Tag Archives: Destinee Hodge

The Joys of Summer

By Destinee Hodge June 10th, 2014 4:15 PM

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say, “Teachers are so lucky, they get the summer off! I wish I got that long vacation at my job” or “Why do you all get such a long break? I need one as much as you.”

I usually just chuckle and brush it off in a weak effort to mask my condescension. Anyone who teaches knows that summer break is not a privilege; it’s a necessity.  It’s a time for teachers to do whatever they need to do in order to reflect and prepare for the upcoming year. So as a teacher, what can you do over your almost two-month break? From my perspective, that depends on your own needs and preferences. I usually separate my options into two buckets: “Make Money” or “Make Memories.”

Make Money

Teach Summer School: Yes, I know, it’s not for everyone. For some people the thought of teaching during the summer is not even a consideration— but there are some pros. First, most teachers in D.C. are paid year-round (despite having the summer off). This means that teaching summer school feels like making twice the money you would normally make for working similar hours. Second, you have the option to teach in an environment that’s different from your current school. This is a refreshing and eye opening experience, and I’ve always learned new strategies that I can take back with me to my own classroom.

Find Another Job: Perhaps you like the idea of more money, but you really value that break from teaching. For those of you in this category, there are many part-time jobs that you can look into. Once you’re okay with running into a student as you work the floor at a local museum, taking on a job keeps you occupied and is a refreshing change from the hustle and bustle of the school year.

Internships: this is something I wish someone would have mentioned my first year teaching. DC is an internship hub. While the pay may not be fantastic, you have the option of gaining valuable experience without leaving your actual job behind. For example, one person I know who wanted to explore education policy worked at an education non-profit as an intern during the summer. Just remember, if you want to do an internship, it may require that you apply during the fall or spring.

Make Memories

Travel: This option happens to be my personal favorite because there’s nothing like a great summer adventure. Usually at the beginning of the year, I start planning where I want to go and put things in place to get tickets and hotels.  There are also a lot of tour companies that have good prices (i.e. GLOBUS). For example, last year I did a tour of Spain with a friend of mine. We went everywhere, including the cities of Madrid, Seville, and Barcelona.  More than just adding a notch to my travel belt, I was able to share those experiences with my students and provide more authentic exposure to a different culture in my lessons. Even if you can’t go out of the country, a trip to Mount Rushmore can be just as exciting as a trip to the Eiffel Tower.

Rest and be a Tourist: D.C. is a great place to call home and summer is a fantastic season to live here. There are endless festivities and enough museums for you to go somewhere different every day. The great thing is that many of the museums are free or offer discounts to educators.

DC Summer Events:

You may not know what summer holds, but you can be confident that the course of summer is entirely in your hands!


40/40 Led Me to 20/20

By Destinee Hodge May 5th, 2014 5:00 PM

Almost three years ago, I stepped through the doors of Kelly Miller Middle School having little idea what to expect. I had heard the good, the bad, and the ugly during my training about individual teacher’s experiences working in one of DC’s lowest 40 performing schools. Going into an environment with many underperforming students and wanting to see them succeed was a very daunting task. I remember wanting to approach my students and new school community with an optimistic yet realistic mentality. How could I have high expectations while not being naïve toward possible student behaviors and mindsets? It seemed like an impossible balance to strike. Whether or not I acknowledged it then, I had pre-conceived notions about how this journey would go.  These mind-sets were based on my past education experiences and what other people told me to expect.

If I had the chance to go back three years and give myself some advice, I’d share what I understand now more than ever— at the end of the day, my students and I are both human beings. That mutual humanity is what brings me back each morning. Are there days where students are disrespectful? Yes. Have I ever witnessed inappropriate behavior from students? Yes. Have my students thrown me a surprise birthday party? Yes. Have they shown an incredible enthusiasm and tenacity for learning a new language? Absolutely.

