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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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Saving Summer: Book money.

This is a “before” picture while cleaning up my classroom before summer break. This represents about 1/3 of my classroom library. It did get organized, eventually.

I buy books. I buy too many books — well, there are never enough books, but yes, I do wish my district would buy more. The tug-of-war between the decision makers and the stakeholders (teachers and students) never seems to end. And while I scour for on-line freebies, curate as many titles as I can, nothing beats a new book, and especially, the right book, in the hands of a student who says they don’t like to read.

This thread on Twitter got my attention:

This idea that children want their own things shouldn’t be overlooked or dismissed. It seems parents hand them cell phones instead of books. Understandable. I have no issue, nor should anyone, ever say one word about a student having things that make them feel special, included, and just plain good: cell phones, new shoes, the right snapback or glitter pens. This isn’t about how parents spend their money. Or teachers. It’s about how districts view books and book lending. It becomes punitive and constrictive. How many times have I heard “I hate to read!” when it may be more of a function of “I hate worrying about other people’s *!*$!” It is the NEW book, the ownership of a book, that makes a huge difference. No one to boss or manage the time spent reading, or being given “responsibility” of reading in class, bringing the text to and fro, possibly being charged a fine if it’s lost or damaged. (I have had countless copies of Cut by Patricia McCormick go missing.)

Next year I’m looking at spending around $180 on enough copies of Lord of the Flies. I can go to Donor’s Choose and maintain that post, and jump through new bureaucratic hoops my district set up. I can ask GoFundMe for some money, which feels awful since the last GoFundMe I gave to was a young man murdered by police. Yes, he was one of ours.

So, tell me, this community of mine, how do I get new books that children can choose, keep, and read without operating in my own bank account in the negative (yes, I do). Is it possible to change the mindset of the spending at the district level to alter how they distribute funds for books? Am I just asking naive and pointless questions? Probably.

It’s easier just to fill up the Amazon cart with what I want and move on. And I know why I’m always broke. But hey, if that new copy of The Hate U Give I gave to a student before the summer showed her how much I adore her, it’s a small price to pay.

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