The end is only a new beginning.

Yesterday we met for Special Methods for the last time. I sat in the classroom with my favorite English nerds for the last time, laughing and learning. I listened and tried to soak in any last nugget of knowledge I possibly could. I hugged my friends tightly and tried not to get emotional at the goodbyes. Then, we all got in our cars and went our separate ways.

We left. We’re done. Fall semester is in the books, and we’re off to student teach.

I’m not sure why I feel so weird about being done. I spent 3.5 years desperate to get out of Chadron, but now I’m not so sure. The friends gained and memories made here are worth everything. I have felt every emotion; I laughed, cried, felt intense exhaustion, loved, and learned. I spent innumerable hours writing, reading, and laughing with friends over nothing. My time here at CSC has been (to loosely quote Dickens) the best of times and the worst of times.

I’m going to miss it.

I realize that it’s time for me to move on; I’ve put in my time and now it’s my time to leave. But it’s hard sometimes to leave. CSC has been a whirlwind adventure. The distance from home was hard, but the friends and experiences here have been worth it. Moving closer to my family and beginning the final step of my education is beyond exciting, but actually leaving this place set in yesterday. It might be my nostalgia talking, but all I want to do now before closing the book on my time here is say thank you.

To my professors – thank you. Thank you for believing in me and pushing me (far) outside of my comfort zone. Thank you for all the time spent with me during office hours, reading through my pieces and helping me become a better writer and teacher. Thank you for answering my text messages even though you don’t have to. Thank you for talking with me like a real human being and setting me on the path to success. They always say that people become teachers thanks to the ones they had before; you all have been more influential than you will ever know.

To my family – I made it! Thank you for taking all of my frantic calls (mom – this is for you) when I don’t know what’s happening with school and when something amazing happens. You are the first people I call with the bad and the best (yay for being done with the Praxis II!). I have missed spending time with you, but I love you all for being the best support system I could ever ask for.

To my English nerds – you all have molded me into the person I am today. Thank you for pushing me to always be better and consoling me when things don’t go my way. Thank you for the laughs and pep talks, for reading my papers and listening to me gab on about nothing. You girls were my support system and family away from home. We traveled together, studied together, and practically operated on the same schedule for the past 3.5 years. I love you, I love you, I love you. Don’t be strangers.

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4 years ago, I chose to come to Chadron State. 4 years later, I’m leaving with a full heart and a head of knowledge. I may not be completely sure what next semester holds, but I do know that I have the best people in my life to help me through whatever comes. The tears and hugs have been plentiful this week, but I think that’s a sign that what’s happened these past few years has been special. I’m lucky to have something hard to leave. If you’re reading this and fall into my categories, thank you for loving me and being a solid rock in my life. I could not do any of this without you.

Future, here I come.

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Professional Development Book – Public Teaching: One Kid at a Time

There are many things I love in life. I love warm blankets and cardigans. I love Kellan hugs after long bouts without seeing him. I love my friends. I love my middle schoolers (even when they are, you know, middle schoolers). But there is one thing I have come to love more than many others in my college years: Penny Kittle.

Ahh. Penny Kittle. The epitome of the English teaching species. Ever since I cracked open Book Love as an underdeveloped sophomore, I have had a passion for Kittle’s words and practices within her classroom. I have watched videos of her presenting mini lessons and devoured her books to glean any knowledge possible. I have written blogs and fangirled while listening to her speak live at NCTE with Kelly Gallagher. I talk about her like we’ve been best friends for ages even though I only know her through her words.

If you can’t tell, I feel strangely close to this woman I have never met.

Our one-sided friendship took an even deeper route when I read her book Public Teaching: One Kid at a Time. This collection of 19 essays is personal and, for me, uplifting. Kittle writes about her successes and failures, unafraid to lay it all out on the line for readers to silently judge.

Kittle’s passion for her career and students is easy to see in the essays she includes. She takes us through her trials, triumphs, and everything in between. Readers see the connections she makes with her students as well as the missed chances that still haunt her. We see her walk through her writing process and see stories unfold involving how it impacts her students. We see her care for the kids in her classroom.

But the essential truth is this: when you enter teaching you enter the lives of kids.