This duality is my daily experience. As many frustrations as I may have about student behaviors and administrative expectations, I have enough positive experiences by virtue of student relationships to create a harmonious balance in my life. The bond I have with my current eighth graders is an excellent example of how both the positive and negative elements in a low-performing school environment can balance out. Over time, the relationships I’ve built with my students have contributed to a better classroom environment. There is a shared understanding that my classroom is not just Srta. Hodge’s room, but rather a place where foreign language instruction lives in the minds and voices of every student I teach.

I now see it as my duty to pass this perspective to people who are considering working in one of the District’s 40/40 schools or those who are already on their way there. No single story, experience or viewpoint should shape your mindset going into this position. In your classroom, there will be difficulty and there will be beauty— focus on the latter and you will have a positive experience overall.

Do I Really Need a Foreign Language?

By Destinee Hodge March 12th, 2014 5:00 PM

“Señorita, I don’t know any Spanish people, I don’t think I need to learn Spanish.”

“Why can’t we just learn English? Spanish is too hard.”

“I speak English, that’s enough.”

These, among others, are some of the complaints I’ve received from my students (especially at the beginning of the year). Coupled with the fact that English and math scores take center stage across the education sector, it often makes defending foreign language (FL) instruction even more of an uphill battle.

When I first started this job, it was hard for me to understand why some of my students did not inherently want to learn a new language. Having grown up on a Caribbean island replete with Spanish-speakers and people of different cultures, I understood that to have the best experience, I needed to be able to communicate with others. As I got older I realized how unique an experience my upbringing was.  I thought the best way to continue to discover new things about other cultures and share my knowledge was through teaching.

It took me a while to understand that, as a teacher, it is my responsibility to take my students out of their comfort zone in a way that their immediate environment doesn’t. Many of my students truly only interact with people who look, sound and dress exactly like them. Why should they be interested in learning about others?

Some of my students were immediately onboard with learning a foreign language. They already had an experience where they saw how knowing a foreign language could benefit them.  But for those students without a zeal or curiosity to learn about other cultures, traditional methods of encouraging them to be invested didn’t work. Phrases like “It’ll help you do well in high school” or “you can get a better job” weren’t enough to motivate them.

I came up with my top five reasons for learning a new language that I’ve used to invest my students at the beginning of the year. While I could go into so many studies, the fact that in 2018 there will be a FL NAEP test, or any other piece of evidence, I find that the simplest things are what get the students on board to give the FL experience a try. Of course, my examples relate to Spanish, but these benefits are applicable to any FL!

1. It makes you smarter

Learning a new language causes you to make connections and spark new synapse pathways. Not only that, but in learning the grammar and vocabulary in a different language, it strengthens your knowledge of your own first language. Smarter overall and reinforcing knowledge you already have? That sounds like a good deal to me. (source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationopinion/10126883/Why-learn-a-foreign-language-Benefits-of-bilingualism.html)

2. More communication = More money and more competitive

Try to think of one profession in which you would never encounter someone who speaks a different language. Let me know if you come up with one. In the meantime, let’s talk about the fact that currently, employers are desperate for people who can communicate in more than one language. Less communication equates to less money and being less competitive. If we’re talking about the competition, Americans are vastly behind. A recent article by Forbes detailed –among other things- that 18% of Americans report speaking more than one language compared to around 53% of Europeans. That’s almost three times more! In my personal experience, even though I have a full-time job as a teacher, I’ve sometimes been able to make an extra dime here and there by translating a written work or at an event. Who doesn’t want more money? And who doesn’t want to be able to compete for a better-paying job?

3. You can meet new people (or just be nosey)

I have met so many people in unexpected places as a result of speaking Spanish. I’ve helped people find the right bus route, made friends when I went out to eat, or even just on the metro. For the nosier people out there, I can even surreptitiously listen in on conversations because people do not always assume I speak Spanish. If nothing else, it’s extremely empowering.

