This week's featured teacher is Kelsey Johnson. Currently, Kelsey is teaching sophomore English at West Fargo High School and coaching speech at West Fargo Sheyenne. Before becoming a Packer/Mustang, she taught, coached, and directed at LaMoure High School for four years. She holds her B.A. in Theatre Arts from Washington State and her B.S. in English Education from NDSU. Additionally, she is currently serving as the Northeast Rep for the ND Council of Teachers of English and on the ND Roughrider District Committee for the National Speech and Debate Association. Kelsey became a Red River Valley Writing Project fellow in 2012.
Why do you read?
A lot of my reading is done for speech and/or theatre work, honestly. I rarely will read a fiction novel unless a cover or title really pops out at me (yep, I judge a book by its cover). I love reading titles out of the Barnes and Noble business and self-help aisles, especially those related to leadership and habit formation. Simon Sinek's Start With Why was a
life-changer I devoured on a plane ride to Los Angeles. I've also become a little obsessed with Gretchen Rubin after reading The Happiness Project and Better Than Before (check out her podcast "Happier"). Brene Brown's Daring Greatly was fascinating and led to some topic ideas for speech competition, too.
What are you currently reading?
Nothing! (I'm such a horrible person). Actually, I'm reading a bunch of student research papers. I also read a lot of scripts and monologues for my speech team students. This past month, I've been focused on numerous genres focusing on the topic of a sophomore's speech program titled "The Vice for Devices." Through this, I read a great memoir by YouTube star Connor Franta entitled A Work in Progress. I've also reread and reanalyzed the play Reasons to Be Pretty by Neil LaBute, poems by Shane Koyczan, Tina Fey's Bossypants, and a fascinating research-based book called Survival of the Prettiest by Nancy Etcoff. All these titles were puzzle pieced together for a 10-minute speech program titled "Beauty Takes Bravery" for a freshman who is now qualified for the National Speech and Debate tournament this summer (shout out to Erika Dyk for the inspiration on that title).
What do you write outside the classroom?
I write a lot of to-do lists and Facebook updates. I'm attempting to follow Julia Cameron's Morning Pages journaling idea from her book The Artist's Way, but woof, Buzz's girlfriend, that's tough! I found a new admiration for those who keep a consistent journaling practice. (I also envy them! Teach me your ways.)
What is your favorite writing assignment you give your students?
When I was teaching a speech class in LaMoure, I had the kids listen to The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch via YouTube. Then, the students, usually juniors and seniors, wrote their own last lecture imparting knowledge onto the 8th graders I taught and played it to. Basically it was "knowing what you know now about high school, what life lessons would you pass on to the incoming freshmen?" The students would then voice record what they wrote, and I would mash it up into one long speech to play to my 8th graders.
Do any of your writing philosophies/interests translate to your teaching?
Kelly Sassi's requirement to read Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle in her English methods class made me a die-hard fan of Kittle's. Her philosophy to write every day with your kids is something I try to incorporate into my classroom. I understand the importance of a daily writing ritual (even if I don't follow through with the actual practice of it), and try to have daily writing prompt for my kids to write free on at the beginning of class - sometimes related to our current unit, sometimes just for funsises.
Do you have any recommended online resources for writing?
MyNDStorycom, duh! I also use NoRedInk.com for grammar, usage, mechanics, and structure lessons with my kids (bonus: it grades it for you!).
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Teacher Feature edited by Maggie Wheeler