Her stories stuck with me. I was impacted by the realness she shared. Her story of setting frogs loose in her student teaching classroom made me laugh out loud. When she wrote about Molly losing her mom to cancer and coming to school to share with the class made fat tears roll down my cheeks. When Kittle let readers in on the Andreas and Peters who she couldn’t reach, I felt the haunting that engulfed her.

Kittle talks openly about an educators need to keep their passion alive. We need to remember why we entered this profession. In Public Teaching, Kittle points out that many educators leave public schools in the first few years of teaching. To not get to this point, “we need to nurture the fire that made us English teachers” (59). We should submit work and read it aloud to students. Giving them the gift of having a writer for a teacher is important; I think we need to remember this moving forward.

It wasn’t the stories that made me laugh or feel sadness that touched me the most – it was the stories of perseverance and love. I love this sentiment Kittle gives at the end of her book:

In my experience, it isn’t the stress that’s left the greatest mark, it is the joy. It bubbles to the surface in the middle of trying a lesson or finds you in a chance meeting with a former student. I consider these moments and think of how lucky I am to have work I love.  My career in teaching spans five states, eight grade levels, and hundreds of individual children. Former students have sent me birth announcements and emailed from faraway places. This job is like no other. It will bend your heart to the breaking point one day and exhilarate you the next. It has lessons for a lifetime.

Reading Penny Kittle’s stories made me laugh, cry, and feel joy. She was so transparent in her writing; I felt like it was a conversation the entire way through. As a soon-to-be student teacher, I was inspired by her stories of “making it through” no matter what and realizing that none of us are super teachers.

Teaching is a matter of the heart – big thanks to Penny Kittle for reminding me of that.

Professional Development Book: Readicide

Talking to kids jars me at times.

Yes, they say silly, sometimes inappropriate things and ask about my personal life a tad too often for my liking, but that’s not what really gets to me. What surprises me most is when students call reading “dumb” or “stupid,” stating that it is “a waste of [their] time.”

Normally it’s here that I start vehemently arguing for reading. I mean, I AM a future language arts teacher; who would I be if I didn’t argue for the importance of reading? I state the benefits and the feel of really falling into a good book. Though this sometimes works, it’s more often that my words fall on deaf ears, ears that have been forced to read not for fun but for academic purposes.

Ears that have been put through readicide.

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Readicide by Kelly Gallagher was one of the professional development books I read this semester. I was blown away. In just 118 pages, Gallagher lays out the foundation for the readicide occurring across the nation today. Though he lays out numerous factors that have contributed to the decline (poverty, lack of resources, the rise of electronic entertainment industry), Gallagher calls for us to finally address the elephant in the room and point out the one powerhouse that has yet to be questioned: our schools.

Readicide : (n) The systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools.

Gallagher calls for teachers to “take a hard look at what we are doing to potential readers” (5). How do our practices match up with our desired results. Are we valuing certain areas over reading? Do we have the environment to support a book flood or are our student living in a desert? Kelly Gallagher suggests 4 major factors that are leading to the massive readicide in schools today:

  1. Schools value the development of test-takers more than they value the development of readers
  2. Schools are limiting authentic reading experiences
  3. Teachers are overteaching books
  4. Teachers are underteaching books

As readers move through the chapters, each one of these issues is addressed and solutions are presented for teachers to try out. One of the most interesting moments for me was the breakdown of how much students are actually reading in schools and on their own today. Though these statistics may be from a 2007 release, they are no doubt still relevant today:

  • “The percentage of thirteen-year-olds who read for fun on a daily basis declined from 35 percent to 30 percent, and for seventeen-year-olds the decline was from 33 percent to 22 percent.
  • On average, Americans ages fifteen to twenty-four spend almost two hours a day watching television, and only seven minutes of their leisure time on reading.
  • Less than one-third of thirteen-year-olds are daily readers, a 14 percent decline from twenty years earlier.
  • Nearly half of all Americans ages fifteen to twenty-four do not read books for pleasure” (41).

But what can we do to combat this? These numbers are staggering and, if I’m being honest, a little intimidating. How can we instill a love of reading that is not forced? Gallagher gives us several ideas, such as establishing a book flood through your classroom library, putting real-world, authentic texts in your classroom, and starting SSR (Silent Sustained Reading) in the school. Allowing students to engage in authentic reading takes away a big factor listed above that leads to readicide. Let students read what they are interested in. Don’t shut down their likes and dislikes, but instead provide ample reading material in various forms while allowing time to fall into the reading zone.

