Posted in #ProjectLit, Anti-racist work, Being a better teacher, Big Questions, Curriculum Ideas, ELA, Exploration, Lesson Ideas

The Words of Warcraft

Over the decade of playing World of Warcraft ™ I’ve run across a few allusions to other works in literature, music, and the arts. For fun (!) I thought I’d do some research into how many allusions appear in Azeroth.

Just the other day, I came across this:


There are also numerous puns:

Get it?

And while there are many literary references in Wow, 10 AWESOME BOOK REFERENCES IN WORLD OF WARCRAFT the pop culture ones are as valuable and endearing: List of Pop Culture References in WoW.

Winne the Pooh reference in Stormsong Valley

In a region called Bastion, which is full of angels and paragons, (it’s a little creepy, quite frankly), one of the NPC dialogues is “clear skies, full hearts, can’t lose” which I immediately recognized as a Friday Night Lights line, though I haven’t seen a single episode. I’m not a football person. How did I know it was from that show? Because popular culture exacts a toll. One of my colleagues used it on T-shirts or something for students. We know things in the moment because it’s collectively shared or shoved. I think of the groundlings in Shakespeare’s audience chatting around the village wells sharing one-liners and bawdy jokes from the plays. It was entertainment. And I realized most stories and series I watch are based on Bible stories. No one can convince me that Better Call Saul isn’t grounded in Cain and Abel. And I’m not even a Christian church person.

And I need to think more about this. Recently, #DisruptTexts was attacked. That aggression will not stand, man. I’m thinking of the disingenuous argument that people won’t know where ideas, references or allusions come from unless we muddle through language that’s over 500 years old. Yes, novels that continue to be taught do provide a cultural reference point. But whose culture? What reference point? Yeah, you know who. Allow me some time to ponder this, and work with some amazing women I know.

Posted in Anti-racist work, ELL, Equity & Cultural Competency


In my drafts folder is a post of what I really want to say, things I want to expose, but experience tells me to censor myself. For now. Reframe it, be mindful, professional, and progress.

[TL:DR Skip to the last paragraphs if you want to know what EL teachers do.]

Context: I’m in my second year of EL teaching, and my fifteenth year overall. Straddling between imposter syndrome, confidence, and COVID19 building closure, I stepped in my usual gopher holes. But fortunately (and this is an understatement) I work with an admin and district person who could not be more supportive, intelligent, insightful, and there. And while I had to let go of my institutional expertise and community standing (whatever the heck that means) to leave the district I was in for twelve years, it is hard on my ego to admit that I just don’t have the credibility or trust that others do. And my Ego and I had a long talk, a few, actually, and decided it was okay, that what I do have are these two women who are in the work with me to help our students. Do I wish folks would listen to me? Yes, of course, because it would sure make things easier for our students in the short and long term.

The issue, mixed with lack of trust, an unmanageable amount of stress and fear, is this: I was having difficulty coordinating the support time for the ELs in their other classes. Most districts call this the “Check and Connect” time, and having been on the general education teacher side, I have seen my share of great EL teachers who truly support and help scaffold, and those who just saunter in the room, chitchat about football or the weather, and then walk outside again. I am definitely NOT that teacher. Nor am I a paraeducator (and this contains multiple meanings).

Turns out I was not the only one who met with challenges about how to best proceed to support students during the building closures/remote learning. A few weeks ago, however, I sensed the need for clarification on my role in the building, and put together a pretty cool slide presentation to share. However, I didn’t get the chance, and the reasons are painful to write about. But things converged and aligned, and my admin invited the district point person to share at one of our staff meetings.

But– before all this–I have one student who does her work. She shows up. She’s highly motivated to graduate, and it is in her personal character. I am not suggesting that other students don’t care, aren’t motivated, or any of that. They are trying to survive. And while I was helping her with a science lesson, one of the words was “cement.” For some reason, I asked her if she knew what cement was, and she said no.

Think about that for one minute. Or two. Or sixty. A simple scaffold I’ve done for native English and English learners alike is to pull out the vocabulary from a lesson, do anticipatory guides, comprehensible input, etc. Background knowledge building is critical. Contextual information, also critical.

