Posted in #ProjectLit, Being a better teacher, Reading, Writing

“Your relationship with language is your freedom.” Jason Reynolds

“It took me a long time to understand how much literacy affected my life.”

Jason Reynolds

Please forgive the sound and editing quality of this video. I tried to add titles on some of the key moments of Jason Reynold’s ideas. He showed the students and staff pure love that day, pure truth, and I am forever grateful to Kristin Sierra for working for over two years to bring him to our area.

My only regret is that I assumed I could use part of the $1500 budget awarded to me and my students this year and use $350 of it to take my students. Still a little bitter about that, and I pray there will be a ‘next time.’ Hopefully my students will watch this shaky video, and know I love them, too, and hear his words and message.

When I was getting two of my personal copies of Long Way Down signed, he mentioned he wants to go to more alternative high schools. I said, well…sure enough…that’s where I am now…so maybe…just maybe…

Posted in Reflection

the year that wasn’t (1) and what might be (2)

I have a new gig, one I’m excited about. My feelings and response to the next phase are filled with gratitude. Closure, however, is healthy. Some of the things that happened this past year act as a wedge, preventing the door from fully closing.

The year began so positively:

What went wrong? (and what can go right)

Evaluation biases: Someday I may obtain my administration credentials. Not sure if I want to be a building principal; however, when a colleague who’s older and mostly certainly wiser than I told me she saw me in that role, and how good I would be, I took notice. She said I had a way of understanding how to support teachers and students alike. Maybe I am couching this next bit, or hesitating to sound too critical versus a critique, and there is a tinge of fraudulent intent in this next piece: my evaluator this year struggled with the evaluation process and her own newness in administration. Her understanding of the process came from last year’s work where, in her opinion, many teachers in the building received inflated “Distinguished” ratings, and she could not justify Proficient or Distinguished ratings when the school’s test scores were (and remain) low. And though I provided ample evidence and coding about practice, we never spoke to those artifacts or evidence in our discussions. At one point, we union representatives invited an HR representative to our building to discuss, with transparency and objectivity, how the evaluation systems are to be handled. I have yet to get a definitive answer why this didn’t happen, and we were sent an email instead. There is that old joke about meetings that would be better in an email, but this wasn’t one of them. The staff needed to hear directly from him how the evaluation system works. It is very similar to how my previous district handled it (the protocols) and yet in practice, in the building, became a professional boondoggle. For next year: over the summer, one area of practice is to create a means for my own style of work that combines the evaluation system and solid pedagogy. I’ll share. The current evaluation system and how it can be mishandled and weaponized is a hill I will die on. I believe it we can do better to create better teachers and learning.

Note to self: keep track of lessons and artifacts for the TPEP evaluation for next year. Keep a journal of practice, and strive for personal objectivity and reflection.

Building: The space is old. Decrepit, even. I didn’t realize how much that would affect me. The previous building was also old, but had been remodeled and updated. Now I understand how children around the country feel about the crumbling infrastructure of the schools they attend. The carpet is filthy. There is no central air in most of the buildings. The bathrooms have no ventilation. The ceiling rains dust (asbestos?) The staff bathroom comprised of three stalls, one for disabilities, so the other two are so narrow a larger woman such as myself can’t turn around in them. The staff bathrooms are by the front office, so a quick trip to relieve oneself is impossible (we had two minute passing times). But this isn’t about my comfort or convenience. It’s about how students must feel, day in and day out, and how no matter the bulletin boards, posters, etc., they feel disrespected and marginalized every single day: the destruction of what others create is relentless. No bulletin board stays unripped. Well–okay –except for the HOPE(squared) one–interesting when students put up work there is less of a chance it’s destroyed.

If a building is old, make sure the students are given as much opportunity as possible to create cleaner, better, improved spaces. Work alongside them to create the space. The goal is space for them, their work, their ideas.

Guaranteed Viable Curriculum (GVC): I’m not going to spend too much time on this one because I might go insane. The district adopted the EL Education curriculum. The idea was to keep everyone within a two-week schedule, four novel studies per year. Lessons that require full week(s) would be scheduled for one or two days. Learning was rushed. Students in a constant state of confusion. I longed for the simple framework curriculum of my previous district and feel embarrassed for having any issues with it. A huge ‘be careful what you wish for’ moment. Academic freedom trampled, and no in-depth learning happening. The woeful lack of writing instruction is academic malpractice. But due to the GVC standing as a behemoth between me and my students, the reading and writing workshops suffered grave harm.

Make a curriculum framework for next year, and then continue to work with colleagues and district leaders for the best, most equitable access for all. (Since I’ll be teaching high school ELL, be patient with self, and enjoy this new challenge!)