Another piece of Gallagher’s book that stuck with me was the “overteaching” section. In this, he argues for teachers to remember authentic reading practices and throw out the “chop-chop” curriculum (61). Gallagher calls this the “recipe for killing young readers”:

The Kill-a-Reader Casserole

Take one large novel. Dice into as many pieces as possible.

Douse with sticky notes.

Remove book from oven every five minutes and insert worksheets.

Add more sticky notes.

Baste until novel is unrecognizable, far beyond well done.

Serve in choppy, bite-size chunks (73).

We don’t need to dissect every single part of a novel; the kids take meaning for themselves without us butting in. Do we sometimes want to discuss what is happening? Of course. Discussion is rich and leads to better understanding. The problem becomes when discussion pervades the reading flow and students are never able to fully immerse themselves in the novel. Gallagher says we don’t need the 139 page study guides to walk us through the book; instead, we need our own minds and authentic life experiences.

Gallagher makes it clear that he is not calling for the classroom to become a free-for-all but is instead advocating to teach the reader more and the reading less. He advocates that we all find the “sweet spot” of instruction that doesn’t overteach or underteach material. We need to know our readers. We need to be open to change. Most importantly, we need to recognize that readicide is happening and move to change the status quo.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 12/11/17

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It’s December 11th, and that means one thing: Finals Week is upon us.

*cue the horror movie music.*

Finals week always feels stressful and intimidating. This year, though, there’s an added twist. Not only are we trying to tie up loose ends and finish out our obligations to classes, but we are also trying to find ways to see everyone before leaving and say our goodbyes. As I sit at home writing this, I can’t help but think about how hard returning to Chadron tomorrow and saying goodbye to some of my best friends on Wednesday will be.

Man, college has turned me into a sappy person.

I digress. This blog is about wrapping up my semester of reading, and I have to say that I saved some of the best and most interesting choices for the last week.

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My Friend Dahmer was book talked in class last Thursday by the fabulous Timmi. She described it as having a creepy vibe yet being really interesting at the same time. I decided that this semester for me had lacked some of the spookier things, and if I’m being serious about reading outside of my comfort zone, I need to really dive in headfirst. So, I stole this book right after her talk and dove into it at home.

As you might guess, My Friend Dahmer chronicles the earlier life of renowned serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Der Backderf, the author/illustrator of this novel, takes readers back into Dahmer’s childhood and adolescent years. We see him as both a normal high school kid and also see him arc into a different person as an adult. Backderf takes readers into Dahmer’s personal life through his own recollections of Dahmer as a student in his class as well as thorough research done well after Dahmer’s death. This novel takes us through the years as it attempts to shed light on the signs of what was to come and the help Dahmer didn’t receive. It’s haunting and incredibly creepy. I think the most weirded out person about it all was my dad:

Woah. My Friend Dahmer? Never thought I’d see you reading something like that.

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My second book of the week was an equally surprising read. Pregnant Butch by A.K. Summers was hilarious and, well, graphic. Summers holds nothing back in this intensely personal memoir detailing her experiences as a pregnant butch lesbian in the early 2000s. As she embarks down the path of motherhood, Summers has the same anxieties and experiences as every first time mom; from morning sickness to worries about the baby’s health and her own age, Teek feels a bit lost. Add on the fact that she and her partner, Vee’s, experience is unlike other’s and you have an interesting 9 months laid out before you. Is pregnancy only for the ultra-feminine as society leads us to believe? A.K. Summers will make you life (and say TMI) time and time again in this novel.

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When I first started my journey into graphic novels, everyone told me that the Maus books were a must-read. I shared this with my mom, and she ordered The Complete Maus for one of her graphic novel-loving students to read. Since I came home for the weekend, I was able to steal this and read through the first part. Wow – what a powerful story. Sometimes I feel as though we don’t talk about certain pieces of history enough to shed light on the hard topics and questions they ask. The Holocaust is one of these topics. I absolutely love that graphic novels like these bring the true, first-hand stories back to the light for our generation and those after us to read and remember.

