Secondary Solutions

Ideas, tips, and tools for the middle and high school English Language Arts teacher. Visit our store at!


Where do hashtags and instafilters fit in the English classroom?

Streetcar Slang


Dear Students, Let’s get a few things straight.

Myths 1

It’s funny how I tend to hear students espouse the same myths year after year.  Here are a few of the ones I’d like to debunk:

1. We are all conspiring together to assign common due dates.  It seems like every time we assign a major paper or project, we hear the groans about how our due date coincides with the due dates in other classes.  We assure you, this is not an intentional affront to your social life.  Since every class begins and ends each marking period on the same schedule, it makes sense that projects in multiple classes would be assigned after a few weeks of front loaded instruction and with enough time to assess before grades are due.  Lucky for you, most teachers I know offer step by step guidance and plenty of advanced notice.  In addition to all of our wonderful content, we are teaching you the life skill of time management.  Break out your agenda and plan accordingly.

2. We assign books and essays as punishments. This is in fact quite the opposite.  We challenge you to read and write sophisticated pieces because we care about your future success.  We’ve been to college and the workplace and we know a thing or two about what it is going to take.  Trust us.

3. We don’t have homework. I would hazard a guess that we do more work on weekends and evenings than many of you students. For every one assignment or test you complete, we have to grade upwards of 150.  Just like you, we are far from finished at 3pm and our summers are also filled with school obligations.

4. We don’t understand what you’re saying/texting/tweeting.  Just because we do not let you use text language or slang in our assignments does not mean that we don’t understand it.  So be careful little hands what you tweet and be careful little mouths what you say.  We are human; if you prick us we will bleed, so try to be nice.

5. We have all of the answers in our teacher books.  Contrary to popular belief, we do not have a teacher’s manual with step by step instructions on how to integrate novels, test prep, vocab, grammar, writing, and speaking.  We have awesome resources like Secondary Solutions, but we also have hours of preparation under our belts!

6. We want some students to fail in order to prove that we are good teachers. We keep the standard high because we want to see everyone meet ultimate success. We do not have a quota of Fs.  In fact, many of us have pressure to increase pass rates.

7. We don’t like you. We hear it all of the time, but it simply isn’t true. Most of us like our jobs and we like you.  We may give you a hard time for skipping an assignment or remind you for the hundredth time not to eat in the classroom, but it is not a personal attack.

Teachers, what myths would you add to this list?



Teacher Tips: Writing Letters of Recommendation (Free Form Download!)

Letters of Rec

I teach primarily juniors and seniors this year and so I have three main waves of recommendation writing: junior enrichment opportunities, senior college apps, and senior scholarship apps.  Many of these opportunities ask students to obtain a letter of recommendation from an English teacher who can give insight into student reading and communication skills.  Whether you are sitting down to write one letter or fifty letters, here are some tips to get you through:

1. Be authentic.  Sometimes you have to be honest with students and decline to write a letter of recommendation when you feel that you don’t have the time to complete the task, you don’t know the student well enough, or you don’t think that you can write a positive letter.  Allow yourself to make the professional call either way so that you can avoid writing an untruthful ode to the student constantly cheating and disrupting class or a boring form letter about that extraordinary student in dire need of a scholarship.

2. Consider starting with a few general form letters. Every student is exceptional, but letters of recommendation may come in batches.  I have general templates for categories like: the student athlete, the most improved, the extra-curricular star, the service oriented, and the consistent hard worker.  I then fill in the general template with the specifics of the student so that I can quickly, but accurately get the letter done.  In my 10 years writing letters, I’ve had a few every year that break all molds and require me to break out all of my rhetoric skills from scratch.

3. Ask for a brag sheet and the details of the opportunity. Even if you know your students well, give them an opportunity to fill out the whole picture.  The form below is a tremendous help to me and it helps to keep students accountable.

4. Quote students. I like to include quotes from student essay writing or brag sheets in order to show and not just tell the student’s strengths.

5. Put on the finishing touches.  After you have spent time writing this letter, be sure to proofread it, print it on letterhead, and sign it.  These letters are important and you want to honor them.


What recommendations do you have?  Is my form helpful?  I’d love to hear from you in the comment section!

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