Teaching & Classroom

How I Teach: A friendship that started with a crouton

Welcome to the March edition of How I Teach!

As a reporter, I’ve interviewed plenty of students over the years, and I know the shy ones can be the toughest nuts to crack. Intriguing but inscrutable. That’s why Cheyenne Branscum’s story about forging a relationship with a particularly reticent sixth-grader stayed with me. She did it by playfully stealing a crouton from the girl’s salad plate.

It was a bold move, but it worked. Although the girl looked at Branscum like she was crazy, it became a running joke between the two.

Read on to learn more about how Branscum connects with students, why she sometimes lowers her standards, and what it means to be in “the club.”

— Ann

In their own words.

ATHENIA TRAVIS, high school culinary arts, Chicago
Some of her students have multiple food allergies, difficulty gripping utensils, or trouble reading recipes. To ensure all of them can prepare (almost) the same dish, Travis makes lots of little adaptations.

CHEYENNE BRANSCUM, geography, Shawnee, Oklahoma
Many of her middle school students come from tribal nations, so Branscum likes to highlight the experience of other minority groups in the United States. Sometimes, the students are shocked by what they learn.  

CHRIS SEANARD, middle school design, Chattanooga, Tennessee
A former snowboarding instructor, Seanard now molds young designers and entrepreneurs in a program where students create and sell apparel to classmates and local companies.

SARAH GOULD, K-8 social worker, Indianapolis
Parents sometimes sigh when she calls about their children, but Gould emphasizes that she’s not passing judgment. She wants parents and students to see her as a resource.

Other stories you might have missed.

READING PREP Colorado’s education department is cracking down on the state’s teacher preparation programs when it comes to reading instruction. The first university to receive extra scrutiny received a scathing review. More

RED FLAG Nearly 10,000 students attended an online charter school in Indiana at some point last school year, but only 851 stayed the whole year — a serious problem that could cause the school to lose its charter. More

THE OTHER COLLEGE SCANDAL Two college advisors in Chicago argue that what’s keeping their qualified low-income students out of college isn’t wealthy families who cheat, but rising college costs. More

CURRICULUM CONUNDRUM While some Detroit teachers are praising the district’s new curriculum choices, others say students working below grade level are struggling to grasp the more sophisticated content. More

TOUGH ASSIGNMENT New research out of Los Angeles reveals that teachers in their first few years on the job end up in more challenging classrooms and schools than their more experienced peers. More

DIFFERENT DEFINITIONS Confusion among principals and teachers about just what constitutes bullying is one reason it goes untracked at some New York City schools. More


Ditch That Homework: Practical Strategies to Help Make Homework Obsolete by Matt Miller and Alice Keeler. Recommended by Matt Martin, high school history and P.E. teacher, Ontario, Canada. “Part of our role involves promoting positive habits outside the classroom. This book highlights the impact our homework policies have on our students and suggests ways to make homework more impactful while also encouraging reflection on the types of tasks being given to students to do outside the classroom.”

The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity” by Nadine Burke Harris. Recommended by Shveta Miller, education consultant and instructional coach for secondary English language arts teachers, Portland, Oregon. “Dr. Burke Harris’ illuminating discussion of how trauma and toxic stress impact brain development is an essential read for anyone who works with children. Learn how adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) lead to learning and behavior challenges, and also discover the powerful impact a buffering adult, like a trauma-informed teacher, can have on a child’s healing.”

Do you have a reading recommendation for other educators? Let me know what it is and why you liked it, and I may feature your suggestion in a future newsletter. Just send me an email at aschimke@chalkbeat.org or fill out this short form.

Photo: Athenia Travis