The first part of Maus, My Father Bleeds History, walks readers through the backstory of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor, and his son, Art’s, relationship with him. We learn how Art’s parents met and married as well as how the war took a toll on their relationship. That is one of the strengths of this story. Not only do readers see the horrors of war, but they also see the direct effects and are able to see the massive changes from pre-war to post. Spiegelman spares no details, barring the true story for all to read. From being a POW to being captured and taken to Auschwitz, readers watch the horror unravel before their own eyes while also seeing the fractured relationship between father and son today.

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Jason. Reynolds. Do I even need to say anything further??

Ugh – my love for Jason Reynolds is great. He is a magnificent speaker, advocated, writer, and much more. Long Way Down, Jason Reynold’s newest book, tells the story of Will as he grapples with the death of Shawn, his brother. In Will’s neighborhood, there are rules that must be followed, and one of these rules is revenge; you do revenge, no matter what. Can Will handle taking an innocent life? Can he avenge the death of his brother? As Will rides the elevator down, he must grapple with his conscious and the rules; what will win? This verse novel is one that will grab attention and keep readers at the edge of their seat. Long Way Down is a novel that will raise your blood pressure and keep you turning pages until you get your answers.

NCTE Day 3: What we read makes us who we are.

We didn’t fly out of St. Louis until later on Sunday, so we were able to catch some sessions prior to leaving. I stood in line to get into the book hall (and let me tell you, that thing was intense), went to sessions, and functioned as a partial zombie due to lack of sleep.

It was great.

Dark Corners & Dead Girls: Inviting the Supernatural into Our Classrooms

I feel like the title speaks for itself in this case. This morning session covered the eerie, spooky books and stories our students all love. The presenters in this session discussed the obsession students have with the supernatural and the lack of it within the classrooms. Kids clamor for horror, but we tend to shut the door on the very thought of allowing kids to read “dark” texts. Educators were challenged to re-think their closed mindset on these stories and allow kids to choose their own texts, even if they are of the horror variety.

My biggest takeaway from this session was the paper bag test. How have I never heard of this before?! The gist is simple: find objects that correlate with whatever novel or story you are reading, put an item into each bag, set a bag on each student’s desk, and have students write how the objects interact with the story they read. This assessment tool allows authentic answers to be made while students craft responses. It’s one I will definitely explore once I am in my own classroom.

Books Save Lives — Jason Reynolds, LHA, Matt de la Pena, etc.

This panel was, again, amazing. I was only able to stay for this first part before skipping out to catch my flight, but the panel was full of wonderful speakers who care about our students and their lives.

Matt de la Pena made an observation that should be obvious but often times isn’t: “You never know what books can do, good or bad.” How true is that? We often don’t realize the impact a book can have because it didn’t touch us the way it touches others. We bring our own personal experiences to the stories we read, so it only makes sense that we will read them and respond differently. This is why censorship is such a large issue today. Censoring books sends the message that we censor people, and nothing about that is okay. Books should be used to build up; censorship only tears down.

Jason Reynolds is an angel. If it isn’t clear yet, I attended a lot of his sessions. Like a lot. He speaks with such eloquence and power that I was scrambling to copy down every single thing that came out of his mouth. He alone might have been worth the price of attending NCTE.

Here are some of his thoughts from the session:

  • We have a hard time dealing with human emotion that makes us uncomfortable
    • It’s easy to say peace, but when your peace is challenged, other aspects of humanity begin to show themselves.
  • It’s foolish to pretend that our kids don’t see things that are hard.
  • Books give us (and our hearts) the opportunity to thaw. They help us grapple with human emotions
  • Banning books that discuss difficult topics just continues the fears and perpetuates systemic racism. It takes away the important voices that we need to hear.
  • “We are afraid to talk about it, so we ban it. We can’t talk about sex or violence, but kids can go home and simulate war all night on video games.”

The literature we read makes us the people we are. Reading as a mirror is great and helps us to understand who we are, but reading through a window allows us to view others and the struggles and triumphs they have as well. Had I not read Little Peach by Peggy Kern I would never have had my eyes open to the business of sex trafficking and the impact it can have on an individual. If I had never read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, I would never feel the tug between cultures and the prevalent systemic racism that occurs even in my area of the country.

