Possibilities and Connections: Miles to Go Before I Sleep

This post is written by member Joseph Pizzo.

joepizzoOften colleagues in the education world will say to me, “Joe, you’re not still teaching, are you? You must be retired by now and enjoying the good life, right?”

In response, I smile broadly and state, “You’re partially correct. I am indeed enjoying the good life. I begin my forty-second year at Black River Middle School in Chester, New Jersey, on November 3, 2016. You see, I completed my comprehensive exam for my master’s in education on Saturday, November 1, 1975, I had Sunday off to rest, and I began my teaching position at BRMS on Monday, November 3, 1975.”

With puzzlement and a bit of hesitation in their voices, my colleagues will then ask, “So you’re going to retire this year, right?” The question is accompanied by vigorous and affirmative head nodding.

I smile once again and calmly state, “I’m looking to go for another forty-two years, God willing. I feel as if I’m just getting warmed up.”

At that point, my colleagues smile with weak politeness and exit swiftly, mumbling something inaudible but usually accompanied by the barely audible phrase “must be out of his mind.”

What continues to drive me to remain in the classroom? Is it financial? A sense of routine? Is it a fear of the unknown realm of retirement? Actually, I continue to remain in the classroom because I enjoy seeking out new and better ways for my students not only to learn, but also to harness their creative energies. I enjoy the opportunity to “break down the walls” of my classroom by providing my students with the chance to discover new things and connect their learning to the so-called real world. Furthermore, I like to be able to make a difference.

In the summer of 2014, I attended the Digital Literacies Collaborative (DLC) summer conference at Fordham University in Manhattan, New York City. Throughout the conference, I learned many ways to infuse technology into the classroom so that I can encourage my students to master the digital literacies that are increasingly important in this age of technology.

Once the conference ended, I thanked DLC founder and director Dr. Kristen Turner. At the urging of Dr. Turner, I joined the DLC. This was one of the best decisions I have ever made because it provided me with a new and exciting way to help my students develop their voices as writers, voices with more impact.

In the spring of 2015, I began to increase technology options. My students and I were moving from a text-based environment to one that fused text and technology to create a splendid harmony of creative and energized projects.  I looked for ways to share daily vocabulary words through online sources. I had students present book reports more often in a digital format. I increased the number of digital explorations or “quests” to research, explore, and even problem-solve. Moreover, I began participating in more online book chats with colleagues, who explored with me various ways to encourage digital literacy more effectively in our classrooms.

My plan “to ‘break down the walls’ of my classroom by providing my students with the chance to discover new things and connect their learning to the so-called real world” continued to inspire me daily. I now embrace even more vigorously the insight of our February 2016 NCTE Guideline Professional Knowledge for the Teaching of Writing:

Thus, beyond the traditional purposes that are identified in school, purposes for writing   include developing social networks; reasoning with others to improve society; supporting personal and spiritual growth; reflecting on experience; communicating professionally and academically; building relationships with others, including friends, family, and like-minded individuals; and engaging in aesthetic experiences.

Writing in my classroom is now even more reflective of the writing being done in the so-called real world. My students aren’t writing simply for academic purposes. Rather, they have even more writing options to increase their skills in composition, print literacy, and digital literacy. They have more opportunities for collaboration and cooperation. The “walls” of my classroom “break down” even more often than in the past, and the energy in my classroom continues to rise correspondingly.

I am looking forward to the future of my classroom with energy, enthusiasm, and hope. I can see my students growing in both their skills and their perspectives. To paraphrase Robert Frost, I continue to “have miles to go before I sleep.”

Works Cited

Frost, Robert. “The Road Less Traveled.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, 2016. Web. 26 Sept. 2016.

National Council of Teachers of English. Professional Knowledge for the Teaching of Writing. NCTE Guideline. National Council of Teachers of English, Feb. 2016. Web. June 2016.

Joseph S. Pizzo has taught English for 41 years (42 overall) at Black River Middle School in Chester, NJ. An adjunct professor at Centenary University and Union County College, a member of Fordham University’s Digital Literacies Collaborative and of the NJ Schools to Watch, NJCTE, and NJAMLE Executive Boards, and an Educator of the Year recipient from NJCTE and NJAMLE, Pizzo was one of the first inductees into WWOR-TV Channel 9’s A+ for Teachers Hall of Fame. The host of NJAMLE’s “The Top of the Middle” online, Pizzo is also an active author, poet, church lector, and Boy Scout merit badge counselor.

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About Lu Ann McNabb

Lu Ann Maciulla McNabb is the Policy & Alliances Associate for the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Lu Ann has long been an advocate for teachers, students and education. As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently said, "Education is the anvil upon which democracy is forged."

3 thoughts on “Possibilities and Connections: Miles to Go Before I Sleep

  1. This is a fantastic post. It makes you realize the advantages of technology when used properly. It is easy for parents to not understand the importance and ease of learning that technology can bring into the classroom. The “tearing down walls” method you are using here is genius. It seems kids respond better and feel more comfortable when they have familiar things (in this case technology). There is nothing better in a classroom than to get students to understand, and understand together in a way they enjoy. Getting them to write for more than just academic purposes is a huge achievement in its self. This is a great eye opener to how to incorporate technology into learning (the right way). Also, kudos to you for enjoying teaching and striving to be a better teacher for the students, we need more like you.

  2. Joe–You have phenomenal energy and insight, and I applaud your continuing commitment to teaching and you capacity to renew yourself as an educator. I am proud t call you colleague and friend.

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