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Heroic measures: let’s do something (anything)

Happy New Year’s Day!

Last night we went to see the new Star Wars movie. I bought the tickets in November and made it until the show without a single spoiler. I am thinking now — if I can navigate social media for over six weeks without a single spoiler or discussion thread — I can certainly navigate social media better overall. Because at times, it’s been terrifying.

Even from those I respect and admire.

In fact, quite disheartening.

There are many wonderful voices shaking up the world now and have been. Voices whose candor, truth to power and legions of loyal fans pave the way to get them to the forefront. And yet, I still have the nagging feeling that anytime anyone puts forth shakey argumentative devices, credibility and authoritative legitimacy are lost. We know better.

However; I can only be mindful and reflective of the information I seek or is provided: “Be critical of the media you love.” — Anita Sarkessian.

Resolved:

  • Continue to question, research, and revisit/revise
  • Continue to change and adapt
  • Keep track of the narrative; revisit accordingly with new information
  • Understand people are in pain, and pain causes fear.
  • Take care of your own heart: then take care of others:

I don’t have anything financially to give now. It’s been a cause of my own stress and concern. But being who I believe myself to be, I always think there is a way around or through it, it being the problem or task at hand. If not having enough money to pay the bills or worrying about when the next paycheck will come from interferes with my teaching ability, consider how this stress and insecurity affects students every day.We all must be unstuck. They need to see past the fear in the next place.

Follow me here, though: ideas are relatively inexpensive and can provide bountiful returns.

The other day my friend and I were sitting have a sandwich, and the older couple sitting next to us struck up a conversation, found out we were teachers, and long story short, treated us to our entire meal. It was a generous deed that buoys my heart. I needed this good deed more than I realized. And if I can feel this way, perhaps our students need this as much, too.

What we tell students we need to tell and support teachers, too: just as we tell students they are more than a number, I, too, am more than one observation. My aggregate joy as a teacher cannot be summed up in a tweet or post: it is sustaining and messy. Clarity and chaos. Human, and flawed. And perfection. With this support we all can use our collective creativity, generosity of ideas, and metaphorical community barn-raising about how do we educate our children and support the professionals who are in the classroom every day, on the front lines, learning how to navigate this world as it changes?

So–if you want to do something, really do something–continue to speak your truth to power. And in your power, please consider:

  • Buy a teacher a book for his or her classroom. Go around the bureaucratic time wasters. (The couple didn’t realize how much time is spent for teachers to fill our Donors Choose forms, POs, etc.) Find your local schools and buy a class set of diverse novels from diverse authors.
  • Does anyone know Jeff Bezos? Does anyone have his ear? Perhaps a trillionaire can begin giving back, too?
  • Better yet: if you know authors because you’re a well-known activist and have connections, come speak in classrooms via Skype.
  • And really free (except for your time): Don’t have $340? Neither do I. But perhaps you could write a post about your favorite current books and share with students around the country what you liked in a book discussion.

If you want to change the world, create literacy. Create critical thinking skills. Show students who are coming up in the world that you aren’t afraid if they disagree with you. Show them that there are a million other voices besides the narrow, tunnel-visioned silos of past hierarchies.

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
― Isaac Asimov

Resolved: help students hear that books, discussions, and real people doing powerful writing may sometimes act in self-serving ways, but the act of service and hope to others far outweighs everything else. We must fight the anti-intellectualism together, fight fears that make us lie, fight with whatever tools we have.

And one of the best tools to fight ignorance is a book.

Please share with me other ideas you have about helping our students be true, thoughtful and confident critical thinkers. Confidence not from hubris or willful ignorance, but the confidence that comes from open-minded that they did their research, they understood the nuance between truth, opinion, and facts, and can adjust their thinking when new information comes around.

Happy New Year: I am hopeful and excited.

 

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Heart-shaped box. (Or The Giving Tree reimagined.)

Are there two kinds of people in this world? Those who X or those who Y? Or maybe that is the paradox, thinking we can be this or that. But if I was the kind of person who asks if there are two kinds of people, (which I’m not) I would ask if you like The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.

You know the book– the story begins with a boy and a tree, and the tree, or Tree, ends up giving the boy everything and ends up being a stump for the boy, now an old man, to sit on and rest.

“Once there was a tree…and she loved a little boy.”

How do you feel about The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein?

The Giving Tree

Do you ever feel tapped out by the financial and emotional demands of teaching? I sure do. This week alone there were tens of broken pencils on the ground. Stolen candy. Requests to buy T-shirts for ourselves for the school fundraiser. Requests to pitch in for the staff morale committee (12 years x $20 = $240, of which I’ve never received a card, birthday cake, or any acknowledgment or benefit. I’ve been in the hospital, my husband had surgery, and yeah); also, requests to pitch in more money for a friend’s birthday present (I have the misfortune of having a birthday during the midwinter break). I pledged $40 to the fundraiser already. Good thing it was payday yesterday…oops, and it’s gone.

Over the summer I thought ahead and made sure I would have  Lord of the Flies books, spending my time and goodwill with friends and family, begging them to donate the books I thought I would be using this fall. Like the Little Red Hen, I planned ahead, spending hours over the summer creating and curating important resources, building on research, professional judgment, and knowledge. And this week I planned lessons, shared knowledge, gave away books, bought a new teacher a $30 gift card for Amazon so she would be able to get a few books, got a request for books for a teacher returning to her classroom, and let’s not forget the four current natural disasters (although one could argue the ferocity of the Level 5 Hurricanes is man-made). There are teachers in Texas and Florida trying to rebuild their classrooms and schools.

