Grades Taught: 10th -12th.
World History, US History, Psychology, Government, Economics, Language Arts, LEP World History, LEP Government, LEP Economics, Geography, Anthropology, Sociology
Merrill West High School/Tracy Unified
Local Writing Project:
Great Valley Writing Project (GVWP)
Awards & Recognition
- Tracy Unified Teacher of the Term, Spring 1994
- Tracy Unified Teacher of the Year, 2013-14
- San Joaquin County A+ Teacher of the Year 2014
- San Joaquin County A+ Spirit of Literacy Award, Fall 2015
- GVWP Teacher Consultant
The GVWP has been the biggest single influence on my teaching because it has allowed me to be able to understand and explain the reasons why my teaching was either successful or not in helping my students learn. Before becoming involved with GVWP, I knew that I had certain lessons and strategies that worked and others that didn’t, but I couldn’t break them down and explain why they worked. Now I can, and that has allowed me to become a better teacher because I’m confident that I know the reasons for what I’m doing, so I ought to be able to make every single day a better learning experience for my students.
Before becoming a member of GVWP, I knew that I liked to write, and I thought that I was pretty good at it. Now, I consider myself to be a writer, and I know that I’ve become a better writer because I have expanded my repertoire from nonfiction writing only to memoir, poetry, and historical fiction. Interestingly, this expansion of my writing palette has also caused me to expand my reading interests, so I feel that I am a much more well-rounded person.
Even with the GVWP’s great influence on my teaching and writing, I think that its biggest impact on me has been in the area of educational leadership. I’ve become confident in making presentations in front of that toughest audience – my peers – and I’ve grown to truly enjoy this part of my teaching life more than any other. The Writing Project has encouraged me to look for other professional growth opportunities, and so, for the past 10 years, I’ve set out on a journey to reclaim and re-establish in my teaching the literacy of my discipline of History/Social Studies. This has coincided with the rise of the Common Core State Standards, and I unexpectedly found myself in a position where I knew a lot about a topic that was largely misunderstood, and in demand to help others understand this new approach to teaching. This has encouraged me to look at continuing my teaching after I leave the classroom by working with new teachers, a prospect/challenge that I look forward to.
The bedrock belief for all of my teaching is James Moffett’s advice to fill up my students with knowledge, skills, and ideas so that they can write from plenty. I’ve jettisoned the idea that I need to “cover” the material, a practice that had for so many years actually covered up the material by causing me to teach in an “inch deep and a mile-wide” type of way. I now focus on fewer topics, but we plunge deeply into them. Another belief that I’ve learned from the Writing Project is that I need to make the invisible visible by showing students what thinking looks like and by helping them with models of writing that they can use to create their own. I’ve learned to respect the decisions that writers make and to always focus on the best part of a piece of writing first rather than constantly being a nag about shortcomings.
There are so many books that have contributed to my practice, but the one that I think has been the most influential for me is Teaching Argument Writing by George Hillocks, Jr. This book hit me like a brick upside the head! The analysis of the argument process – and how to teach it – is so clear and logical that I found myself saying, “Why didn’t I think of that?” over and over again. I go back to this wonderful book all the time because, for me, it’s like a how-to manual for my teaching.