Books teach respect, empathy, and love. They show us humanity – both good and bad – and challenge us to look into ourselves and see how well we are treating others and recognizing the bad that happens in our lives. Reading diversely and voraciously creates a society that is empathetic and knowledgeable; what more could you want?

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Thank you, NCTE, for the 60,000+ steps in 3.5 days. Thank you for the new tools, tricks, and methods of presenting material. Thank you for igniting the spark to teach again after a long semester. Thank you for making me believe in my abilities.

Thank you, NCTE, for making me a better educator. I’m excited to return.

NCTE Day 2: “We are English teachers; we walk through the fire.”

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Saturday. I’d be lying if I said this day wasn’t busy and exhausting.

Saturday was the day I found myself running around like a mad woman, trying to catch every single session I possibly could. From Jacqueline Woodson’s General Session to a session designated to why YA literature is complex, there were so many new and interesting ideas that I walked away with. My notebook (and my heart) was filled afterwards.

Saturday General Session — Jacqueline Woodson

If you have never heard Jacqueline Woodson speak, I highly encourage you to find an interview or podcast. She is amazing! The way she speaks to crowds can both encourage and soothe; I felt myself relating to her words and stories more than I had originally anticipated.

Woodson, the author of Brown Girl Dreaming and Another Brooklyn, presented a riveting session to sit through. She spoke on resistance, story craft, and best practices by teachers. Woodson reminded the audience that she came to Missouri despite the NAACP’s travel advisory against doing so; change, she said, comes from making statements and resisting.  Here are some of my favorite pieces of her speech:

  • “When students are begging to read? That’s powerful.”
  • How do we each one teach one?
  • You create your own world and that’s the journey; the journey is not the negative.
    • “You not only have a right to be here, you have a right to be here fabulously.”
  • Picture books: Teachers gave Woodson the gift of picture books, which served to legitimize the reader and learner she was at the time.
  • Teachers are gatekeepers; we can choose how to create the climate and tolerance levels. We can enact change.
  • Encourage students to write
    • “Everybody has a story, and everybody deserves to tell that story.”

Reclaiming Our Voices: The Joy of the Thing — Laurie Halse Anderson, Jason Reynolds, etc.

People don’t have to question whether or not I’m a reader because I make it pretty obvious. I travel with numerous books and can be seen pulling one out no matter where I am. However, I know this is not true for everyone. Many of my future students will not be readers. This panel of superstars worked to uncover how we should pass our love and passion onto our students.

“Reclaiming Our Voices” spoke a lot on the idea of self-led readers. Educators need to understand where each reader is at on their journey and try to understand the context of their lives before giving assignments or constructing “on-ramps” to reading. Just like an on-ramp to an interstate, these allow students to access the road to life-long reading and writing. This session was packed with amazing insight and ideas, but there is no way I can cover it all in a blog post. Here are some of the recommendations/thoughts shared:

  • Consistently buy new books by favorite authors
  • Model that you, the teacher, read things (book talk)
  • Give/get recommendations to/from others; create communities in classrooms where books are recommended.
  • Throw out the boring; remember the right’s of readers.
  • Present books that show different perspectives because our students don’t all have the same background and experiences.
  • Have a classroom library containing multiple genres and formats (graphic novels, novels, poetry, etc.)
  • Don’t hide the secret subtext
  • Break students from their comfort zone.

The session closed on a question from the audience. An educator asked the panel their thoughts on presenting certain books to students suffering through personal trauma. The answer was important for all to hear. Since some students will want to read through trauma and others will strike to read around it, it isn’t our job to push books onto students:

  • LHA – If my book (Speak) was around, I wouldn’t have read it. It would have furthered trauma.
  • Solution? Leave works about everything everywhere for students to discover
  • Read diversely to learn and grow and push boundaries.
  • Trauma doesn’t make all of life traumatic. We must be careful about turning kids into traumatic fortresses; you are not the trauma.

Finally, don’t judge what a student is reading. This is the ugliest thing we can do as professionals and educators. If we want to create lifelong readers, telling them they are reading the wrong thing is the best way to not do that.

Ignite Sessions

Attending an Ignite session was one of the most interesting experiences of the conferences. During the session, there are numerous speakers who each get 5 minutes to present whatever they want to. This makes the session jam packed with lots of ideas that are presented in short bursts of time. Due to this, my notebook looks a little crazy. Ideas are written haphazardly, and, to be honest, I’m having a hard time following each train of thought.