I wanted to share this with a meeting with my admin and the science teacher, but alas, the science teacher had to back out of the meeting at the last minute.

Last year, one of those quick meetings would have been no big deal. I worked in other teachers’ classrooms, sat quietly, listened. pulled out vocabulary and created support instruction and shared. My colleagues seemed genuinely pleased to have me in the building, and collaboration and cooperation was heartfelt and beneficial to our collective students.

This year, I’ve been accused of lying for my students, giving them “the answers,” and helping them cheat.

Yeah, it’s been awesome.

I am just going to put it in the mental bin that year has been too much. Others have unseen pressures, sorrow, grief, and fear that I do not see, nor do they see mine, and grace is not easily bestowed. I’m not sure some folks know what grace means. If it came in the form of a crystal necklace owned by a pointy-eared woman named Arwen and we could pass it back and forth, sure, it would be easy. Maybe we need to make “grace passes” like bathroom passes for when we need each other to back the heck up and think twice about sending that long, nasty email?

This year, I’m not allowed to sit in on their Google classes. I hope that changes, because the EL students need me there. Not “me” but an EL teacher. One teacher has taken me up on my offer for the SIOP protocols and I wait for students to seek help, but I know it would be better if I was there in real time. Believe me, I do understand other teachers’ fears of having teachings ‘observe.’ We had an instructional coach who blatantly said she would tell admin what we were doing, which is a cardinal sin of instructional coaching.

Trust between colleagues is thin and broken now among many teachers across the country. Why wouldn’t it be? We don’t trust each other to wear a mask. Why would we trust each other in the workplace? I’ve seen it firsthand, and felt the long lasting damaging effects. And I hope one day I get a chance to tell a few colleagues this, to share my story, and because of that I have vowed not to harm and try to maintain trust.

My independence is tethered for a bit, and that is the cost. I will pass everything through my admin, and we’ll do what we can. Moving forward, I will still continue to do the best I can, continue reaching out to students, make my little instructional videos, send my notes and letters, and telling students to reach out to their content area teachers first.

Oh, and we have some cultural misconceptions to clear up, too, but that’s for another post.

Posted in #Deconstruct, #ProjectLit, Anti-racist work, burning questions

Moving on.

Yesterday was a terrible day. Nothing in particular happened to me or mine personally, and maybe it was just the last seven months, inside of four years, and the lack of healthy spiritual oxygen to my brain and soul. Our country is in its most precarious place now, and maybe I’m just sick with anger. Anger poisons, doesn’t it? A caustic oxidation process that burns away hope.

But that was yesterday. I turned things off for a bit, watched The Queen’s Gambit (saved the last episode for tonight)! The anger, though, is still there, like a feral cat who demands food but accepts no love or comfort. What do I crave, what will I be denied?

I want an apology.

I want an apology from colleagues who use their power and privilege to stop conversations and dialogue that seems to threaten them. And I want an apology from every teacher who voted for Trump.

I want an apology from parents and teachers who don’t “believe” their children should be allowed to read “that book” (but never seem to have an issue with white authors/protagonists). Teachers who use the word “indoctrination” in social media groups. I want an apology from 57% of white women voters in this nation for confusing fear with male gaze. My dears: they are looking right past you, and stepping on your Botox to get to their true prize: patriarchal power.

Did they get you to trade
Your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
Did you exchange
A walk on part in the war
For a lead role in a cage?

And for pity’s sake, people, WE KNOW:

I want us to create a mandate.

To not accept less for our students and their families.

We understand and teach science, evolution, anti-racist practices, know how to dismantle conspiracy theorists, teach culturally relevant and responsive practices, use Zinn Education, Teaching Tolerance, Facing History, #DisruptTexts, ProjectLit, #1619Project, and parents are not allowed to censor texts wholesale, we listen to BIPOC parents and students when they bring attention to texts that harm, are racist, bigoted and of poor scholarly quality. We support teachers and students who want to read a wide variety of texts and decolonize curriculum. We teach civics, political discourse, the consequences of platforms and policies, the mechanics of power. We teach consent and healthy views of our bodies, our lives, and our communities.

