Every Teacher Needs a “Why I Teach” Binder

Reading notes from my current and former students is an instant pick-me-up

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Do you have special notes, drawings, letters or small trinkets that students have given to you over the years?

About two years ago, I finally decided to keep track of those treasures by putting them into a box. However, the box took up so much space in my closet (read this post) that I finally decided to recycle a three-ring binder that I no longer needed for the purpose of holding all these reminders of “why I teach.” I transferred all those loose notes and other gifts into plastic page protectors and then placed all of those into the binder.

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It’s a blessing when students take the time to write a note!

My “Why I Teach” binder is a better solution than that old box; it’s easy to find and doesn’t take up much space since it stores alongside all my other notebooks.

I absolutely love pulling that binder from the shelf every so often for the instant boost it gives me.

Reading the notes and cards and letters from former and current students is such a gift.

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Gifts such as this Christmas tree ornament store nicely in a page protector.

At the end of a particularly long day or week, flipping through my “Why I Teach” binder provides a brief moment of quiet reflection, where I can recall those students who are now in high school or beyond… those students whom I had the pleasure of knowing during their middle school years, which are arguably the toughest years of anyone’s life.

Reading my students’ ideas, their thoughtful gratitude, and their humor brightens my day.

It doesn’t just remind me why I teach, but proclaims it!

 

Writing Contest #9: NCTE’s Promising Young Writers

An any-genre writing contest just for your 8th graders

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My 8th graders from the 2017-18 school year worked hard (most of the time, anyway), despite having my class at the end of the day!

Full disclosure: this is a contest I have NOT tried with my students… yet. I’m a member of NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) and for some reason, I just found out about the group’s Promising Young Writers contest a few days ago while surfing their website.  You can join NCTE here, and then learn more about this contest here, but for now, here’s a consolidation of what this contest is all about, prompt, deadline, and other details.

Age Range: Eighth-graders only. That’s interesting, isn’t it?! I think if I market this contest to my students as a “rite of passage” contest, as in “Not every middle schooler gets to do this contest, just the older ones…” then it might add some caché to the competition. My eighth-graders know that their final year in my class is a doozy with our “human rights dissertation,” but that project ends in the spring. The fall semester could use a similar premium project just for eighth-graders, and this could be it.

Topic or Prompt:  The 2018 prompt was “Truth and Reconciliation.” The prompt for 2019 will be available October 1-15 (I emailed), so check back then. However, we can infer from the 2018 prompt about the nature and quality of the next. The prompt and its description is quite lengthy. Here’s how the prompt is introduced:

Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1997), former Chair of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee, has proposed that the “future” of our planet depends on “forgiveness.” Writing is a powerful tool for bringing difficult truths to light and for helping people, in response to those truths, to reconcile with others, as well as with themselves. This year, we invite you to write about, and to write for, truth and reconciliation in your life.

Wow, right?! Sounds meaty to me… full of opportunities to think deeply. This intro was followed up with some ideas to develop the theme. Some of the questions it posed are:

  • Have I ever been forgiven and experienced reconciliation? How did that come about? Why was I forgiven? How did I learn from the experience?
  • What is a difficult truth that I (or my family, faith group, friends, community) have faced? How did I come to accept that truth? What was that process? What were the effects of accepting that truth?
  • Have I (or my family, faith group, friends, community) ever been healed by truth?
  • What aspects of my life need truth and reconciliation? How could this be achieved? What obstacles may need to be dealt with? What will the benefits be?

The prompt also provided a reference text for students to use. Desmond Tutu’s book, No Future Without Forgiveness.  In addition, the site’s Note for Teachers suggested that teachers use the literature and resources on the NCTE website.

Mentor Texts: The website does not currently provide winning entries, which is a bummer. However, I emailed NCTE to find out if that would be a possibility and yes, I was told that the committee will select a couple of winning entries and post them on the site. Yay! Knowing what the judges have awarded in the past really provides some extra scaffolding and differentiation for some students. Others, of course, don’t need the mentor texts; they just take off on their own.

Skills Addressed: This is interesting. According to these guidelines, any genre can be submitted. A student can submit a personal essay, graphic novel, podcast, scientific report, eulogy, sermon, letter to a politician, etc. I noticed that poetry was not listed; however, I also asked about that in my email, and was told that poetry can be used.

Judges grade the writing holistically. Your students need to pay special attention to:

  • content
  • purpose
  • audience
  • tone
  • word choice
  • organization
  • development
  • and my personal favorite, style

Start your workdays for this contest with mini-lessons on these key elements their writing will be judged on.

Another interesting note: at the bottom of the “Note to Teachers,” teachers are encouraged to allow their students to submit any appropriate writing done outside of school. I’m not sure if or how that could work. Again, I’ve not done this contest before with my students so this year will be experimental. I will know so much more in a year!

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Photo: pxhere

Length: Maximum four pages.

Deadline: In 2017, the final deadline was February 15, but submissions could be sent in electronically beginning December 15 by using the “Submit An Entry” button on this page. And, based on my experience, this should be the final deadline for my class. (With Christmas break followed by a brand new semester, no one is going to want to drag out something from the previous month and then finish and turn in during February. Not happening!)

A timeline for teacher planning purposes is provided. Last year, it suggested students begin their first drafts November 15.   I think this should be moved up to middle October, however, to allow enough time for revisions prior to the December 15 date.

I checked with NCTE about deadlines for next year, and I was told deadlines would mirror those from 2018. In fact, I was also told to check the site in early October for updates.

Also, the contest organizers request that teachers send in a limited number of entries. In other words, you can’t send everyone’s in. There’s a chart on the website that shows how many entries teachers are allowed to send. Me? I can send one since I have fewer than 100 students. If you have 100-199 students, you may send two. It scales up from there. Teachers with 500 or more can send in six entries.

This being the case, adjust your schedule accordingly! You may need more time to do your selections, especially when you find out that students (drumroll, please!) must send in ANOTHER piece of writing, the one they consider their best effort. It can also be in any genre, but must be in a different genre from the themed prompt entry. Both entries must be clearly marked, “Best” and “Themed.” The “Best” entry should be no longer than six pages. Gee… this contest has a lot of interesting rules and I’m ready to take it on; however, I may need a student to help me keep all the dates, requirements, and myriad details in order.

Prizes: Results are announced in May. Works that are judged “superior” receive a Certificate of Recognition and their name and your school’s name appears on the NCTE website.

Okay, I know I’m going to get a bunch of groans when I tell my students that there are no actual prizes, such as cash or publication. And, yes, it’s a pity that NCTE doesn’t provide more incentive. Still, this is a notable contest simply due to its sponsor. This is a contest a winning student should let their high school counselors know about so the award can be listed in their transcript file.

I love writing these posts when I find a new contest because they help me get my thoughts in line for entering my students’ work later. It’s totally possible I’ve left out some pertinent information, especially since this contest has such a unique procedure and process. If I discover any such omissions, I will include them in a future short post, and if you’re following me, you’ll get a handy notification of that when I do.


Thanks for reading! Click “Like” if you’re interested in this contest. Leave a comment to share your ideas or share this post to spread the word about this contest. 

If you’ve never offered writing contests to your students, read this post: Writing Contests Deliver Student Buy-In.