So, here are some of my (slightly) crazy notes:

  • Be kind and nice to your students ALWAYS.
    • It can’t be once; it has to be constant, and you have to be hard to ignore.
  • Every kid has value.
  • “It’s easy to be a nothing student if you have a nothing teacher.”
  • Reading levels do not support whole-child learning structures.
  • Restricting reading choices to only those “on that level” destroys reading identity
    • These tools were not created to label students and make them static.
  • Reading is a transaction between the reader and the text.
    • We don’t access the same text in the same way.
  • Know your kids & know your books -> This is how we make recommendations and create a community of readers

Stop Grading, Start Reflecting — The Paper Graders

Wow. This session has stuck with me since I walked out. The Paper Graders are teachers from Boulder, CO who have completely reworked their classroom structure around grades. They argue the need to emphasize the process, not the final product because the learning is the work. If we preach student-centered learning, we need to really look at our practices and see if they are living up.

The 3 teachers presenting walked us through their 8 steps/thoughts they work through to create a climate of no “grading” in the traditional sense. They outlined what their semester looked like from top to bottom, even presenting us with a weekly lesson plan and walking us through it. Though I won’t include all of the steps, I encourage you to check out their site and be reflective on your own practices; what is working? What isn’t?

Perhaps the most impactful part of the session came from a student’s reflection on a piece of writing:

I had to take risks to do this. If I had been worried about a grade, I probably would’ve chosen a different topic, because that would have been the safer choice.

Do we want the safe, easier options to fill our classroom, or do we prefer to have students invest in their writing and challenge themselves?

YA Lit is Complex! — Angie Thomas, Jason Reynolds, Julie Murphy, Laurie Halse Anderson, etc.

Ah. YA Literature. My home, my heart, and my soul.

Dramatic maybe, but I do really love YA literature. It helps us connect to each other, our world, and ourselves. YA lit is important, so why do some say that it is “simple?”

Authors attempted to tackle this question during the mixed round table/panel session. I stood in the back of the room trying to soak up every single thing these amazingly talented authors were sharing, completely engrossed in the talk and forgetting the fact that I was tired and dying from a heat stroke.

Top thoughts from the panel:

  • Stereotypes are simple – kids are not, therefore they are not stereotypes.
  • We live in a teen-bashing culture.
  • Linguistically simple does not equal contextually simple.
  • “There’s this thought that since a teen can see themselves reflect in a piece of literature it’s not good enough to be in the classroom. How does that make sense?” -JM
  • Most don’t know/understand what complexity is
    • Complexity = multiple parts
  • Complexity is present by default, but it’s the lack of realization of complexity that is missing
  • “Complexity is code word for academically elite ideas, for the books they had to read in HS, for the books that literally no one understands so we have to walk them through it line by line and the point is never actually found.” – LHA
  • “The people of 200 years ago wouldn’t even read their own books today.” – LHA

Round Table – Angie Thomas

So, I may not have had a seat the entire time I was there, but you better believe I swarmed to the Angie Thomas table and butted in on her round table session. This woman is magnificent. I recently read The Hate U Give, her first novel, and was amazed and the layers and thematic concerns presented within it. She is a YA powerhouse, and her round table was nothing short of that:

  • Her mission: to show the complexity of people and places
  • How do we approach stereotypes and racism with students who are already entrenched in them?
    • Make marginalization real to students via exercises and discussions
  • Make a conscious effort to show more windows
  • Blackness should never bee seen in a negative light, yet it is. This is a complex issue in itself.
    • Challenges us to think about our actions – both conscious and unconscious – and why we do these things (ex. – woman pulling purse closer while walking)
  • “Empathy if more powerful than sympathy.” -AT
  • It’s important for students to see more than themselves reflected in literature.

… And day 2 is wrapped! What a day full of thinking and learning. I can honestly say that I am still sorting through my thoughts and emotions weeks later. This conference taught me a lot, and some of my favorite sessions occurred on this day. English teachers, as the title says, truly do walk through the fire. We confront issues of systemic racism, censorship, marginalization, grading, and so much more through our work. Day two reminded me why I chose this profession in the first place; for this, I am thankful.