Oh, and those apologies? Keep ’em. And if you can’t come up with one, get out of the way, please. I’m not waiting. We’ve got work to do.

Posted in Anti-racist work, Equity & Cultural Competency, History

not so nice

This reporting deserves a Pulitzer. Now that’s out of the way, Chana Joffe-Walt and the Serial podcast is a must-listen.

While I sit in my rage, my fear of personal hypocrisy, and memories of my own education and the parallel worlds of Black and brown children alongside mine and my sons’ I cannot help but feel this odd sense of inevitability, hopelessness, and also drastic change and revolutionary, explosive change. But maybe that’s just life now; maybe many of us waver between hope and despair. But if we don’t get this right, if we don’t solve this, it is my prophetic conviction we’re headed toward doom. What this series reports is a history, the heart-pumping, breathing in and out contextual poetry of history. How did this happen? How did we get here? What might happen next? And my hopelessness is rooted in the 40% of white Americans right now who have done everything and continue to fight this war the rest of us don’t want, we reject, and we swing and miss, swing and miss, swing and miss, and strike out.

Let’s get this right.

Understand that this isn’t some other white woman speaking. This is me. These are my wealthier friends who struggled with where to send their children. This is me when my husband and I bought our first (and only house) and moved to where the reports said the schools were good. The schools, and the community, is still predominately white. Did I subconsciously think about race? I can’t honestly say. Knowing how I feel now, and knowing my own past with living overseas, I think it was a drawback because it was too homogenized. It’s my family member who lived in a very wealthy area and whose PTSA drew in thousands of dollars for already privileged children of very wealthy parents.

I’ve told this story before. I lived in Tehran for about a year, and then moved during 7th grade to a white Denver suburb. I went to a large, predominately white high school. The students had affluent parents, and many drove BMWs, Mercedes, etc., to school. I had one friend who lived in a bona fide mansion. My boyfriend’s family belonged to the Denver Country Club. Later he would tell me the reason he didn’t marry me (one reason, anyway) was because his parents wanted him to marry the daughter of their other wealthy friends. He did, they later divorced, and I am still wondering what happened to that Cinderella path. Bippity, boppity, boop. I moved my senior year to a suburb of Wilmington, Delaware. Yes, that Delaware. With Joe-Biden-as-Senator-Delaware. The high school was said to be “formerly one of the best in the state, but since busing has deteriorated.”

Understand moving my senior year was traumatic: I left the boyfriend, left my friends, left my rank as a senior to move to a state that was not nearly as beautiful as Colorado. Sorry, Delaware, you’re just not. Okay, the beaches are pretty wonderful, but yeah.

And this is where memory may falter: I don’t really remember how I felt about being around other students of color. I really don’t. I think I just thought they seemed annoyed at being there, and of course many of the other white kids were racist shits. The entire framing of the school and the experience there was surreal to me. My English teachers at the other school put me through my paces, while my senior English teacher had given up. The whole thing seemed weird, and whatever opinions I had about race, integration and school were wonky and wrong. But it seems like that’s many white people’s views: they were just wrong.

It’s in the voices of the white people on the podcast –the guilt, shame, and false naivety.

And think about Episode 3: poaching students. What the hell is this? Is every damn thing a sports arena?

“It’s like a secret they didn’t tell us.” Nadine Jackson, Episode 3

When my younger son was in middle school, he, well, was having a rough time. Following in the shadow of his highly achieving brother, school was a struggle. At one point, I wanted him to come to where I was teaching–it was objectively better. Better because the teachers wanted to be there, the programs, the freedom for project based learning, better math and science, all the way around. I’m still friends with many of the teachers who taught when I did, and while the school has many problems, it always comes down to the adults in charge. Though a Title I school, which in this context means the students’ families have financial obstacles. (I say it this way because I am raging over how our nation handles money, but that’s a story for another time.) My son would have thrived there, but he decided to stay locally because of some of his close friends, friends he still has to this day. Was I trying to replicate some kind of global or world experience for him that his mostly white school couldn’t do? Maybe. I wasn’t successful. And when I see social media posts by my white neighbors, I see they’re content and satisfied with the status quo. And even vote for a dangerous man to keep it that way.

But more integrated schools have greater flexibility: I and the counselor worked out a structure that “honors” classes were open and available to all. Contrasting, the mostly white middle school in my same district used a triage of tests because so many of the white parents wanted their children tracked in honors. And, I taught my core ELA classes with the same Honors content, and told them so. It wasn’t more work, it was offered to all, and the only difference was pacing. That’s it. We didn’t get it right when inclusion came around, and again, not the fault of the students. Inclusion was not introduced well, at the expense of many students. By the time I left, they brought back honors, but only one teacher was allowed to teach it, one of the admin’s darlings, and she would not accept late work. Period. I think she’s now teaching in my sons’ district. Interesting how that works, isn’t it?

Another memory is when our neighbors, who have a son between my sons’s ages, said how “scared he was to go” to my school during sporting events. I told him that was ridiculous, the kids were great, and I loved teaching there. But I knew it was code for “I”m scared of the Black and brown kids there.” And the power and white supremacy goes unchallenged.

My sons’ schools had active PTSAs: money, events, socials, and expensive supply lists. My teaching school had two years of an active PTSA because a white mom ran it when her daughter went to the school-within-school on campus. Now, some white women know how to get money and resources for their buildings, and keep it going. But it feels too fragile and unsustainable when the white savior is centered.

I’ve tried to get three buildings on board with ProjectLit, and they look at me askance, with polite, cold “no’s.” I’ve had to tamp down my enthusiasm many times.

Now — recently my older son and I had a great conversation about the white savior trope in teaching. He is interested in becoming a teacher, and wants to do a great job. I am keeping a weathered eye on his perfectionism, but will only assist if he asks. And in our conversation about saviorism I had the opportunity to say out loud what lives in my teaching soul. Students don’t need saving. They have parents who love them. They want the best for their child. That’s it. No need to ‘save.’ Just provide the best education you can. Keep learning. Listen. Honor the human in front of you, and be humbled–parents send their hearts to school.

But in terms of the inequities between schools, white, wealthier parents you are on notice: listen to the podcast and do your homework. Shed your defensiveness. We all make mistakes and missteps. I’ve only worked in Title I schools, and I’ve seen these programs, initiatives, etc., come through constantly. Going on 15 years, it’s 15 years of this. It’s decades of this for this nation.


Take time to find out who’s on your local school boards, whether you have children in the district or not. Find out the demographics of the schools in your area. Find out the building sizes, and how many students go to each school. For example, my former middle school has almost 900 students for a building intended for 600. There is another that has empty classroom. Busing doesn’t work, so what does? Maybe we need to overhaul how schools are ranked? Demand that money be spread equally to the schools,

Keep reading, but more importantly, reach out. Donate, no strings, no agendas.

Reading List:

Posted in Anti-racist work

Abolitionist: Heroes and Sidekicks

A dear friend posted this yesterday. One of our friends said ‘change the ‘but’ to ‘and’, and I also responded everyone needs to show up. And I was told as a “gringa” to be real careful. Okay. I will be. I am. Since a comment on Facebook is about as useful as, well, a fortune cookie strip, writing further to seek clarification may ease some of my defensiveness and fragility. Because that’s what it is.

A reflection on Portland, Seattle, abolitionists, and next steps.


Portland’s history of white supremacy goes back decades. Some of us like to imagine that Portland is some kind of 90s haven as seen in Portlandia. I’ve lived in the Seattle area for the past 25 years, and while I am no Portland expert, there is a vibe from the Pacific Northwest I love. But like most American cities, there is the rot of racism and bigotry. I naively believed I lived in some kind of peaceful, rainbow, mystical peace world, where every day was the Fremont Solstice Parade, and readers and coffee drinkers came together in peace, love and harmony.

What this meme signaled was a few things: first, we white people must be diligent, mindful and centered about our role we play in supporting #BLM.

But it also takes everyone to show up. Showing up doesn’t mean taking center stage. White people can show other white people that supporting fascism is not acceptable, and will fight against it. I just finished Ta-Nehisi Coates The Water Dancer. Hiram is the hero. Sophia is the hero. Corinne Quinn is behind the scenes, a supporting character. She is the white “Quality” woman who serves as a double-agent to support the Underground. In this quote, Coates sums up many white women’s motivations to join the abolitionist movement:

Corrine Quinn was among the most fanatical agents I ever encountered on the Underground. All of these fanatics were white. They took slavery as a personal insult or affront, a stain upon their name. They had seen women carried off to fancy, or watched as a father was stripped and beaten in front of his child, or seen whole families pinned like hogs into rail-cars, steam-boats, and jails. Slavery humiliated them, because it offended a basic sense of goodness that they believed themselves to possess. And when their cousins perpetrated the base practice, it served to remind them how easily they might do the same. They scorned their barbaric brethren, but they were brethren all the same. So their opposition was a kind of vanity, a hatred of slavery that far outranked any love of the slave.

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. The Water Dancer (p. 370). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

This may be one of the most accurate characterizations of white women I’ve ever read, which is no surprise because Coates is, unequivocally, a monumental writer. And yes, I wonder for myself and others if abolitionism comes with the sins of pride and vanity. And it’s complicated for some. We are not one thing. Recognizing the vanity is white privilege.

From a historical standpoint, our nation began with the sin of slavery, and it is that sin we must atone for, make reparations. Consider the numbers. If Portland has 650K people, and these are the percentages, the moms, dads, and vets who protest are part of the larger demographic. From many of the photos, these protestors are predominantly white. If they become the ‘heroes,’ blame the journalists. If they get centered as the ‘heroes,’ blame four hundred plus years of white supremacy and colonization. I am not sure we blame the white protestors, unless we get evidence they are actively trying to center their own story. So, I’ll add a “yet” in there. But perhaps I’ll take this out of the binary thinking for one moment: praise, defamation, shaming, or centering, replace with fight, justice, anti-racism, and abolitionism.

How do we provide space for abolitionist work and progress? I wonder if what the OP is referring to is the white savior narrative? When I was little, I remember my mom telling me about the deaths of Civil Rights activists, and feeling…sorrow mixed with pride. I was a very little girl, around 5 or 6. I think I asked her what was the saddest thing that happened the year I was born, and she told me. When I found out some were white. That there were helpers trying to support others. I knew that it would require bravery. But the white people were not centered. They were adjacent. Often ministers, college kids, a housewife. But they are not heroes. Or saviors. Mostly just people trying to do the right thing. But the whiteness must not be centered.

The current race/ethnicity data for Portland:

It is my fear that Portland, and now Seattle, are Trump’s dress rehearsals. I am not sure what his thinking, or that of Stephen Miller, or Trump’s other puppeteers, are planning as their end game. Maybe it’s just this: “practice” in Portland, see how much they can get away with, move to Seattle, and then onto cities with larger populations of BIPOC, like Chicago, (50% white, 30% Black) Detroit, and Baltimore. They will keep pushing, harming, and even killing as many they can get away with to maintain control and power. This is how it happens. This is where we are.

Why numbers? Because if 53% of white women voted for the abomination that’s currently in the Oval Office…this is a catastrophic failure that lands squarely on the shoulders of white people.

And I guess I’ve lost a splinter of patience. While I recognize the need to balance accurate, historical framing in real time, why do I sense a tinge of preciousness? Okay, the naked yoga lady was silly.

If the “Corrine Quinn’s” of Portland came out, stood arm in arm, against fascism, we white people must remember to check our own motivations, the same check we give our internal biases. Anti-racist work is messy and not a monolith. Checking my own truth. I still say: everyone needs to show up against the current state of our nation. We must show we care, seek growth and change. The white abolitionists in our history didn’t always get it right. That’s why many teachers like myself craved works like the #1619 project, Facing History, #DisruptTexts, Zinn Education Project, and others.

Then and Now:

We need as many to show up as possible, in ways they are able and can. I show up by writing. My sons show up by, well, showing up. My husband shows up by supporting my time to write, and our sons protesting. The white moms, dads, and vets are speaking directly to Trump: you do not have us. You do not have our country, or our futures. Anti-racist and abolitionist work is an urgent act. And there is space for protection and preciousness: we need the sensitive, empathetic warriors, too, to make sure the story is told with accuracy. And I will allow myself space to be the big mouth, the thinker, and the writer. I don’t always get it right, but I do care to try. Because ultimately it’s not about me: it’s about my sons, my students. Giving them the futures that is their birthright. And when the US government gets it wrong, so very wrong, I feel a small amount of hope when I see everyone showing up, shouting down fascism, racism, and bigotry, and be it vanity, pride, or justice, until Black Lives Matter, we will not be able to heal or move forward.

And a link to my post, Who?

Featured Image credit:

Posted in #Deconstruct, Anti-racist work, being a better colleague, Being a better teacher, Best Practices, Big Questions, book recommendations, Book Reviews, Books

Grateful: Book Talk Revisited

A few months ago, I made this book talk video and posted it on YouTube. I confess, I did try to find out how to pronounce words correctly, but I still goofed up.

And yesterday I received an email correcting me on a few points:

I added the email text to the video, and kept the original video because I want to share this with students this next school year. This is how we learn. One of my plans for my own learning this summer is to read more and reflect on Indigenous peoples in North America. Monise Seward and I were going to do this. I feel behind in my progress, but will show myself a little grace–I put it on my calendar for this weekend, and will continue to grow.

In the meantime, I feel so much gratitude to this teacher for helping me.

Posted in #Deconstruct, #ProjectLit, Anti-racist work, Being a better teacher, Culturally Relevant Teaching, Culturally Responsive Teaching, Curriculum Ideas, Series: White People Homework

Series: White People Homework: All Posts































Posted in Anti-racist work, Series: White People Homework

Series: White People Homework (29) Elijah McClain

This penultimate post for the month of June is about harm, police brutality, and death.

I don’t care who you are, what you believe, what mental gymnastics you perform in your brain, if you think this is somehow justified, the rest of us will use our power, our voices, our votes, and our resources to stop you. Get your head and your heart straight.

From Susan DuFresne’s page:

About eight to ten years ago, we had a student at the middle school where I worked, a young Black girl, and I am ashamed I don’t remember her name. I am not sure what happened, what she did, or what was done to her (because no matter what she did, in no way was what happened justified). I left the building one day, and she was sitting on the curb in handcuffs, surrounded by police. No other teacher or administrator was out there with her, from what I recall. I do remember being worried, so I stayed to see if she was going to be okay. But she wasn’t okay. And if I could go back to that moment, I would sit next to her, call her mother, and put my body in between her and the police. I did stay, but did not interfere. I witnessed, but did not speak up. I did ask admin later what happened, and was dismissed, all the blame placed on the girl and her actions.

By the time I left that building, I had six principals and countless assistant principals, deans, SROs, etc. The last principal tried to make changes, but it’s my opinion she was still early in her process of her journey. She brought in a white woman from poverty to discuss equity. She brought in the Challenge Day couple, which traumatized the staff and students, especially the ELL students whose various cultures did not understand “open it up and get below the level” analogies. She brought in a white consultant who was married to a Hispanic man, and told us how her son was bored in school. But she’s not unique or alone. There are many of us who are on the journey in different places, and her intent was good. The impact–we white teachers are finding our way to impact. And “impact” is a smack-your-face word. It’s physical, and it’s urgent. And we must, must, put impact over intent. (DiAngelo).

A Black middle school girl sitting on the school’s curb in handcuffs is the same trauma and violence as the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Tayler, Elijah McClain and countless others throughout our violent, racist history. The ‘what if’s’ are not unknown: we know what happens during these police encounters, and now they’re just forming militarized vigilante groups. We are in danger.

Elijah McClain’s death is an unspeakable outrage

In the course of the encounter, which spun out of control in seconds, Mr. McClain sobbed and pleaded with the officers — “I’m just different,” he said. They weren’t interested; they didn’t listen.

And the nightmarish aftermath: police sprayed pepper spray on musicians honoring Elijah.

“Elijah” is a holy name. I am not equipped to confront some of the hypocrisy I witness with my religious friends and family. But I am now equipped to share and witness that children must not be harmed. I will strive to find my own courage to speak up.

How do we mitigate this danger, and continue the path toward peace? I need a day to think about this, even though time is not on my side.