Reading: Never having taught a whole-class novel before, and knowing the GVC included 4 (we got through 2), I immediately purchased A Novel Approach by Kate Roberts (which I highly recommend whether you teach whole novels or not). The best success I had once when I went rogue and used The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas paired with the mandated text, To Kill a Mockingbird. My schedule included two ELA classes, and three History/IRLA classes. We were given 1/2 hour for US History and 1/2 mandated IRLA time, to be used for silent reading, conferencing, and tracking students’ reading progress. There are a lot of positives about IRLA, but “leveled books” translates to “leveled readers” in the minds of students. Breaking down that concept that books are meant for burning questions and purpose, not for levels, was next to impossible. All of the time and energy spent reading Donalyn Miller, Pernille Ripp, (and more than I can name right now) felt put on hold.

However: I am not giving up. The cataloging of great reading resources is a passion project for me. #ProjectLit, #disrupttexts, #educolor, #decolonizeED, #NCTE, #IBPOC #writingproject are top search tags for powerful conversations about equity, anti-racist. Follow each woman who began Disrupt Texts. Follow @mrpranpatel. Follow @larryferlazzo. Follow @TheJLV And for love and inspiration, follow @MrsHallScholars (!) (I am following almost 3K on Twitter, so a shortcut to these and other amazing educators @mrskellylove)

Thanks @SonjaCherryPaul for asking a great question that’s generating excellent results. Folks, looking for short(ish), IBPOC #ownvoices short stories? Check out this thread. #DisruptTexts https://t.co/MBzqQ4RaQZ— Dr. Kim Parker (@TchKimPossible) June 8, 2019

Keep following those who help with curating excellent books!

Advice: start your own blog and keep these resources handy. Twitter and other social media sites become tangled and distorted.

Writing: There is little or no writing in the curriculum. No space. No time. Misunderstood. Things that worked in my “studio” space of creativity (workshop) withered on the vine this year. I am distraught. That’s all I can about this now.

Make a plan. A REAL plan for writing instruction. Guard it. Protect it. Fight for it. (And keep writing that book. There is space for it.) For me: keep writing and replenish and return to my writing life.

And keep articles like this within reach at all times: Principled Revolution in the Teaching of Writing" by Nicole Bordreau Smith"

I am feeling enthusiastic: as Mrs. Hall inspired me this morning, what we look forward to in the coming year is our love language for teaching! (And this is a great idea!)

Posted in Big Questions, Books, burning questions, Connections, Creativity

For fun…

We teachers have full, wonderful lives outside of teaching. I think. Sure we do! YES! We most definitely do! And why let all the wonderful folks such as Barack Obama create a list!? Here’s my challenge, inspired by @jarredamato, the leader of #ProjectLit:

When a friend posted Obama’s list today, I immediately went to i-Tunes and grabbed some of the songs I liked. Dang, I used to be such an aficionado of new music! What happened?

via GIPHY

Whatever.

Here are the list of movies, books, and music I added to my collection in 2018:

Books:

My Goodreads name is k love (I think) and I read 47/100 of my reading challenge books. *Shrug* https://www.goodreads.com/user_challenges/11069938

My favorites came out of the #ProjectLit collection:

Children of Blood and Bone

Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orisha)

Dread Nation (see link)

Dread Nation

Long Way Down: (see link)

Long Way Down

And:

Movies/Television:

What did we watch? Well, Black KKKlansman, Black Panther, Hereditary, A Quiet Place, Isle of Dogs, Bird Box, (read the book first, dang it!) Game Night (eye roll), Solo and whatever comes out on Netflix. Shows include Ozark, Sabrina, Black Mirror, Stranger Things, The Haunting of Hill House, Making a Murderer, Jessica Jones, Series of Unfortunate Events, Vikings, Game of Thrones, all of the American Horror Stories, Better Call Saul, Barry, and started Dark. (I feel like there are some missing, but oh well.)

Music

Some songs I added (not new to 2018 necessarily, but new to me):

And I highly recommend the Kill Bill soundtrack.

In addition to consuming media, I like to create media, too! I love to write and make collage images.

@cmclymer tweeted this fun thing – what would your two accessories be?

A toy company makes a replica action figure of your likeness. What two accessories do they include?— Charlotte Clymer🏳️‍🌈 (@cmclymer) December 27, 2018

So thank you, Jarred and Charlotte, for some fun ideas. I’m not anyone important, but I am a teacher, and living my best, creative life helps me, my family, and my students. It is my personal oxygen mask.

Posted in Being a better teacher, Best Practices, Big Questions, Critical Thinking, Culturally Relevant Teaching, Uncategorized

Fresh Start 101

Do students come to your classroom year with reputations? 

Well.

Yes.

And–I’m struggling with the past clinging to some students.

That’s about as diplomatic as I’m can muster right now.

How Black Girls Aren’t Presumed to Be Innocent

A growing body of evidence has shown that the American education and criminal-justice systems dole out harsher and more frequent discipline to black youth compared with their non-black peers. But while most of that research has focused on black boys, a new study from the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality specifically turned its attention to society’s perception of black girls.

 

Further in the article:

Black girls describe being labeled and suspended for being “disruptive” or “defiant” if they ask questions or otherwise engage in activities that adults consider affronts to their authority. Across the country, we see black girls being placed in handcuffs for having tantrums in kindergarten classrooms, thrown out of class for asking questions, sent home from school for arriving in shorts on a hot day. … We also see black girls criminalized—arrested on campus or referred to law enforcement—instead of engaged as children and teens whose mistakes could be addressed through non-punitive, restorative approaches.

 

Black Boys Viewed as Older, Less Innocent Than Whites, Research Finds

“The evidence shows that perceptions of the essential nature of children can be affected by race, and for black children, this can mean they lose the protection afforded by assumed childhood innocence well before they become adults,” said co-author Matthew Jackson, PhD, also of UCLA. “With the average age overestimation for black boys exceeding four-and-a-half years, in some cases, black children may be viewed as adults when they are just 13 years old.”

I’m sharing these articles in the hope that we all are a bit more cognizant of our implicit biases and perceptions about children, especially children of color. There are more than a few behavior issues in my afternoon classes, and I’ve been doing a mountain of reflection. I can feel my brain buzzing in the early morning from the currents of thought and concern. Juggling new, top-heavy curriculum, leveled, a prescripted reading program that flies in the face of everything I’ve researched, and thirty-minute schedules to teach U.S.History (yes, thirty minutes) along with the new committees, expectations, navigating the new culture of my new workplace and district–it’s a lot. As I remind myself I am the adult here– and if my situation is challenging I must keep in mind how difficult it must be for students. Listening and reading a book you don’t like or can’t connect with? Silent reading for thirty minutes? And then pivoting to other ideas that seem random, as instructed from the same teacher, same space? I’m going to have to do better: it’s going to take both tricks and treats to move learning along.

In the meantime, thanks to many generous donors, and getting a decent payday myself, my DonorsChoose was fully funded. I am hoping that the #projectLIT books help my scholars see themselves in narratives.

