Pen Pals!

As I sat in our professional development discussing College and Career Readiness standards, my mind began to drift away. I started to reflect on the curse of living in a small town.

In Clarion, the diversity is 91% Caucasian/White and 15.9% Hispanic/Latino. It is a town where everyone knows my name, and I know some of their names. Pronouns have become a regular go-to when I am in public such as, “hey you”.

When you live in a closed area, and your family has always live in a closed area, it is easy to forget the world is larger than your backyard. This is especially easy when you are a teenager. Teenagers are egotistical by nature. It is all a part of human development. It is however the role of a teacher to encourage students to branch out and think globally.

My mind drifted further… Early this fall my husband’s grandmother passed away. One of the items that was left to Sam and I was worn letter pouch with a painted image of a middle eastern woman with a dove just about to land on her finger. Below this burned on is the word “postcards”. The inside flap with impeccable penmanship it says, “To Elizabeth with love from your pen pal Irene”. Inside this pouch there are 5 stamps, one picture of young Irene dated 5/8/40, and a 5 page handwritten letter on worn manilla paper dated 6/11/41.

Grandma Elizabeth started this pen pal exchange when she was in elementary school.Her pen pal, Irene, was from Wales. Despite the challenges of life, they remained pen pals for many, many years. Their pen pal exchange was truly one in a million.

There is very little chance that I could ever replicate the bond that they had, but I wanted to replicate the exchange as best I could. In the letter, Irene shares what is happening in her own world, a ship nearby was hit with a torpedo. She also shares her culture and perspective. The last few pages of the letter is Irene teaching Elizabeth the Welsh language. This is the beauty of a pen pal exchange. I wanted my Seniors to grow from learning from others outside the bubble of Clarion.

I quickly googled school pen pals. The first thing that popped up was Pen Pal Schools : The site partners students around the world to be enrolled in a course. Every week it provides a video, a non fiction article, and a essential question. For each week, students can comment and share thought about the article and insight to the essential question as they read.

I originally wanted to enroll my student in “A Walk to Discrimination”. This course focused on where and when discrimination has happened and it makes students question why it happens. I thought this would be a powerful unit. I had so many fiction text and short stories that I could tie in…. Then I teacher failed.

Minor side note: I love Pinterest, but I love Pinterest fails more. So hopefully you enjoy my minor teacher fail.

I had all of my students signed up for the pen pal exchange. They were in the online classroom ready to go, all that needed to happen was the site to pair my student up. I opened my laptop that Monday morning, and for my 64 students. I received 6 pen pals… Teacher panic ensued.

I quickly emailed the site to find out what the problem was. The pen pal school staff is phenomenal. Within a few minutes, I had a response and a solution.

As it turns out, there were only 6 other students that enrolled in the course. The only course where there were enough students to match mine was “Protecting the Earth”.

I must admit. I was a little disappointed.

I did not let this disappointment consume my life.

Living in a farm town, my students value agriculture. Everyone in my class either is from a farming family or knows a farming family. The environment is an important issue for these students, because it is their livelihood.

In college I took a course in Environmental Literature so I had some background.


Skipping ahead to this week. We are on week 2 on the pen pal exchange. It has been a blast!

The first week was on pollinators. The essential question was “What are different reasons why people might want to protect the environment?”.

After a group conversation, the Seniors were instructed to pursue a topic sparked by the article further. They had to find 4 academic sources and present their findings in whatever way they wanted.

This is a link to one of the many wonderful presentations.

After students were finished watching presentations they had to share on flipgrid something that they learned. I really liked using flipgrid. It made for a fun exit ticket.

Week 2 has been on Coral Reef extinction. Before we started the pen pal article, we read a section of A Sand County Almanac. As you may know, prairie is the most endangered ecosystems. Before we drove into problems in other countries, I wanted students to know what is happening in their own neck of the woods.

Aldo Leopold is a beautiful writer, but his writing is not an easy read. My students were challenged by this reading. After students read through the story and annotated, we played close read basketball.

The rules were pretty simple. The reader had the ball and read until they came across an important section or anywhere that they can add meaning or ask a deeper question. If they class deemed it worthy, they could shoot for points.

Even my reluctant reader ate this up like fresh ooey gooey pizza.

When it came to reading the non fiction article on dangers facing coral reefs my students had so many meaningful connections and insights.

They are in the process of writing a short essay. Do humans have a responsibility to take care of the environment? Why or why not?

Of what I have read, they are going great! I am so excited. My teacher heart it full.
















Chicago to Clarion

Fall 2014 I thought I had it all planned out…

My now husband, Sam had just accepted an offer to work at Andersen Tax in Chicago. He completed a summer internship at their San Francisco branch and we were thrilled to have him working in the midwest.We were even more thrilled when we discovered that I could student teach in Chicago. This meant that we would only have to spend a semester apart.

For as long I can imagine, I wanted to live in Chicago. I visited it with my family when I was younger, and I was hooked. I was enchanted by the buildings and the merging of cultures. It was a dream come true.

Last spring I taught at University of Chicago Woodlawn High School and Sam worked downtown. I was scared. From my freshman year of college I thought that I wanted to teach middle school. So, I requested all of my placements and volunteer work be that age level. After being told by a Central College graduate that worked at Chicago Public School that no school would hire me if I did not have both, I asked my placement to be high school.

It was different from anything that I have ever experience. The first difference was travel. I did not have a car, so I was at the mercy of Chicago Public Transit. I spent anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half to get to work. I started with a full tervis of black coffee that usually needed be filled before bus 3.

But hey! I could spit and find a coffee shop.

The other difference was the culture of the school. I have never cried so much. Some of it was the usual frustration that comes with student teaching, but most of it was the hurt that I saw in my students’ eyes.

Somewhere in the crazy, I fell in love with teaching High School.

It was home.

It was going out on any given weekend with Sam and finding a new neighborhood or a new place to eat.

Then came the job search.

Since Sam worked downtown, I could work any neighborhood in Chicago or suburb. I filled out a total of 108 applications. The only phone call that I got back was a school looking for maternity leave starting the last 2 weeks of my student teaching.  My only option was to either work as a sub, or start looking for a job outside of teaching.

It was then that Sam’s parents suggest I look at Clarion Goldfield Dows. There was an opening as a High School English Teacher/Librarian. I was very hesitant. How could they hire me? I have zero experience running a library. Heck, my school in Chicago did not even have one.

I sent my resume and cover letter, and within 10 minutes I was setting up a time with the principal to be interviewed.

I was not supposed to be teaching in Iowa. I was gone. I was off on my adventure with Sam. I was wrong. Despite my expert planning, I could not have planned a better experience than this.

I am blessed beyond imaginable.

I am promoting the love of reading and the love of writing. I am teaching alongside an amazing team of educators to an outstanding group of young learners.

I am already off and running. I cannot wait to share all of the exciting things that I have been doing so far.

-Love, Mrs. Moore 🙂