New York Times Motherlode Blogger — Jessica Lahey

English, Latin and Writing Teacher, NH
Correspondent — The Atlantic, The New York Times


 Coming of Age in the Middle:
Twitter: @jesslahey
My bi-weekly New York Times column, “The Parent-Teacher Conference”
My author page at The Atlantic
My commentary page at Vermont Public Radio
The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed HarperCollins (August 2015)

 Download on iTunes

Segment I – Background and Inspiration  

Tell your story. Where are you from and how long have you been teaching? What classes have you taught?    – Jessica is finishing her book, The Gift of Failure, which resulted from an article she wrote for The Atlantic.  

Who has helped you in your journey to become a master teacher?  – Mr. Potts, her high school English teacher, was a really cool guy but was also an amazing teacher. He is now the head of the English department at her high school. She quotes him in the book and has so much respect for him. 

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. – In 2011 she wrote a piece called “Things Fall Apart” about one of those times when she taught something and she felt her students really knew it. But when it came time for the evaluation, it turns out they didn’t know it. She realized that she could get frustrated or freak out, but she decided to reverse engineer the entire thing — the test, the unit. They went back and figured out what went wrong.  It turned into a great experience because she realized what she did wrong and the students realized what they failed to do as well.

What is the challenge in teaching three different subjects?  – There is a huge challenge in changing gears with three different preps. Yet, the most challenging aspect in middle school is the huge difference in ability levels — based not on smarts, but on the neurological connections that happen in the brain. Some kids are able to handle symbolism and metaphor, yet some are still thinking concretely.  

What is one thing that you love about the classroom?    – The moment where a kid that has been looking at you blankly for two years, and then suddenly you will see it click. A student will move from a literal interpretation of just words on a page to realizing that there is so much more underneath those words. 

Segment II —

What book do you recommend to a teacher that wants to develop? 


What is one thing a teacher can do outside the classroom that can pay off inside the classroom? — She takes them outside the classroom, especially for writing.   the question that is in her mind and she puts on her tennis shoes. Running, biking, and walking have all helped her think through the challenges of teaching. Teaching can be very taxing, but there is nothing more important than your health. 

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

The New York Times Learning Network, the NPR education podcast, Scott Barry Kaufman’s Beautiful Minds at Scientific American, Rebecca McMillan’s Creativity Post, Annie Murphy Paul’s Brilliant blog, and Ed Yong’s “Ed’s Up” newsletter. 

Provide a writing practice that is effective?  –  All writing is done in class and it is a lot of repetition of the basic skills. Do you have a thesis? Is there evidence to support that thesis? What structure would best support your thesis? She does not do a lot of creative writing in the classroom. 

Update the cannon. What books belongs in the classroom? 

Jessica is a fan of the classics. Middle school teachers are in a weird spot because often the books she wants to put in kids’ hands are “mature.” That said, books she’s recently recommended include Sharp Teeth (for older high school students, a free verse poem about werewolves), the Swallows and Amazons series, the Nick and Tesla series by Quirk Books for STEM fun, all the maker books I recommended in my “Parent-Teacher Conference” column recently, Wonder, Speak, and she is making her way through Kate DiCamillo’s list of books for summer treehouse reading that appeared at NPR books recently.  



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