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Syllable division can mask morphological boundaries and thus hide the meaningful structures of words. Now there’s a statement to think about. How many times have you seen the word every misspelled as “evry”? What did you do to remedy the situation? I bet you over-pronounced the word to help the student perceive all of the written syllables — that’s what most teachers do, myself included.
English is not a syllable-timed language. It is a stress-timed language. This means that syllables bear little to no effect on our writing system. Our written language, like any written language, is meant to convey and record meaning, not just to represent phonemes with graphemes. So the syllables that we pronounce in spoken language will be different, in many circumstances, from the way we represent them in written language. Often when we teach kids how to spell or “sound out” unfamiliar words, we ask them to speak unnaturally.
Pronounce every out loud. I’m going to guess that you what you said can be represented this way: /’Εvri/. Am I right? How many syllables did you pronounce? Probably two — and if you pronounced three, you are either a non-native English speaker or you over-pronounced the word. Now look at the word every. How many syllables are represented in writing? Three. In traditional syllable instruction, we would divide the word like this: ev + er + y. As teachers, we then over-enunciate the word to help the child hear all the phonemes in each syllable in order to help him or her spell the word. The problem is that spoken and written syllables do not necessarily match in English words, so by over-enunciating the “syllables,” we are misrepresenting how the written word works.
Teaching reading and spelling by teaching syllable division can mask the morphological boundaries of words, and that’s where the meaning is. So for the word every, we start with a conversation about what the word means. Have the student use the word in a sentence. A quick trip to The Online Etymology Dictionary reveals that every is related to ever, and that is a good place to start. We can hypothesize the base to be ever. Now the student understands the reason for the medial e in every. More importantly, the student now understands that written language is meaning based, and he or she will be able to spell every without an over-pronunciation that distorts the word and actually hinders comprehension.
Let’s also take a look at the word sparkle. In traditional syllabication, this word would be divided the following way: spar / kle. The word is said to be comprised of an r-controlled syllable and a consonant-le syllable. But think about the meaning of this word. A sparkle is a frequent spark, so the morpheme boundaries are spark + le. Spark is the base, and the -le is the frequentative suffix. By teaching this word via syllabication, we are masking the meaning of the word, and thus masking the purpose of orthography.Pronunciation Through Meaning
Let’s have some fun to experience how spoken syllables don’t necessarily identically represent written syllables. Pronounce the following sentence, and make sure to stress every single syllable. This means that there will be no schwas and that every syllable will be enunciated in full:
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Many of us write teaching philosophies early in our careers. Returning to those same beliefs years later holds the potential to refresh our practice.
In my 28th year of teaching, I find myself rereading a teaching philosophy I wrote upon graduating from college in 1994. It’s a statement I revised in 2002, then again sometime between 2012 and 2023. Now, here I sit in 2023, reminiscing about all that I once believed.
What I read rattles me a bit: At times, it feels like education evolves slowly, yet other times progress abounds so quickly that I don’t know if my 1994 ideals have kept up. What holds true, and what has changed, across my years in education?
At its core, my current teaching philosophy is quite similar to that first draft; it serves as an internal compass, a reminder of purpose, my north point. Rereading it helps me realize that classrooms, communities, and content change, but this original compass has not—it has kept me from getting lost.
I was once inclined to lead with statements like “All kids can learn” and “I want to create lifelong learners.” I still hold these beliefs, but reading them with seasoned eyes, I have greater insight into the “how”—the strategies that can make these and other elements of my philosophy possible in the classroom.
Below, I share tenets of my philosophy and strategies for enacting them—gleaned from decades of practice—with the overarching invitation to pen your own teaching philosophy that might, as it has for me, serve as a guidepost as you grow through every stage of your career.
We learn when we feel motivated, when we feel curious. I know this about myself, and I believe this about my students, which causes me to want all students to feed their natural curiosity. So often, by their teen years, students are trying to make their way through the school day one lecture or worksheet at a time, parsing literature or poring over math problems that don’t feel relevant to their lives. Is this just a rite of passage?