4. You can be exposed to a new culture

You may think that carryout and go-go are the end all be all, but I’d gladly introduce you to empanadas, bachata and everything in between. There are so many cultures associated with the Spanish language that you could spend the rest of your life listening to new music or trying new food and still not discover everything.  Perhaps French or Portuguese are more up your alley? Zouk, Samba and Escargot Pizza are all open for you to try. You’d be so surprised how passionate you can become about a new cultural experience.

5. Even some of the biggest celebrities realize that it’s important to branch out and reach a new set of people

Beyoncé. Drake. Nicki Minaj. You probably don’t think “Spanish” when you hear these names but these are just a few examples of stars who realize that communicating with people who speak a different language is important. Imagine- they have all the fans in the world and they’re still trying to reach the Latin market? That says something. Don’t believe me? Check out some of their music here:

Beyoncé- http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20016367,00.html

Drake- “Odio” http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/latin-notas/5893899/romeo-santos-drake-odio-latin-airplay-chart

Nicki Minaj- “Animales”- http://theboombox.com/nicki-minaj-romeo-santos-animales/

Usually after I present my five reasons (with a little help from videos and food samples) I have most of my middle school classes ready to give it all a go. For high school I might add the Advanced Placement/ college application tidbit. Sharing my own language learning struggles and successes typically adds the icing to the cake. At the end of the day, the same things that motivate us motivate our students. If our leader can explain why a specific goal is important to our lives, we are extremely invested. I try to apply that philosophy to investing my students.

Destinee Hodge is a Spanish teacher at Kelly Miller Middle School.

Incentives for Investment

By Destinee Hodge February 11th, 2014 6:00 PM

We all love rewards. It’s amazing how, at all ages, a little appreciation goes a long way.  Rewards – however big or small – motivate us and make us feel like we have something to work towards.

As a middle school teacher, I try to take apply that philosophy to my classroom. The thing is, with 150 students, I have to be thoughtful about the types of rewards that I can feasibly offer.

You might ask, how do you reward students meaningfully without breaking the bank? The answer to that is quite simple. When working with children, you are the one responsible for deciding what’s important or “meaningful to them.” To explain, I’ll discuss a few of the things I do that work well with my students.

Class Dojo– This is an online behavior system where each student has an avatar (that they can edit) and you can add or take away points during class in response to student behaviors.  It’s really easy to sign up as a teacher and create your classes (you can even copy and paste rosters). When I first introduced it, some of my older students were wary of the program. However, now that I’ve attached real rewards (like determining who gets class jobs or your participation grade), they’re all fans! You can check this out at: http://www.classdojo.com/

Donuts for As

Donuts for A’s– we have a short cycle assessment at my school every two weeks. One way that I keep my students motivated is by rewarding students who get A’s on the assessment with a tasty Dunkin’ Donut and a whole lot of classroom cheer. These students also receive a sheet for their parents to sign, acknowledging that they know how well their student is doing in school. The best part is, you can determine what grade your students need to receive a donut. For example, if you have a lower- skilled group, you can do “Donuts for A’s and B’s.” If you have an extremely skilled group, you can award donuts to the “95 and above club.”

Class Jobs– We all have them. However, many of us struggle when it comes to deciding how to divvy the jobs up. I’ve found that attaching jobs to academic performance and consistency works well! For example, in order to get the most coveted jobs (i.e. adding dojo points or pulling equity sticks), students need to have exemplary homework turn-in on a consistent basis. Also, by making a helpful position like a class job a “reward”, it creates an atmosphere where my students are extremely grateful for other, costlier rewards.

Sticker Calendar

Stickers–  ‘Señorita, I did everything, you forgot to put on my sticker,” 18-year-old Nathan said. “Lo siento mi amor!” I responded.  Moral of the story: do not underestimate the power of a sticker. I’ve taught both high school and middle school and let me just say that my students are sticker FIENDS. Something about the immediate feedback really does get them excited. In particular, I like to use stickers to track student progress.  In my class, students have classroom folders with a calendar stapled on the front. Each day, I ask two of my “sticker students” to go around the class and give each person who has completed class work a sticker on that date. This allows me to not only determine their class work grade, but to provide them with a visual representation of the work they do in my class. I’ve also ordered stickers in Spanish from Amazon, which they absolutely love. 

