Beyond the Red Pen: Meet Shelia, High School Contemporary Themes


Meet Shelia, a high school Contemporary Themes teacher. She is not only a teacher, but she’s also built classroom norms around joy and student collaboration. Learn more about creating a joyful classroom at Joyful Classroom and at her personal class website.

grading tips routine

What is your current location?
Mark Keppel High School in Alhambra, California

What subject and grade(s) do you teach?
Contemporary Themes, 12th grade

What is your favorite teaching accessory?
Post-It Notes and my class website

Tips and tricks on making the best “teacher lunch?”
I have a mini kitchen in the back of my classroom complete with Keurig, mini fridge, microwave, toaster and believe it or not a Capresso milk frother. I bring groceries to school each week so I have plenty of healthy snacks to choose from throughout the day. My favorite is Greek yogurt with a tablespoon of organic, raw almond butter. YUM.

grading tips for teachers

What’s your favorite time to grade and why?
There is no favorite time to grade, but I love it when I can squeeze it into the school day. I try not to take too much home.

What is your must have grading tool/utensil?
I grade almost everything online these days. Students are grouped at the beginning of the year into “Think Tank” research teams. These Think Tanks create a website that then houses most of their work for the year, including their ePortfolios and spoken word reflections. My website is and I link each Think Tank to my site so that I can easily access student work. Students also participate in online forums, which are also located on the website.

How do you find grading “zen?”
Is there such a thing? I need to read your blog to find out! (Editor‘s Note: Ask and you shall receive…)

What is your super secret tip to grade faster that you wish all teachers knew?
Project based learning that is scored on a rubric. I can score while the students are presenting. I give them feedback immediately and then they can choose to go back and make corrections (or not to). I take a photo of the rubric for my records, and then I hand the group the hard copy so they can look at when they are done presenting. (They also get the rubric ahead of time so they know what to expect.)

teacher grading tips

What is one strategy that has worked to increase student motivation?
Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is one way to motivate students. They are comfortable with technology, and allowing them to use it in creative ways in class is often a motivator. I also use classroom norms that the student come up with. These norms allow students the freedom to take care of their own needs during the class. I do not run a fear based classroom. Students are not motivated by fear; they are motivated by faith and joy! I like to call my classroom a “JOY based” classroom! (Editor’s Note: Check out Shelia’s amazing resource on how to create a Joyful Classroom!)

What is the best teaching advice you’ve ever received?
A mentor from the UCLA Writing Project told me nearly 20 years ago, “If you are working harder than your students are working, then you are working too hard!” She also said, “Don’t do anything that the students should be (and need to be) doing.” This advice shifted everything for me.  The best advice I like to give young teachers is, “Love them well.” When I work from a place of loving my students, they can and do learn!

teacher grading tips fun

Do you have specific teaching shoes? If so, what are they?
I wear TOMS wedges a lot! I have 6 pairs! I love the TOMS model of “Buy One, Give One.” We also read Blake McCosky’s book, START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS in my class.

What’s the last thing you bought for your classroom?
I’m pretty foolish in this department. I just recently bought 800 dollars worth of books (YES. WITH. MY. OWN. MONEY.) because I want to put good books into students’ hands. I purchased a class set of DAVID AND GOLIATH by Malcolm Gladwell. I also purchased multiple titles for literature circle reading. I buy 6 copies of each title so that my students can read them in small groups. Some of the titles include: THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS by Rebecca Skloot, FEED by M. T. Anderson, and THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT by Mark Haddon. I have over a thousand books in my classroom!

Looking to become a grading ninja like Sheila? Sign-up with Gradeable and see what we can do for your grading game at


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