Lead by Learning
Orienting yourself as the lead learner in the classroom is crucial to helping students move forward in their own learning. I notice that students are more fully engaged when I, too, am engaged and transparent about my own curiosity.
If I ask my students to write, I write with them. If I ask my students to read, I read with them. Though there are many days when I am conferencing with students or leading mini-lessons, taking just a few moments to read and write together produces powerful, connected learning and a sense of community fueled by authentic, adult-modeled inquiry.
Ask Questions—Then More Questions
We ask many questions as teachers (and lifelong learners). There is power in realizing that quality questions are not just yes/no questions, but probing questions—ones that make you tilt your head and think before you speak.
Asking deeper questions not only improves self-reflective teaching (e.g., How can I become a better teacher? How does writing change if we start with conversation first? What are better ways to build community in my classroom?) but also coaching and conferencing with students (e.g., What would happen if you flipped these paragraphs? How does the behavior of this character make you think self-acceptance is the theme of your book? Before you begin, what does the end product look like to you?). Open-ended inquiry moves thinking and discussion deeper.
Learn from Students
As for lessons that transcend the learning environment, I think of a time when a student I knew well began delivering his valedictory speech to classmates. “There’s more to me,” he said with tears, “than I let on in this class.”
“How true,” I thought. How true that this student’s statement describes all of us, in everything we do. There is more to us than we let on in any given situation, and his insight serves as a reminder for me still.
In education, everything is always shifting. Lessons need modifying, calendars need adjusting, and assignments sometimes need to be scrapped. Just today, at the end of third-hour, I said to my students, “This wasn’t exactly how I envisioned class going today. I want to change…” and proceeded to make adjustments.
When plans don’t work, it’s important to make peace with flux—to remember that the best instructors are flexible enough to admit when something isn’t working, are open to change, and are models of adaptation, teaching young people, by example, how to respond to the unexpected.
In a politically charged, standardized-test-driven educational climate, how can we hold on to the belief that what we do makes a difference?
Philosophy and pedagogy matter most in the face of conflict and change. Helping students feel confident, powerful, and prepared makes me feel worthy as a teacher, and returning to my “why” reminds me that the classroom holds this potential.
To ground your own practice, no matter if you are in your first or 15th year of teaching, pen your own paragraph, diagram, or bulleted list representative of your teaching philosophy. Does it align with your original approach to education? What has changed, and what stays the same? How might you share your philosophy—and strategies for enacting it—with others?
“You are the only teacher who acts like you like us.” A student said this to me in class a few years ago. My classroom is my happy place, and I truly love my job. But I know not all teachers feel the same way I do, and the students notice.
Teenagers are fun. They’re witty, creative, inquisitive, passionate, and totally unpredictable. Yes, they have pimples, their voices squeak, they are awkward and sensitive, they smell bad sometimes, they say inappropriate things, they test the boundaries. But they make me laugh every day.
This wasn’t always the case for me. Years ago, I had become so focused on curriculum and objectives that I had lost sight of the most important element of my professional existence: teenagers. A few changes in my behavior helped improve my relationship with the students, which led me to my current perspective.Finding Joy Among Teenagers
Connect with them personally: Getting to really know the students pays off. Go to their games and their dance recitals. Eat at the restaurant where they work. Let them show you who they are besides your student.
Teenagers who feel that you care about them will be more receptive to your requests and more respectful of you as a teacher. Bonus: Students who feel valued by you will be more willing to take risks for you, and we know how essential this is to the learning process.
Make note of at least one thing you have in common with every student and share it with the class. It can be a simple fact: “Joe, you like the Steelers? Me too!” They may shrug it off at first, but if the Steelers win, you will hear about it. By valuing each student’s individuality, you have a good chance of increasing engagement in the class.
