After explaining how to write a sonnet for the billionth time—one-on-one with a student at lunch, or after school, or in the evening on email—I thought about recording my explanation for students to watch and re-watch as needed. I’d made a podcast a few years earlier for an alt ed U.S. History class, but I wanted to go one step further and make YouTube videos like Khan Academy.

So in the summer of 2011, I made my first mistersato411 video, “How to Write a Sonnet.”


The video was pretty bad. I still cringe when I look at my colored pencil drawings.

But it did what I wanted: it documented my instruction so that a student who missed class that day or who needed the requirements re-explained could, with an Internet connection, get my instruction anytime, anywhere.

They could watch it on a desktop computer, on an iPad, on a cell phone, during writing time in my classroom, after school, at midnight, at lunch before class, and could watch whatever section they needed as many times as they needed to see it, stopping and starting it as needed, without me getting tired or them getting embarrassed that they didn’t understand it right away. Meanwhile, I could be preparing my lessons or chipping away at the Giant Mountain o’ Grading.

I made three other videos that summer that served the same need: an Introduction to Shakespeare, How to Write a Satire, and a topic I feel strongly about, How to Find a Theme. I have always been glad to share materials with other teachers at my school, so I hoped other teachers out in cyberspace would benefit from the effort I put into these videos.
To my surprise, many teachers showed them to their students, and in all parts of the world, not just the English-speaking countries.

It is important to me that the videos are colorful and visually stimulating, so the videos feature brightly colored drawings and graphics. My feeble ability to draw and to use the technology has improved a little bit every summer. It’s also important that the videos never look generic or corporate. They should look similar to one another and have a cohesive aesthetic viewpoint.

There should be a personality behind the videos, what we English teachers call voice.
The Common Core has changed the landscape of our profession, as have standardized tests, and while I don’t believe inflexible fidelity to either of these things constitutes good teaching, I think good teaching can include both. For the most part, these videos are about things all good English classes have always taught, and probably always will.
I’ve taught high school English for over 20 years, 9–12, Honors, regular ed, and remedial. But I have a special place in my heart for at-risk and alternative learners, the kids on the Island of Misfit Toys.
At the beginning of the 2013 school year, I left the suburban high school near my home and took at job in urban Seattle working with students who have been unsuccessful in academic settings, and often have reading levels several grades below their age-group. I don’t know if I’m enough for them, but I’m giving them all I’ve got.

So that’s who I am and why the videos were made. If you have questions or suggestions, please click “contact” above and get in touch. I’m always thrilled to hear from viewers. I’m thrilled at the fact that I even have viewers.

© Daniel Sato