Guest Blog Post: Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn

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This past July, one of my long time wishes finally came true. I finally got a sister! We welcomed into our family Jane, who married my brother, Brian. I’m thankful to finally have a younger sister who I can go shopping with and do “girly” things with. I’m also thankful that she’s a passionate educator making a difference in the lives of her students Korea. This is her first year teaching middle school and high school English at an international school in Seoul.

Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn

By: Jane Kim

When I take a step back and actually realize what I’m doing, I’m in utter… awe.

As a high school English teacher, I often get comments like “Oh, you’re an English teacher? So you must really love books, huh. What’s your favorite?” It’s a fair question, but I still struggle to know how to respond. To be honest, it has been a while since I sat down to read a literature book for pleasure, and no, I don’t absolutely love reading and writing. And to be really honest, I’ve often struggled with reading and writing throughout high school and beyond.

So, how and why am I teaching English to high school students? I’m often reminded of the answer when I get comments from my students about how much they hate writing essays and how hard it is to understand “Paradise Lost”. Strangely, these comments don’t frustrate me; they invigorate me. They remind me of how I used to be.

I remember reading many books as a child because I liked fun, exciting and moving stories. I mean, who doesn’t? If I hadn’t been exposed to reading books, I think I would’ve gotten into movies, cartoons (now it’s anime), or even video games, like many of my students now seem to enjoy way more than books. I also wrote a lot of stories and poetry growing up, because after reading so much, my hand just naturally began to imitate what I read. My own creativity was fueled by the stories I was immersed in. And most of all, I know I wasn’t the only one. Look at the posts below! All of Jee Young and Melody’s students love to read!

So why did so many of us stop enjoying reading and writing in high school?

Something happened as we got older. No longer were we receiving praise for our writing, but we were seeing red marks all over the things we wrote. We received A’s and B’s on some papers, but we really can’t remember those. There had to have been things that we wrote well, but they were buried under the red scribble about missing commas, “awkward” sentences, question marks, “too long”, “too short”, wrong font, disorganized, lack of flow, and the list goes on. And as for reading, well, homework, Sparknotes and academies had taken over. No time for that.

Of course, there are things that I, as a teacher, have a responsibility of teaching my students. Yes, proper grammar and writing style is pretty important. Yes, picking up on the author’s intent and techniques in a reading may also be important. But at the cost of what?

When students walk into my classroom, they have either begun or are in the midst of another day as a teenager. I have 70 minutes with them before they move on with their day. There are a countless number of skills that they need to learn. But becoming more apt in reading and writing does not motivate my students. Some have decided that they’re already bad at it, and others have developed a formula for doing enough to get the grade. And 70 minutes is simply too long to teach irrelevant skills to unmotivated students.

I’m learning that teaching English is much more about teaching than it is about English. In the midst of broken families and vicious teenage social lives, the space for teenagers to articulate their honest thoughts has become smaller and smaller. They may feel trapped in societal norms that define who they are, leaving them with no outlet for their God-given creativity. If my classroom is not a safe place for my students to express themselves, then I’m not doing my job.

When I can create a classroom environment where my students feel safe enough to voice their opinions, be honest about their feelings, and have conversations with me about what they are learning (or not learning), they are more likely to engage in the material. When they are given the time and space to write down what they think about, about things they’re actually interested in, without having to perform, here’s the shocker: they can write. When they can talk about the poem they just read without having the pressure to say the right answer, guess what: they can articulate exactly why they hate that line (and then write a poem about why they hate it). And when they can see that I am not looking for mistakes but for pieces of gold in a goldmine, they are more motivated to produce their best work.

In less than one year, I’ve buckled under the pressure of improving students’ writing skills. I’ve delighted over hearing some students say that they finally found writing relevant to them. I’ve cried from frustration over consistently unmotivated students. I’ve seen students beaming from their breakthroughs in their discussions of certain texts. I’ve had to apologize to students for my short temper. And through it all, I’ve discovered that I absolutely love teaching because I love seeing my students discover something new about themselves.

I’ve learned that the moment I stop learning about my students and their needs is the moment I stop teaching. It’s funny: when I do that, I get to learn so much more about myself and my creative abilities to not only teach, but also to read and write. So this is my prayer as a teacher: God, give me the grace to never stop learning.


Guest Read Aloud in Melody’s Class!

While I was in Korea, I had the chance to visit Melody’s kindergarten/1st grade classroom. I was really excited to meet her students and read to them. I read aloud the story Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats. Afterwards, we filled out this fun story map that Melody had made. On post-its I wrote down what the students shared. We went through the title, characters, setting, problems, solutions and theme. It was a great way to get them discuss the different elements of the story. I was so impressed that they were able to answer all these including the theme!

Afterwards, we did a quick question and answer session with them. They asked me about Singapore and my students. We had some time left before lunch so we played with some super cold play dough as well. I’ve never taught such young kids before, so it was a lot of fun to be in their class. I always have a lot of respect for teachers that teach the younger kids!  I’m not sure I would have the energy and patience. Thank you Melody for letting me visit your classroom! You have an amazing class and I could tell that  you are making an impact in their lives. 🙂



                                         Photo credit to Melody.     

