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May 3, 2014

Plotinsky, Miriam

by Neida Mbuia Joao, Online Op/Ed Editor
Name: Miriam Plotinsky
Department: English
Education: Undergraduate from University of Maryland in English and secondary education, graduate degree from George Washington University in education leadership with a focus on education policy
Classes Taught: CAP AP Language, Creative Writing
Year started at Blair: Interned in 2000, began formally teaching in 2004
Previous Jobs: Singer, zoo photographer
Hobbies: Guitar, cake decorating, food blogging

Given only her thin frame and short stature, upon first encountering her you might think that Miriam Plotinsky is just another student at Blair. But one conversation with her about the things she loves—her three children, her baking blog Just About Baked and the job she's done for the past 14 years—would tell you otherwise. Upon speaking to her for the first time, you'd be thoroughly convinced that Plotinsky has both the wisdom and experience to do what she was meant to: teach.

She didn't initially plan to be a teacher. In college, Plotinsky first majored in music. Her love of performing, however, convinced her that teaching might be the right course of action. "At first I thought that it could be like a kind of performance art and that that would be fun. So I decided to try it, and all of a sudden it wasn't about any of that. It was just about how much fun it is to be in the classroom and to laugh every day and not know what's coming, the unpredictability of it," she says nonchalantly.

Plotinsky seems to crave unpredictability in her life. In college, while at home for summer break, she answered an ad in a newspaper that led to what proved to be a very formative job for her: zoo photography. "It made me aggressive; I was pretty shy before that. The person you see before you today is because of that job."

Plotinsky often uses the skills she learned from that summer job in one of her hobbies: her blog Just About Baked. The blog is a source of creative expression for Plotinsky, who started it as a way to share the multitude of baked goods she was producing with the world. There she shares original recipes and pictures of the finished products. It supplements her two other jobs, teaching and mothering.

She asserts that there is a big difference between teaching and being a mother. However, she also does not deny the similarities between the two occupations. "When I first became a teacher, it took me a few months to really get it, to really figure out what my voice was and what my style was and how to do it and to get really comfortable with it. That's the only similarity between teaching and parenting. My first year as a parent was kind of a disaster, and gradually I learned what I have to do and I’m getting better. I call my first kid my trial kid, the one I make all the mistakes with."

She also accepts the fact that teaching and mothering bring very different levels of responsibility and accountability. In that way, Plotinsky says that teaching can be a bit more high stakes as she is accountable not only to her students but to their parents as well. It is because of this that she establishes a clear line between her kids at home and her kids at school. "I can't take it home with me, because at home is where I do what I do with my kids and then here I focus on these kids, so it's a constant shift in focus."

But it's clear that she loves her students. She speaks with an air of admiration when talking about them and the classes she teaches. She loves teaching both her classes, creative writing and CAP AP Language equally, but feels very differently about the curricula of each class. "[Creative writing] is wildly fun. I get to design that curriculum myself, I get to do whatever I feel like doing on any given day. I love teaching AP, it's a great class, but I don't have control over it to that same degree."

She also notes how differently her students react to the content of each class. She says that in Creative Writing, an elective, students tend to be a lot more enthusiastic about the coursework, whereas in AP Language, which is required, there's decidedly less eagerness about the coursework. However, in the latter class she does remark on the enthusiasm for learning. "When I first got drafted into CAP, the coordinator at the time told me, 'These kids love to learn.' It's true."

Ultimately, Plotinsky hopes to leave her students with a valuable lesson that she has herself learned through being a mother and teacher: skill building, "One of my philosophies is that whatever you don't use goes away. I try to emphasize skill building above everything else…You know, students come into my class and they feel really bad initially, 'Oh this is not where I want to be, I wanted to be a better writer,' and I always tell them you will be, you just have to do it enough."



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