Put the information you learn into your lessons. Alex plays lacrosse, so use his name and sport in an example. Alex gets validation that you were listening and you care. Simple, but effective.
Give out compliments freely but sincerely: You may not expect it, but the teenagers in your class are starving for approval. No matter how much attitude Janie has given you lately, compliment her sincerely on anything that matters to her and you’ll make great strides in winning her over.
Students love to hear compliments on their hair or shoes, but they also love it when you know the score of their game last night and that you heard they played well. Be able to mention some of the amazing things they do when they’re not disrupting your class, like being a part of a club, participating in a talent show, making the honor roll, or winning a pageant.
Compliments are easy to give and show that you’re paying attention to your students as members of society. This is new role for teenagers, and your compliments will show you care about how they are fulfilling that role.
Give them choices: Offering options to teenagers gives them a feeling of power, something they really have very little of in their new roles as members of society. You must remember how, as a teenager, each new tiny bit of freedom was exhilarating. Tap into that—let them feel like they have some control over their learning.
There are lots of ways to do this, and it doesn’t have to mean more work for you. In high school, we have some flexibility in the curriculum to allow for student input. Ask if they would rather read about the death penalty or euthanasia, or if they’d rather give their opinions in writing or orally this time. Allowing them to map their own learning will increase their engagement.
Ask their opinion about a completed unit or activity: “Did you like doing it that way? Should I do this again with my next group? Was this a worthwhile activity?” You’ll be surprised by the maturity in the answers you get. Most teenagers don’t want to waste their time in class, and they’ll be brutally honest if that lesson you spent hours planning was a total flop. Listen to them and take their feedback seriously. You’ll earn their respect quickly if you’re sincere.
It’s always fun to shake up routine with options as well. Let them arrange the classroom for a change, or have them design an order for the day’s agenda. Offer two possible due dates for an assessment. Little things that won’t really be a big deal in the end will make them feel like their lives are important to you.
Adolescence is a magical time. Revel in it. Engage, nurture, honor, and listen to your students first, and then worry about the teaching. Make your class your happy place.
Confession: I haven’t read any books about instructional practice this year because my brain cannot learn one more thing. I’ve been back in the classroom since August, and each period I teach a full class of students face-to-face as well as a handful online. To rejuvenate, I spend my reading time with books that feed my soul and that are most relevant to the lessons in patience, kindness, and understanding that have framed this past year.
I’ve been diving back into some old favorites that remind me how to be a good human; number one on my list is The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz. In this book, Ruiz distills ancient Toltec wisdom into lessons readers can apply to their lives to limit suffering and increase joy. The message is timeless, but it feels as if it had been written for this year when our patience with ourselves and each other is wearing thin. As I’ve read it in the context of the pandemic and reacquainted myself with each of the four agreements below, they’ve shifted how I relate to other people in my school and made me more positive.
Be Impeccable With Your Word
Words are powerful; they can build up or they can destroy. I work with students who, for the most part, have struggled in school all their lives. They are already down on themselves and don’t need me to reinforce the cycle of negative thinking in which they often become stuck.
So instead of reprimanding them when they forget to turn in work or score poorly on an assessment (which seems to happen more often this year), I speak words of affirmation. I remind my students that they are more than their GPA or their latest test score and that they have what it takes to succeed. I celebrate successes outside the classroom with them, like getting their first job or passing their driving test. If you want to foster hope and healthy self-beliefs in your students too, UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center offers these suggestions.
Don’t Take Anything Personally
Occasional conflict is inevitable, a by-product of being human. But I always have a choice about the degree to which I am willing to participate in conflict. If a student snaps at me, I can react or I can pause and remember that their behavior reflects who they are—or, more accurately, the challenges they’re enduring, of which I might be unaware. Nothing that others say or do is about me. It’s a liberating idea.
I strive to lead with compassion and acceptance in my classroom, two keys to cultivating positive relationships with students. But when kids get angry, which happens sometimes despite my best efforts, I try not to get down on myself or take offense. Rebecca Alber, an instructor at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, has some helpful suggestions for how to defuse difficult situations rather than taking them personally.
Don’t Make Assumptions
Assumptions can lead to misunderstanding because they are not always based on truth. As Ruiz writes, “We make the assumption that everyone sees life the way we do.” Assumptions aren’t just short-sighted—they can be dangerous.
I remind myself that I cannot make assumptions about my students’ lives outside my classroom. I cannot assume that they share my passion for my subject, that they have the same kind of support at home that I did, or even that they got enough food or sleep last night. Once I release all assumptions about my students, something magical happens: I make space to hear each student’s story and truly understand their individual strengths, hopes, and challenges. There’s only one safe assumption I can make this year—that everyone is doing the best they can with what they have. If they knew better or had more support, perhaps they would do better. Kindness and grace, for ourselves, our students, and their families, goes a long way.
Always Do Your Best
According to Ruiz, the quality of your best will change depending on your life circumstances. While it’s true that this year is especially tough as we navigate teaching in a pandemic, let’s be honest: Conditions have never been easy for teachers. We routinely spend weekends grading and creating lessons, and even in a normal year our work cannot physically be done in 40 hours a week. Yet we are our own worst critics, trying to do all of the things and please all people—and beating ourselves up when we fail to do so.
This year I’m being more gentle with myself. Instead of attempting to be a rock star in every respect, I’m focusing on just two: excellent planning, so that my students’ time in class is engaging and productive, and building relationships. If there’s one thing the challenges and loss of this pandemic have taught me, it’s that relationships are all that really matter—not only relationships with my students but relationships with family and friends. I make time for the people I love, even if it means not getting everything done every day. And when I lay my head down at night, I feel a sense of peace, knowing I’m doing my best.
For today, that is enough. I am enough.
Nearly a year into the pandemic, we’ve accumulated a lot of information from scientists about the most effective face masks for protecting ourselves and others from COVID-19. But it doesn’t matter what kind of mask you’re using if you’re not wearing it properly.Make sure you find the right size
The critically important first step when buying (or making) a mask is proper sizing. The key measurements to consider are ear-to-ear over the nose, nose-to-chin, and the length of the mask’s ear loops. If the adult mask you want comes in a size you know will be too large for your face, consider a kid-sized option.
Ensuring your mask isn’t too big from the outset will help you avoid having to constantly pull your mask back up over your nose and prevent gaps from forming at the sides and bottom. On the flip side, a mask that’s too small will pop off your nose as soon as you start talking. Once you’ve found something that generally works for you, it’s time to think about fine-tuning the fit.Full coverage is crucial
When you first put your mask on, make sure it covers both your mouth and your nose. Failing to cover both renders even a high-quality mask basically useless, since you can still exhale viral particles from your nostrils if they’re not underneath the mask.Small adjustments will keep your mask in place
You’ll probably have to make some additional tweaks to ensure a proper fit. The most important one will be to eliminate any gaps between your skin and the mask. Minimizing the cracks through which the virus can slip will help keep any particles you exhale contained within the mask and also reduce the likelihood that any virus floating around outside your mask will get into your mouth or nose.
[Related: Learn three easy ways to wash reusable cloth masks.]
First, place your fingers where your mask meets the bridge of your nose and run them along the upper edge of your mask to make sure it’s pressed flat against the curve of your nose and over the tops of your cheekbones. Having a mask with a moldable nose piece ensures you won’t have to fiddle with this seal throughout the day. A tight fit here is also key for preventing fogged-up glasses.
Next, check if the sides of the mask are bulging out from your cheeks. If they’re laying flat, you’re good to go. If not, try tightening the ear loops until the gap disappears or is as small as possible. Some masks have built-in adjusters that you can slide toward and away from your ears to find the perfect fit. If you’re using a disposable mask or one without adjustable straps, consider tying a small knot at the midpoint of each loop. This will also minimize any down-the-nose slippage and keep the entire mask in place.