Looking for a Lesson Plan Template?

Lesson planning is a key to a teacher’s success. No matter how much we hate to do it, it MUST BE DONE. I had to spend a lot of time at the beginning of this year editing and changing my template since I am now teaching Kindergarten and First Grade.

To give you a visual of what the first page of my template looks like here is a screen shot:

To download the template just click here: blank lesson plan!

To download a lesson plan designed for older grades, here is the template Jee Young used when she taught in Korea (Geared more towards readers and writers workshop style, with mini-lessons, also you will noticed science is missing from this lesson template. She would do a unit on Social Studies and then a unit on Science every quarter.)

I love that I can see the whole week on a page, to remind myself of what my students are learning in math all week, etc. Remember those crazy lesson plans you had to make for each separate lesson you did during your years as an undergrad? We all know how completely unrealistic it is to do that for every.single. lesson. you teach, but you need the meat of what you are teaching for the week laid out. The more planning the better, you know?

Something I really like to do as I plan is make a list of all the things I need to prep for the next week, and I keep a space for that at the end of my lesson plan, a “To Do” section as I call it. I always think of great ideas as I am planning, as well as “Oh, I have to make that handout/find it online.” And by the end of my frenzy planning time, I might forget all those ideas, or much-needed handouts. Writing it in my “To Do” list as I go is incredibly helpful.

Jee Young wrote a post on her personal blog once about how she likes to start all of her lesson planning on Tuesday or Wednesday and get them FINISHED by Friday so that she can enjoy her weekend. Well, depending on  your school, you may have to turn in your lesson plans two weeks ahead of time (like me!). I realize though, the better planned I am, the better teacher I am— because I am HAPPIER.

What are some things you do when you are planning to make yourself more prepared? Do you have your own fantastic lesson planning template you would be willing to share? Let us know in the comments!


p.s. I have already had a LOT of chocolate today :/


This might possibly be one of the greatest days of my life.

When you have two authors on a blog, sometimes new resources are shared and I just don’t notice (I am sure this does not happen to Jee Young, who notices everything!), or I find an amazing blog—share it— and then totally forget about it.

Well, today I was perusing around two apples a day, checking out links to other blogs that we have on our page, and I noticed a link to Jeannie’s Kindergarten Lifestyle Blog.  I am pretty sure I must have discovered and linked this website on our page at some point over the past six months or so, but I totally forgot about it!

All of this background story business is pointless. The meat of what I am trying to say is that Tammy over at Live, Love, Laugh, Everyday in Kindergarten had a brilliant idea to pool the resources of all these amazing pre-k, kinder, and first grader teachers, and dedicate a website for the sole purpose of sharing freebies with other teachers. A website ONLY for these younger grades.

I think teachers really are the BEST AT SHARING. And I am so so so so happy to have discovered this site! I will be a frequent visitor as I try to keep my head above water this first year teaching Kindergarten AND First Grade.

What’s that? Oh… you want the website?!


check it out, like them, follow them, do it all!

Musings of a 1st year Kindergarten Teacher

As many of you know, I have the pleasure of teaching a dual classroom this year.

I have decided to make a short list of things I wish I had known before I started the lovely adventure that is teaching Kindergarten (musings of a first grade teacher may make an appearance as well, since I do both!).

  • You have to teach children how to do everything. Some may come to school already knowing how to hold a pencil, or use scissors, or have the whole alphabet down pat— but most often than not, many of them do not have these skills (I mean, this is after all, why they come to school!). Still, I was shocked -utterly shocked- when I had to give lessons on how to hold and use scissors.  I think it was my brain still in second-grade mode, and having to be over-ridden, for the millionth time already this year!
  • When creating any type of worksheet (I have to make a lot of supplemental material) or when using flashcards, USE THE SAME FONT (or similar font). This may seem so silly, or simple, or both… but I never thought about it. Kindergarten students are learning their letters. Now is not the time to introduce D-Nealian font.
  • Planning is obviously VITAL, but being flexible with your schedule really helps create an environment for those “teachable moments” you are always taught about during your undergrad studies. I feel like teachable moments happen so much more in Kindergarten than any other grade I have taught. Students are so curious about everything, and they ask questions about everything. Then, I almost always see/hear them use the new vocabulary or knowledge they have learned in their free play time, and it is so cool to see!
  • Repetition is KEY. They may not get it the first or second or third time, but then all of a sudden you are asking them to do something for the fifth time and SNAP, they get it. Yes, young children soak things up quickly, but they still need to be told how to do the same thing over and over and over again. It is not as boring for them as it may get for you, really, repetition is key.
  • PATIENCE… I think I already had a small idea of the amount of patience I would need teaching five-year-olds… but, only a small idea. IT REQUIRES SO MUCH PATIENCE.

There are so many other things I am learning, and I am sure they will end up on this blog. But for now, there is my list for now. Who wants to add to it? What are some keys to success you have for kindergarten or first grade, and all the way up to second grade that you can share with our readers/me (because I really want to know!)?

Good Kindergarten flash card:

NOT a good kindergarten flash card: