#6 The Souls of Students with Dan Sharkovitz

Dan Sharkovitz

English Teacher/Department Chair — Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School

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 Segment I – Background and Inspiration

Tell your story. Where are you from and how long have you been teaching? What classes have you taught? 

– Dan has been teaching at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School since 1979. He began is teaching career at the Beacon Hill School in Boston before he officially became a teacher.

 Who has helped you in your journey to become a master teacher?

– John Morelli was his first department chair at MVRHS and gave him his opportunity. He was always willing to listen and made Dan feel that his ideas were worth listening to and valued. The second was Ken McCrory, who gave feedback on a paper Dan wrote in grad school. Ken wrote three pages (single spaced) of notes in response to the paper. It wasn’t about fulfilling a rubric. It was the most thoughtful response that Dan had ever received. It showed how much he cared about his students.

It is important for other teachers to know that we all have had setbacks in the classroom. Identify an instance in which you struggled as a teacher and explain what you learned from that experience.

– A bathroom issue arose early in his career. A lubber (automotive student) pointed out that Dan gave privileges to certain students. It lead to a fascinating discussion on tracking and the students’ experience with it. He mentioned this development in a workshop he was attending with his principal at Brown University and it led to two of his students presenting their experiences with tracking at Brown to an audience of 70-80 teachers, administrators, and school leaders, including Ted Siezer.

Why teach English and the language arts?

– Dan believes that what we were doing 40-50,000 years ago is still true today. We are writing on the digital cave walls of the internet and other media to communicate… Students  are still captivated by poems. The souls of students, when they connect to any form of literature, are defending the subject matter for us because literature is what sustains us.

 

What is one thing that you love about the classroom?

 –   Dan loves that on every Monday 20-25 students file into a small room where the school newspaper is assembled and stay for hours to get the school newspaper done.  It serves as a metaphor for successful classrooms. Students are there, not because it is a requirement, but because they love the experience.

Segment II — Digging into the Teacher Bag of Goodies

 

 What book do you recommend to a developing teacher?

— Find where the sparks of one’s passion lies and then blow on those sparks. Uncommon Sense: Theoretical Practice in Language Education (Heinemann/Cassell Language & Literacy) by John Mayher is a book Dan recommends because he take truisms in education and tries to explain why we need to rethink what we assume to be common sense.

 

What is one thing a teacher can do outside the classroom that can pay off inside the classroom?

 – Find ways to allow students to apply what they are learning inside the classroom to things going on outside the classroom. Dan had set up a Slam Poetry night at a local coffee shop. The shop help 60 people and 300 showed up on the first night. It ran successfully for years and was a great community event. 

 Is there an internet resource that you can recommend which will help teachers grow professionally?

  Dan’s site and Jim Burke’s English Companion Ning.

What can a teacher can do to make students better writers?

 – We need to create situations in which students want to write. That is an indirect way to improve student writing and create passion writers.

What novel or poem do you love to teach and why?

— Hamlet