Overall, my biggest piece of advice is that whatever you do, do it consistently. This is truly the most important thing of all. There is nothing worse than being promised something and it doesn’t come through. It will also make it harder for you to keep your students invested in anything if they know you do not follow through on your word.

As you can see, rewards can be easy and affordable. Make sure you stay consistent and you’ll see how invested your kids will be!

Destinee Hodge is a Spanish teacher at Kelly Miller Middle School.

Students Learn More by Doing: Benefits of Assigning Projects to Your Students

By Destinee Hodge January 15th, 2014 10:30 AM

I don’t know a single teacher who wants learning to be boring. I also don’t know a single teacher who wants to do all the heavy lifting in their classroom. Yet these are two things that, from my experience, happen quite often as the school year trudges along. We begin printing worksheets without regard for our students’ perspective and without pushing them to be inventive, independent thinkers.

I remember taking one week toward the end of my first year of teaching to actually sit down and do the work I was assigning to my kids. This is boring, I thought to myself. All of a sudden, I could understand why my seventh grade class was not having it.

by Destinee Hodge

by Destinee Hodge

That experience got me thinking. I wanted to make learning interesting, and I wanted my students to take ownership over their work. I also wanted my students to actively use their minds and begin to think in different ways. What could I do to accomplish these ends?

Enter project-based learning. Of course we’ve all heard of classroom projects being hailed as generally awesome. But when you sit down to plan, what does including a project in your lesson look like? And sure, projects make learning interesting…but is that it? Since projects are a huge part of my teaching, I thought I’d address a few common questions about integrating them into the classroom.


Q: Sure, projects make learning more interesting, but is that it?

A: The biggest benefit of assigning projects is that it shifts the responsibility of learning from you to your students. For example, once I do the preliminary work of creating a rubric and a detailed outline of the project, it’s up to my students to do the work and me to monitor. That’s much more sustainable than constantly being the creative force behind everything in the classroom. Also, having your students create something is considered a higher order thinking skill on Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Q: Uh, you teach Spanish, do projects really apply to every subject?

A: They most certainly do! While the nature of my subject lends itself to projects more often, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be done in every subject area.  For example, math teachers can have their students pretend to be interior designers and calculate the area of different spaces in a room. It requires you to really think, but the result is that your students will want to do the work.

Q: Thanks for the suggestion, but I don’t have time for a project.

A: Not true. A project can be anywhere from one day to one year in length. YOU determine how long a project should be. For example, I’ve had my students create a skit about ordering food in a restaurant in one day and then present it the next.  I’ve also had students read information about Hispanic culture and then create a visual representation on chart paper (all in the same day). You just need to be intentional about planning appropriately.

Q: I have no idea how to plan a project. How do I start?

A: The most important factor is that projects cannot be random. You need projects to be integrated into your unit plan so that they will allow students to show mastery of specific standards.

  1. Decide on the content and skills you want them to learn. This is where you look at your unit plan and decide what information you want the project to help your students bring together.
  2. Develop rubrics, formats, and exemplar. This is SUPER important. If you don’t have clear guidelines, you will receive a number of completely different products.
  3. Develop a timeline and scope for your project. How long do you want students to be able to work on it? When do you want the final product to be due? If you don’t do this, you’ll find yourself spending much more time than necessary on the project because your students don’t have a sense of urgency.

Q: Is it better for students to work in groups or individually?

A: You know your students best, so you need to decide. Working in groups is obviously a life skill (life is in and of itself a group project), but at the same time, you may want each student’s individual expression to show through during the project.

Learning can be both rigorous and engaging. Hopefully you’ll consider using projects to make it both of these things.

Destinee Hodge is a Spanish teacher at Kelly Miller Middle School in Ward 7.