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Ordered on 9/28/2018
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I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter 1524700487 3 Shipped
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The Parker Inheritance 0545946174 1 Shipped
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The Stars Beneath Our Feet 1524701246 1 Shipped
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Rebound (The Crossover Series) 0544868137 1 Shipped
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Sunny (Track) 1481450212 1 Shipped
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Delivery estimate:  Tuesday October 2, 2018
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A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story 0547577311 1 Shipped
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The Stars Beneath Our Feet 1524701246 1 Shipped
Ship date:  Sunday September 30, 2018
Delivery estimate:  Tuesday October 2, 2018
Carrier:  Amazon Logistics
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Amina’s Voice 1481492071 1 Shipped
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Delivery estimate:  Tuesday October 2, 2018
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Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood 1473635306 1 Shipped
Ship date:  Sunday September 30, 2018
Delivery estimate:  Tuesday October 2, 2018
Carrier:  Amazon Logistics
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Sunny (Track) 1481450212 1 Shipped
Ship date:  Sunday September 30, 2018
Delivery estimate:  Tuesday October 2, 2018
Carrier:  Amazon Logistics
Tracking number:  TBA302580213000
Amina’s Voice 1481492071 1 Shipped
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Delivery estimate:  Tuesday October 2, 2018
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A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story 0547577311 4 Shipped
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Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood 1473635306 1 Shipped
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Delivery estimate:  Tuesday October 2, 2018
Carrier:  Amazon Logistics
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Tradition 1481480340 1 Shipped
Ship date:  Sunday September 30, 2018
Delivery estimate:  Tuesday October 2, 2018
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Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orisha) 1250170974 10 Shipped
Ship date:  Sunday September 30, 2018
Delivery estimate:  Tuesday October 2, 2018
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Ghost Boys 0316262285 5 Shipped
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Delivery estimate:  Tuesday October 2, 2018
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Tracking number:  TBA302580213000
The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives 0374303231 5 Shipped
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All American Boys 1481463349 1 Shipped
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Rebound (The Crossover Series) 0544868137 1 Shipped
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Tracking number:  TBA302580213000
Time Bomb 0544416708 1 Shipped
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Amal Unbound 0399544682 1 Shipped
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Carrier:  FedEx
Tracking number:  614151435414
Amal Unbound 0399544682 1 Shipped
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Delivery estimate:  Tuesday October 2, 2018
Carrier:  FedEx
Tracking number:  614151435414
Pride 0062564048 1 Shipped
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Like Vanessa 1580897770 1 Shipped
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Speak: The Graphic Novel 0374300283 1 Shipped
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Delivery estimate:  Tuesday October 2, 2018
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Like Vanessa 1580897770 1 Shipped
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Long Way Down 1481438255 10 Shipped
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Dread Nation 0062570609 10 Shipped
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Delivery estimate:  Tuesday October 2, 2018
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Tracking number:  TBA301005751000
When I Was the Greatest 1442459484 3 Shipped
Ship date:  Saturday September 29, 2018
Delivery estimate:  Tuesday October 2, 2018
Carrier:  Amazon Logistics
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Speak: The Graphic Novel 0374300283 1 Shipped
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Delivery estimate:  Tuesday October 2, 2018
Carrier:  Amazon Logistics
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I Am Alfonso Jones 1620142635 1 Shipped
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Delivery estimate:  Wednesday October 3, 2018
Carrier:  UPS
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I Am Alfonso Jones 1620142635 1 Shipped
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Delivery estimate:  Wednesday October 3, 2018
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Allegedly 0062422650 1 Shipped
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Delivery estimate:  Tuesday October 2, 2018
Carrier:  UPS
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The Poet X 0062662805 1 Shipped
Ship date:  Friday September 28, 2018
Delivery estimate:  Tuesday October 2, 2018
Carrier:  UPS
Tracking number:  1ZE801R81305695121
Allegedly 0062422650 1 Shipped
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Delivery estimate:  Tuesday October 2, 2018
Carrier:  UPS
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The Hate U Give 0062498533 10 Shipped
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Delivery estimate:  Tuesday October 2, 2018
Carrier:  UPS
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The Poet X 0062662805 5 Shipped
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Odd One Out 1101939532 1 Available and being processed by Amazon Business
Odd One Out 1101939532 1 Available and being processed by Amazon Business
On The Come Up 0062498568 1 Not available
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Posted in Big Questions, book recommendations, Book Reviews, Books, Teacher Troubles, Technology

Summer Series of Saves: It’s not just you.

Artwork by Mr. Babies
@mr.babies on Instagram

I am concerned about my #ProjectLIT project stalling out. I need these books. Don’t want: need. They aren’t some glib luxury for my incoming 8th students, they are a lifeline.

These books pulled me out of my own fractured, terrible attention span thinking. They brought back mental stamina– what my students lack, and desperately need if they’re going to move through high school with courage. Eighth grade is the worst of years, and it’s the best of years. Someday I’d love to teach Freshmen, but until a high school English team wants me, too, I am honored to continue to teach 8th-grade humans.

Why do we become fractured in our thinking? I am sure I can dig up the brain research about our current political and social climate combined with our devices, and the impact it has on our abilities to be in our own heads and dive deep into another’s narrative. But right now I have eleven tabs open, things on the to-do list, and a humble request: please help my students.

Anyway: please consider donating $5 to $10 for my students to get their hands on great books, books that reflect who they are, not what we think they should be. 

Posted in book recommendations, Books, Connections, Workshop

Summer Series of Saves: Magic

Did you ever want to be a character from a book? Tomi Adeyemi wrote Children of Blood and Bone (which I just finished and REALLY WANT SOME TO TALK ABOUT THE ENDING WITH!) and she posted this beautiful photo:

Now: ideas for discussing books and characters with students: what elements of characters do you recognize in yourself? What powers or weaknesses do they have you see in yourself?

And wow: when you don’t see a character that matches or represents you: WRITE IT.

Posted in being a better colleague, Being a better teacher, Best Practices, Big Questions

Dismantle, disrupt, and…discontinue?

Screen Shot 2018-06-23 at 6.11.04 AM

One of my personality flaws is the fear of being misunderstood. I say it’s a flaw because I spend too much mental energy trying to explain my meaning after the fact, and other folks are way past thinking about me or my dumb little thoughts.  But that is why I write this blog; it’s my space to make sense, process, and reflect.

So: it’s early. If you want to go along on this cold coffee and stale toast mental journey with me, great. But if you need to get off at this stop, be my guest.