Don’t take the easy road and twist the ear loops to make the straps shorter, since this will pinch the top and bottom corners of each side together and make the side-gap even larger.
Finally, check to make sure that the bottom of your mask is hugging the curve of your chin. Similar to gaps at the top and sides of the mask, a space at the bottom provides an opening for particles to flow in and out. If the fabric is folding or protruding at weird angles and adjusting the ear loops isn’t fixing the problem, try a different shape or style of mask that may be better suited to the shape of your face.
Ideally, your mask should fit comfortably enough that you aren’t tempted to fidget with it and snugly enough that it stays in place for long periods of time. If you do have to readjust your mask while out and about, make sure you wash your hands or at least use hand sanitizer before you touch the outside of your mask. Even with clean hands, avoid grabbing the middle section of your mask that lays over your nose and mouth; doing so may contaminate the mask and reduce its effectiveness. Instead, pinch the edges of the mask with your fingers to reposition it.
Masks are an effective and easy way to protect ourselves and each other from COVID-19. Wearing one when you’re out and about is critical to fighting the pandemic. But because they rest directly on your skin, they can wreak havoc on your beautiful face. Ok, let’s talk about maskne.
This dermatological condition—a portmanteau of “mask” and “acne”—affects people of all ages and skin types, regardless of whether they have a history of skin irritation. It also doesn’t matter whether you wear masks for hours at a time or a couple minutes a day. Maskne is definitely not a reason to stop wearing masks whenever you’re unable to socially distance yourself, but it can be uncomfortable and permanently mark your skin.
Understanding how to prevent and treat it, while managing conditions that might make it worse—like cold winter air—will help you avoid turning your face into a constant reminder of the trainwreck that has been 2023.What is maskne?
“It’s very common in athletes who play football, lacrosse, or any kind of discipline where wearing padding is required,” says Dr. Mona Gohara, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University’s School of Medicine.
Generally, your skin does a good job shedding sebum and dead cells. However, when a mask constantly rubs against your skin, it’ll prevent the natural elimination of gunk, while also literally smearing it around your face and stuffing it into your pores. If you have sensitive or dry skin, this continuous friction may cause irritation or chafing, which eliminates the natural barrier of oil that protects your skin, making it even more vulnerable to clogged pores. The particular and… rather tropical… environment inside your mask doesn’t help either.
“There’s a perfect milieu of moisture, trapped dirt, sweat, saliva, and humidity that makes it easier for acne to thrive,” says Gohara. “There’s nothing specific about each of these factors, but when they work in tandem, maskne appears.”How to prevent maskne
Exfoliating can help keep gunk at bay—but only when done right. Cottonbro / Pexels
If you’ve ever had a breakout, you know that treating it takes time and effort. To fight maskne, it’ll be easier to simply prevent it.Choose your mask wisely
The right mask balances a snug fit with a material that lets you and your skin breathe, while also catching possibly-COVID-infected droplets.
Gohara recommends natural fabrics that are densely woven and 100 percent cotton or silk for acne avoidance—the latter will also help prevent chafing if you have sensitive skin.
There are no studies yet supporting the claim that wearing natural fibers has any effect on maskne, but Dr. Carolyn Jacob, founder and director of Chicago Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology, says she’d “rather be safe” and also recommends masks made from this type of material.
Avoid synthetic fibers as they usually don’t breathe as well. If they’re stretchy, they also won’t be as effective at preventing you from potentially spreading the novel coronavirus.Wash your mask and your face
You should be washing your hands thoroughly and constantly, and you should do the same with your face before and after you wear a mask. But please, don’t use the same soap—the skin on your face is definitely not as thick and strong as the skin on your hands, so you should not treat them the same. For your face, go for a gentle, moisturizing cleanser and lukewarm water to eliminate dirt particles, excess oil, and dead skin cells.
