to work at their own pace. They can watch videos that truly interest them and answer the evaluations truthfully without worrying about what their peers think. I think the hardest part of them will be the last question, which is “Why should somebody NOT buy this product?”. I want the students to learn to try and see the other side of an argument or why they shouldn’t always believe everything paid advertisements say.


When the students come in, they will answer a bell-ringer question of “What was most surprising to you watching these commercials?” We will also have a whole-class discussion to debrief on what they saw and how it connects to what they have previously learned regarding persuasive writing techniques. I will be able to tell who completed the assignment by asking them about the videos they watched, and I will be able to see if they can connect their videos to the concepts of Pathos, Logos, and Ethos by taking a general poll: “Raise your hand if your favorite of the four videos used [P/L/E]. [Student,] explain why.”

The students will then pair themselves off, or choose to work alone, and decide what product they want to sell or what important issue they want to highlight. They also need to decide how they are going to present their information. They will start researching their topic and I will be there to bounce between groups and give help where needed. When they finish their large project at the end of one week of working on it in class, they will present it to me and their classmates.

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Interactive Whiteboard Activity

Continuing my trend of having my seventh grade students learn about persuasive writing through different forms of media, this lesson has students look at modern advertisements to introduce the concept of pathos, ethos, and logos. I wanted the students to be aware that peer pressure exists in the form of media and pop culture; by becoming aware of the modes of persuasion commonly used around them, students should be able to identify when they are being pushed into buying a product or idea. The students should then be able to use these techniques that they have real-world experience with and learn how to form their own persuasive arguments.

The specific standards to which this lesson is aligned is 7.3(a) and 7.3(b).

7.3    The student will understand the elements of media literacy.
a) Identify persuasive/informative techniques used in non-print media including television, radio, video, and Internet.
b) Distinguish between fact and opinion

I wanted this lesson to have a lot of examples of the different forms that pathos, ethos, and logos can take, making sure to include time for discussion so the students can talk through how and why the different images are actually examples. A YouTube video gives the students even more examples before we go onto the poll game.

By showing different images and letting students vote for which mode of persuasion they think goes with the image, I am able to do a quick summative assessment to see how well they understand the concepts. I will be able to see in real-time who needs help with what so that I can give students the specific help and direction they need.

As I opened the lesson having the students do a quick and silly sorting game of facts versus opinions, I wanted to end the lesson with something similar. By giving them more images and asking them to sort the persuasive ads as facts or opinions, I hoped to show the students how to read advertisements to find their real intent or bias.

I tried to upload the file on this page but it didn’t work, so I create an account on SMART Exchange and published it there.

I also created a rubric for students to use when evaluating websites.


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Life Stories Told in Ink

I’m a Millennial and like all stereotypical nerdy non-conformists, I have tattoos to help tell my life story.

My starfish on my foot reminds me that every step I make, I can be making a difference. Every step I take can be and should be towards making the world a better place. The starfish story also reminds me that it can be the smallest of things that make a difference to somebody else and so as a teacher, I need to be aware that every conversation I have with a student, every shared look or every comment I write on an assignment may be something that lives with the student forever, perhaps even as a motivating force in their life.

When I was 16, about six months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, I traveled down to Biloxi, Mississippi. I spent a week helping to gut a house. I acquired asthma from breathing in the toxic mold, and I spent the week pondering how absolutely insignificant I was. I didn’t realize that’s what I was worrying about at the time; instead, I lamented about how much work there was to still do in that part of the country and how few people there were to help. On our last day, I stood in front of the group of 80 people who had come together for a week to try to fix the world with hammers and hope. I started spouting off about how I was feeling and how there was so much work left to do and about how, in the grand scheme of it all, I had done practically nothing to help. I think I even ended my tirade with a pout and a stop of my foot and an angry “It’s not fair!”

To help appease me, and perhaps some of the others who were wordlessly agreeing with me, a man I’ve known for my entire life through my church got up and told me a story. It goes like this, more or less and depending on who is telling it:

‘A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.

She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”

The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference to that one!”’

On my other leg, I have my third tattoo. It’s a bar of music, wrapping around my ankle. I place a lot of meaning into this song, which is an old camp song I learned at Camp Woodstock, the summer camp in Connecticut that I went to for two weeks every year from ages 7 through 13.

My sister and I were the fourth generation of our family to attend this camp. My great-grandfather was on the original Board of Directors, my grandfather was the Waterfront Director, and my mother was a counselor. The first person around my age I ever knew who died I knew through Woodstock. As an adult looking back on my childhood, I have very fond memories of camp. I frolicked through the woods and my imagination was at its best when I was walking the path from my cabin to the dining hall.

I still have every step of that path permanently engraved in my head, and sometimes when I have too many heavy thoughts on my mind I pretend that I’m walking that path, always making sure to hop between the tree whose trunk splits in two, and to take a quiet moment at the bench that honors the memory of the camp counselor who died. A few times during those weeks that camp was in session, the entire camp would gather around a large bonfire and we would sing this song. As we sang, I would imagine myself frolicking through the world, dreaming huge dreams.

The bar of music around my ankle reminds me that I’m just one in a large chain that is my family, that is people who have ever called Woodstock home, and that who have ever dreamed big dreams. It reminds me of my mother. It’s the song I sing to children while babysitting, and it’s the lullaby I hope to sing to my future children. The words remind me to always explore and to live the life I want to live.

It’s also the unintentional test I give to other musicians to see if they notice the one line the tattoo artist left off, turning a half note into a whole note.