Loudly and clearly: I am not a high school teacher (yet). I hope to be and soon. It’s been a career goal of mine for a few years. Henceforth, I have never taught, attempted, or even imagined I would teach The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne. It meant a lot to me as a teenage reader, but that was back in the late 70s and 80s. I heard the term “dead white men” in the 1980s, in college I think, and it’s stuck with me. I took feminist studies at the University of Delaware, read all the Margaret Atwood and Alice Walker I could get my hands on, and a hefty chunk of Tom Robbins and John Irving. My limited understanding of literature has been a lifelong catch-up.

In high school, the offerings were Steinbeck, Dickens, Shakespeare, and Hawthorne. I think one of my teachers offered Richard Wright, but there was no discussion or guidance. As background to my adolescent reading life, I lived in Tehran, Iran when I was twelve, moved to Colorado during middle school, and moved to Wilmington, Delaware for my senior year of high school. Authors of other ethnicities, countries, races, etc. were not offered or discussed.

My senior year English teacher shared her love of John Irving with me, and he was one of my favorites because his work came to me at the right time. So did the Scarlet Letter: as a teenage girl I was horrified and in awe of this woman who fought the hypocrisy and repression of her times. Think about the 1970s/80s: coming of age in this time the worst thing that could happen to a girl would be to get pregnant, be thought of as a slut, have rumors spread or be seen as promiscuous. Hester Prynne knocked all that on the ground and held her Pearl close in her arms. We didn’t have to empower statements such as “no slut shaming” or “smash the patriarchy.” And it’s beautiful and wonderful that we do now.

I have no plans on teaching The Scarlet Letter. The only time I’ve mentioned the book is in a PowerPoint I made years ago addressing themes and how 8th grade ELA students can understand the purpose, their burning questions, and the themes authors explore. I am an artist first, writer, and the teacher. Many students were intrigued by the ideas in the novel. I told them maybe the books I mentioned in the presentation would be taught in high school, or they could go look for them on their own. All the while, I kept and keep a wide range of engaging texts in my classroom as possible.

Remember my collegial friends: I came to my teaching career in my early 40s. I am much older than many of my colleagues. I have the unseemly middle-age bucket of both a mortgage payment and student loans: mine and my sons’. So while I know that Jarred Amato’s passion and direct language during this tweeter exchange felt a little pointed, I knew what he was trying to do. He needed to be loud and clear to his audience that we should not treat the “dead white male authors” with any reverence or sacredness. But my social media insecurities fluttered a bit: he liked every tweet around mine. Not a single one of my responses or ideas was liked or retweeted by him. And then I have to reflect; does it matter? Isn’t the conversation the most important part of this, and who cares if I am misunderstood on Twitter? (Trying to silence the inner voice of my insecure teenage girl thinking–the girl who loves something and then someone else craps on it.)

And that is what I am afraid of for our students. And I do not know the answer to these questions: is it our responsibility to provide access to all kinds of texts? Or is it our responsibility to promote texts? I do believe, we must be very careful in showing our biases toward texts: if we hate it (as I do Ayn Rand) or love it (as I do Adichie) is it up to us to get our teacher fingers all over something before students have a chance to explore it on their own? In our book tastings and book talks, how much do we pre-chew the food for our students? (My suggestion would be as little as possible: teach them the skills and strategies on knowing when to abandon a book, not fake read or waste their own reading life line.)

First and foremost, we must be mindful to bring as many diverse books into our classrooms. And that may include, but not featured, a section of classics, and possibly media pairings, to provide all students with a contextual history of art, politics, literature, and science.

And I will attempt at zero misunderstanding: when I spend my own money on books for my classroom, (which is upwards of $5,000 to $6,000 at this point over the course of twelve years) I buy the most current, engaging titles I can: authors such as Jason Reynolds, Walter Dean Meyers, Laurie Halse Anderson, Angie Thomas, Kwame Alexander, and many more, sitting in boxes from my packed-up classroom, waiting to go to a new adventure.

There is danger in a single story: and because we have so much work to do to tell and share all the stories, there is no way I would ever get in the way of sharing a thousand stories with my students. Stories that look like them, meet them where they are, and share stories that may speak to them as Hester and Scout spoke to me. But Hester and Scout are part of my reading life timeline: students must curate their own, and I will defend that with my professional experience and humanity.
project lit
Now the real work begins: putting my energy on getting these titles in my classroom. I am going to work with @caitteach on curating poetry and media for Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes. I have some other ideas for media pairings that work and dig deeper with Understand By Design units regarding contextual historical shifts with art, literature, and politics. You know, a little light summer reading.
Any ideas or thoughts: please share. This work is too important to quibble.