So the teachers who are teaching 8th grade ELA this year asked me for the Lord books, and I handed over the box and then went to my room and cried. Those were my brand-new books with really cool book cover illustrations. They didn’t even have my name on them yet. I wanted to write my name. I have black Sharpies. They’re mine.

For me.

New.

Mine.

Later, I asked them both if we could please compromise, and they’re great colleagues, and I’m sure they will. But it wasn’t easy for me to speak up.

It’s so hard for people, and I could make a strong case for women especially (see The Giving Tree reference if you’re confused) to say no. Women have different sins than men. The sin of selfishness. The sin of owning things. The sin of hard work and time not being for everyone else’s benefit but their own.

My family takes emotional energy, in the best of ways, but in hard ways, too. Jobs, health, dreams, goals: mothers/wives circle around the members making sure everyone has what they need, and if she doesn’t, is thought of as toxic or dysfunctional. My own brilliant husband told me the other day he thought I planned stuff because I liked it. After 25 years he still has some things to learn about me. Because I am good at something doesn’t mean I like to do it. 

So here to permission for us all to say No, or I can’t make it. Perhaps another time. Or just back to “no?”

I’ll share a secret, too. Teaching ELA is the best teaching gig ever. Books, stories, creativity, imagination…and oh, did I mention the books?!

In Computer Essentials I answered the same repetitive, mind-numbing questions because students wouldn’t read a sentence or two of instructions. They don’t know how to talk to each other, no matter how many strategies I scaffolded.

But as far as not knowing, yet, how to do and collaborate, I don’t blame them: they have a pass with me. They’re wonderful, and they’re trying. And when they get something, they thank me, and I get a smile in return.

It may not be a coffee mug, but those smiles keep me going.

 

 

 

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Saving Summer: Graphically speaking.

 

Back in April, my buddy Sharon and I went to the local National Consortium for Teaching About Asia weekend workshop, “Graphic Novels and Cultural Authenticity” class about graphic novels, and the Freeman Choice book award winner came to speak, too. It was a wonderful day, with some of my favorite people. All of the books except for Teaching Graphic Novels by Katie Monnin were included in the small admission price. I HAD to buy the Katie Monnin book after I saw the visual graphic organizer (see image) turn my head around about teaching theme.

Other titles to consider…
…and a few more.

The books:

Are You An Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko: Narrative and Translation by David Jacobson, Sally Ito, and Michiko Tsuboi, Illustrated by Toshikado Hajiri

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

We watched this TedEd talk, too:

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle

The Little Monkey King’s Journey Retold in English and Chinese

Hearing the writer speak about Misuzu Kaneko’s life and her gentle, powerful work haunted me. One caveat: the writer said something about the poet’s life being ‘tragic.’ One woman in the group pointed out that her life was not tragic, but the circumstances surrounding her death were, caused by an abusive husband. (This LitHub article about Sylvia Plath reminded me of this tendency toward dismissing women writers as tropes, swooning victims that one ‘grows out of.’) Kaneko’s life was joyous, creative, powerful and beautiful. Her estranged husband’s behaviors were tragic and awful.

https://www.brainpickings.org/2017/03/03/are-you-an-echo-misuzu-kaneko/

The question of authenticity is framed as “cultural authenticity comprising not only of the absence of stereotypes but also the presence of values consistent with a particular culture and accuracy of cultural and historical details in the text and illustrations” by the NCTA facilitators, and it is through that lens that all teachers may consider when they approach diversity and voice in our classrooms.

For some other graphic novel resources, check these out:

http://www.npr.org/2017/07/12/533862948/lets-get-graphic-100-favorite-comics-and-graphic-novels

https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2015/nov/30/how-to-teach-graphic-novels

 

Graphic Novels in the Classroom: A Teacher Roundtable

 

 

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Pledge.

These are to re-read, read, and organize: the binders need to be gutted and reorganized. Oh, sticky tabs and Sharpies: how I love thee.

I always have this summer break lag–it takes me a bit to realize it actually is break time, and not only relax, but reflect. And just not think at all.

Last summer I had everything planned out, and offered my time and expertise to go over the CCSS and come up with a menu of critical ones I knew our PLC should take a look at and consider for the common/formative/assessments. Well, that didn’t work, and that’s okay: the team decided to focus on one skill through the lens of one or two standards. Am I going to stop coming up with ideas? Did I learn my lesson? Nah. I can’t help myself. I love designing good curriculum.

Next year I’ve been tapped to construct Computer Essentials for 7th grade, and will be teaching only one class of 8th ELA. (Just can’t quit you, Humanities….). To say our students need the computer skills is an understatement. (I’ll post my ideas on that later.) In the meantime, this post serves as a pledge to myself to read: I have the trifecta of my summer: a hammock, sometimes blue sky, and time. My focus is to create a curriculum map that is more reflective of what ELA students are truly expected to know. The horizontal, silo-approach doesn’t work. I’m actually envisioning a circle map, updated, and global: a way to teach units that are connective and authentic, with a heavy dash of choice and design. Give me a week or two, and I’ll have something figured out.

 

Oh, and I need to add some new videos to the list:

What is one thing you taught more than one year, and feel it is a “must?”

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