All posts by Pepper Marshall

Became a teacher because learning is life!

Owning the truth

Challenges are part of teaching. Regardless of how many hours goes into lesson planning, difficulties will happen. The key to navigating rough water is owning the truth.

As a self-proclaimed perfectionist, one of the toughest lessons I learned is that I will not make everyone happy—it is impossible. Therefore, I try own my humanness.  

From day one, I try to be open about what others have to say and make it clear, I do not have all the answers. If I do not know the answer, I look it up; if I make a mistake, I admit to it and make it right.  This is such a simple philosophy, but it makes a difference.

Students quickly learn that by me being honest and owning my own mistakes, it makes me more approachable, especially when there are challenges.  And when those challenges arise, I make sure that if it is something within my control, I never hold the students accountable for it.

At the end of the day, how can I hold them accountable, if I do not publicly hold myself accountable?


Digging Deep through Connections

Witnessing the learning of students as it happens is a wonderful experience and a major part of why I became an educator. Sometimes I must get creative to help facilitate student realization.
Recently, I was teaching the novel Invisible Man to my AP students. Most might be able to relate to the ideas/concepts that are relevant to the novel on a surface level, but they do not have the life experience to truly comprehend the depth of the novel. We were about five chapters in when I wanted to have a discussion on some of the motifs within the novel but needed a platform for them to dig deep.

We had discussed the historical concepts that impact the novel, but the students need more to get to higher level thinking. To begin I started by asking students what freedom means. Most stated definitions such as begin able to do what they want, not having people judge them, and other concepts that are important to 17 and 18-year olds. The asked me what I thought freedom was and I told them I would tell them the next day. I wanted them to come to some conclusions the next day.

I had come across a docu-series The Story of Us with Morgan Freeman where he takes big concepts such as peace or freedom and does interviews from around the world for each episode. To help the students think about the concept of freedom on a deeper level, I showed them the first 15ish minutes of the episode. The students were enthralled by what they heard—one was a slave in North Korea who escaped, and another was a person spent the longest time in solitary confinement in U. S. history. We discussed the effects of the two interviews they saw and how they apply to freedom.

The next day, I explained that I thought freedom was a state of mind and showed the rest of the docu-series episode that focused on the Declaration of Independence phrasing, and two additional stories of people who gained freedom on their terms.

Afterwards the students had a Socratic Discussion on freedom, and most could connect the idea of it being a state of mind with the novel. They were seeing beyond themselves (which is difficult for students of this age). It allowed them to dig deep.

Sometimes students need a connection that allows them to see things in a new way.


To Inclusivity and Beyond!

While I have been in the teaching game for awhile now, blogging is new. As in–this is my first post! So, here is to new experiences!

Inclusivity is a concept that often is something as a teacher I try to do in my classroom. I understand everyone learns differently and all students deserve a teacher that empowers them as learners and meets them at their need. However, just when I think I have it down, I always get a curve-ball that reminds me I am still growing as a teacher.

One semester I was given advance warning that one of my students was Deaf and would have sign-language interpreters in the classroom translating my lessons. As a “seasoned” teacher this both excited me, as it never crossed my mind that a Deaf student could be a scenario in my class, and terrified me.

Prior to the first day, I was super nervous on how my pace might cause issues with the translating, or the awkwardness that might be there when there is another adult in the room that is just an observer. I asked many questions prior to the first day to help prepare my expectations and be prepared for the student. Luckily, all of my fears were immediately put to rest.

The translators were so professional. The student was AMAZING!! She advocated for herself letting me know what she needed, and the translators and I worked out a good pace. As a teacher, I felt empowered in the idea I can help students learn regardless of their situation. As a learner, I realized being an effective teacher will always be a welcoming continual evolution.

In the end, I remember walking away from the class with a real sense of how our educational system has evolved into possibilities for anyone who desires one. This is progress. And, this is inclusivity!

A side note: I have two children with learning challenges, specifically short-term memory challenges. When they were diagnosed over ten years ago at the age of 7 and 9, I remember asking if they could still go to college or if that was even an option. The first teacher said it would depend giving me the maybe. The second without hesitation said absolutely. As a mom, I want my children to have every option available to them, but as a special education mom, I was unsure what that would mean for my children. After this experience, I was so much more confident in the my children’s future options.