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On Learning to Write

By the time I entered kindergarten as a just-turned-5-year-old, I already knew how to read and write. The reading came when I was three and jealous of the attention my six year old sister got when she worked on her 1st grade assignments. I too wanted to be near my parents with a book at the kitchen table, sitting in the special chair that was special because it was where my dad normally sat at dinners. As a small child, I was more stubborn than I am now; I can’t be sure if I bullied my parents into teaching me how to read or if they taught me as a way to distract me from the shenanigans I would otherwise get up to.

So come kindergarten, I was allowed to spend parts of my day simply reading and writing. I wrote Ms. Jensen, my teacher, a new story every single day. If I finished them with enough time left before we moved onto numbers and math, I would illustrate a picture to go along with my story. When I got older, I would write stories on computer paper I took from the printer when nobody was looking and wrap colorful saran-wrap around the cover page, then staple as many staples up and down the side that I could fit, knowing even then that extra staples would make my stories extra fancy.

I wanted to be a writer when I was younger. My parents bought me countless notebooks when my makeshift books weren’t cutting it anymore. Within the pages of each one was a new world and creation I started, only to put down and forget when my next grand idea struck. My daydreams were filled with characters and locations, conflicts and magic systems. Reading was, and is, my favorite thing to do and so I thought the natural progression was to love writing my own stories. I eventually had to admit to myself that I don’t have the patience to write fiction. I write best when I sit down with no plan and just go, but not having a plan makes writing anything longer than a page or two difficult. I would run out of steam, run out of ideas, and run out of the gumption to continue when I didn’t know where things were going. There were a few times, of course, where I saw a piece of writing go from a blank page to a complete beginning, middle, and end, but those writings tended to be shorter pieces.

When I was younger and more optimistic, I loved to edit my own writing. Though there’s no way to make me not sound conceited here, I was impressed by what I wrote and how I wrote it. I enjoyed reading the words that I came up with, changing them and making my piece stronger. I saw the value in proofreading and practicing. Somewhere along the way, I lost that. I became so sure of my ability and skill as a writer that I thought I was infallible, capable of getting everything right on the first try. Besides, I would argue to myself, I often edit as I go, fine tuning and making minor adjustments.

In order to teach students how to write, I have to admit to myself that I am wrong. I am not perfect. I do need to go back and proofread. Doing so will undoubtedly make my writing better. Admitting this, however, is just the first step. I guess that at twenty-six years old, it’s time to learn how to write. I need to learn how to plan my thoughts, how to organize my time, and how to slow down and reread what I write at a later time.

I’ll start by taking a lesson from 9 year old me who wrote draft after draft of this story and who practiced her handwriting so that only her best effort would show.

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My Application Essay to UMW

I originally didn’t get into the University of Mary Washington after applying to transfer from Northern Virginia Community College. I had mediocre grades from my own lack of trying and from what turned out to be only the beginning of my journey of chronic health problems and disabilities. My original essay lacked any soul. It was full of platitudes and I deserved to be rejected.

My second essay, however, got me in. At the time of writing this essay, I still thought I wanted to teach special education. I’ve since focused in on teaching English and using UDL principles to help me better teach every child.

My life always had a clear, concise plan. I have always been more comfortable having an end goal to complete, and sought solace in knowing exactly what was expected of me. I knew I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher and I wanted to change the world for the better as much as I possibly could. My goals weren’t lofty; I just wanted to create my small place of comfort and learning in the world.

However, in January of 2010, my carefully crafted plan seemed to become unobtainable. I started having major medical problems and eventually was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. The day after my official diagnosis came in January of 2012, I stared at my college transcripts and screamed in anger. I felt that I had failed myself and that my body had betrayed me. I was trapped in a pit of despair, constantly bitter, terrified that I would never graduate from college, and would never change the world. I have two semesters of straight Fs due to not being able to complete my classes because of three separate exacerbations of my MS, which significantly lowered my overall GPA.

I have spent many nights crying and asking the cliched “Why me?” that immediately springs to mind after a life-altering event. I haven’t yet figured out the answer to that question, but I can tell you what you do when your entire life changes without your consent. You spend time mourning the life you wanted, but then you start over. You put pen to paper and you write and you plan. You look at what your body is capable of now and you create a new life for yourself, while constantly pushing back the thoughts of what you used to be able to do and what your plan used to be. You learn to accept the unexpected pangs when you discover more things that you’ll never be able to do, and you force yourself to combat the depression that follows by finding new ways to be happy. You learn to find new ways to creatively express yourself after you can no longer comfortably hold a pen, and you learn how to become self-confident again after getting fitted for your first cane. You learn to block out the past and focus on the future, and try to do the best that you can possibly do in every aspect of your life.

I have numerous plans now, and I know that I still want to become a teacher. However, instead of the kindergarten class that I always wanted, I now want to teach secondary special education. I think I will be able to relate to the students because I myself now have a serious disability. Still, my future health is uncertain. Because of this, I have created contingency plans for if I need a wheelchair, or if my vision problems become permanent. I have learned to accept the words “If” and “Maybe” and have allowed myself to become flexible when it comes to the future.

There are days when I wake up and can forget about my disease and its impact on my life. I wake up expecting to be 23, out of college working with young children, and healthy. It hurts when the memories of my current reality come flooding back. Those are the days when I’m able to appreciate life more, nevertheless. Those are the days that I smile and grit my teeth. I will not allow my disease to control my life.

I still have an overarching life plan. Smile and laugh often and show my disease that it may make my life change in ways I never would have anticipated, but it will never take away the part of me that is meant to be in the front of a classroom, changing lives.


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