Keep in mind that washing your face too often may actually deteriorate the natural protective barrier on your skin. So if you’re already lathering up those rosy cheeks once or twice a day as part of your skincare routine, make sure you apply a moisturizer made for your skin type afterward—heavier creams for dry skin, lighter gel-based lotions for oily skin.
In the winter, moisturizing is extremely important, as your skin may be drier and more sensitive than it normally is due to cold air and indoor heating. If you feel your skin is particularly tight after a gentle wash, it might be a good idea to go for a thicker face cream rather than your usual lotion. Thicker formulas will help you retain moisture and prevent irritation and chafing.
But washing your face will do nothing if you continue to wear the same gunk-ridden mask over and over again. After each wear, it’s crucial to wash your reusable face covering using a delicate soap or detergent, says Gohara—you can do so by hand or with the rest of your laundry.
Another good, albeit not-so-eco-friendly alternative, is to use disposable masks. This might be a good solution if you don’t have easy access to a washing machine or lack the space to let your masks hang dry.Some additional do’s and don’ts
Keeping your face constantly hydrated will help you protect it against friction, but putting several layers of products on your face could also clog your pores. Instead of applying face cream or lotion beneath your sunscreen—which, as a reminder, you should wear every day—go for a product that has built-in SPF 30 or higher, or opt for a powdered sunscreen that won’t obstruct your pores and will help regulate moisture.
To that same effect, it’s a good idea to forgo any kind of makeup—especially high coverage, liquid foundations—as doing so will give you one less thing to worry about clogging your pores. If you absolutely want (or have) to, Jacob recommends lighter makeup formats like pressed powders.
Finally, helping your skin cells with their natural turnover can help you reduce the amount of dirt that accumulates on the inside of your mask. Gohara is emphatic: “It’s only helpful if it’s done the right way. Scrubbing is for floors, not for faces, so it’s not a good idea to disturb your natural skin barrier.”
There’s a wide range of products for chemical exfoliation, from mild acids for sensitive skins to more abrasive compounds. The easiest way to find the right one for you is to try them by doing a patch test as indicated by the manufacturer. If any sort of irritation appears, stop using it.
But no matter the product you end up choosing, it’s important to carefully follow the instructions. Ignoring them or slacking off could seriously damage your skin. It is particularly crucial that you don’t leave the product on for longer than indicated, and when you find the right exfoliator, don’t overuse it. Doing it more than once or twice a week won’t allow your skin to regenerate your protective barrier fast enough, leaving you exposed to breakouts and even chemical burns.Fighting maskne and knowing when to ask for help
We know it’s hard to resist, but whatever you do, do not pop that zit. Maksim Goncharenok / Pexels
The pandemic has now lasted more than 10 months, so it’s likely that you’ve already experienced a maskne breakout. As with any kind of acne, the first and most important rule is simple: no picking, no popping. This will only make things worse, and it can leave permanent marks on your skin.
“You should use medications to decrease inflammation such as benzoyl peroxide, retinols, or retinoids,” says Jacob. For oily skins she recommends cleansers with salicylic acid, though these may be too harsh for patients with dry or sensitive skin. If that’s you, consider an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) wash and a retinol, she says.
When using your products, remember to follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely and stop if you see further breakouts or irritation.
But if you have cystic acne—painful bumps under your skin—you’ll want to consult a professional, says Gohara. Dermatologists are seeing patients through video chats, so it’s easy to get the help you need.
Whatever kind of breakout you have, or treatment you follow, she also recommends patience. Skin takes 28 days to fully regenerate from the bottom layer to the top, and some acne medications take their sweet time in yielding any visible results. Being consistent with both treatment and preventive measures is key, she says.
Jacob is even more cautious: “Treatments will take two to three months to start helping and pink spots take longer to fade—up to six to eight months, sometimes. So get it under control as soon as possible to prevent those marks.”
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