NCTE Day #1: “We fight ignorance with knowledge.”

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Rehashing NCTE leaves a massive smile on my face. Friday was an incredible whirlwind in St. Louis. After flying in Thursday, finding our hotel, and attending the evening session  (“Middle Meet Up”), I was stoked for a great day of learning. The biggest problem I had was deciding what to attend!

Friday General Session — Jimmy Santiago Baca

I have to be honest: prior to Friday, I had no idea who Jimmy Santiago Baca was. Dr. Ellington, the brave professor who ventured to St. Louis with our crazy Special Method’s group, was so excited about Baca presenting. I took this as a first sign on just how amazing he would be; I can honestly say now that I undersold it.

Jimmy Santiago Baca, an award-winning American poet, was incredible to listen to. He entertained the crowd with jokes while also telling us about his life as a child and teen. Baca learned to read while serving a 5 year maximum security prison sentence, later becoming a renowned poet and speaker. He spoke on teaching kids to read, the importance of activism, and using our words for something bigger. It was breathtaking.

Baca spoke on poetry, but he also discussed more. He discussed the demons educators face daily and called for teachers to stop seeking approval and begin entering the “battle grounds” that are present daily. Here are some of my favorite quotes from his session:

  • “If you want to rob a house, bring a little meat for the dog.” – Originally said by T.S. Eliot, Baca said this was the mantra he lives by when he is trying to reach children. For example, he brought pizza to a boxing center when he went to teach.
  • “True poetry happens in the mistake of life. It happens when you’re not supposed to, but you do.”
  • “Confront ignorance; bring knowledge.”
  • “Where there is controversy, you’ll find teachers.”
  • “I used my life – I didn’t let my life use me.”

Don’t Give Up on Boys! — Jason Reynolds, Ralph Fletcher, and company

This session was on my list of “must attends.” I’m not a boy. I have no way to enter the mind of a boy. I really related to what the panel’s facilitator said regarding her experiences: “I am planets and universes away from some of my kids.” This panel of all-stars, however, are men and bring to the table a host of different experiences and insights.

In society, girls are often thought of as having a lot of stereotypes to deal with. Though this is true, I think we sometimes forget about the ones boys have. English is not a class that boys are typically thought to “like,” which is something I want to break through. One thing that was mentioned during the panel was a fill in the blank exercise. The statement read like this: “I wish we could _______.” The speakers told us that most boys will fill in that blank with the words “write what we want.” Wow. Powerful. Allowing all students to write what they want in whatever style they want to express their thoughts/feelings in puts the ownership squarely back in their court.

This leads me to another big takeaway: offer kids everything. Literally. Books, poetry, genres, translations, etc. Educators should promote the books they don’t like and let the readers decide what they do like. We need to set out books for them to find. Jason Reynolds (be still my beating heart) also discussed the canon quite a bit in this panel. The canon, for those who don’t know, is a set of literary works that are considered to be “the best.” The Western canon, or the one our educational institutions generally recognize, includes works such as Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, Les Miserables, Crime and Punishment, and more. Calls to shake up the ill-constructed canon could be heard ringing from every session, but Reynolds directly spoke on it here, reminding educators that not everyone views classics in the same light. Those included in the canon tend to be quite similar: dead, white, and male. What about the rest of the population writing? For example, what about the Alice Walkers of the world? Kids need to know that their language and the way they speak is not wrong, and the canon sends out the opposite of this message.

Reynolds also called for educators to make their classrooms places for imagination and real writing. Canned writing is not true writing, and no writing is “bad.” He, a man who did not read or write until later in life, finished the panel by reminding the audience that he failed English 101 twice and is now an award-winning author. Every person is capable and has a story to tell; it’s our job to create the space and allow them to do so.

Reading as a Personal Art — Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, & Nancie Atwell

You may not be aware, but this session was literally ran by the MVP’s of English Education. Seriously – these people are the absolute best in the game. Walking into the session was like walking into a state championship tournament: I felt anxious, nervous, and so incredibly excited to see the culmination of 3 of the greatest coming together to present.

Atwell began the session outlining what the “reading state” is and argued for teachers to forget mastery and focus on finding ways to engage students in a reading and allow them to enter into the reading zone. The reading zone, an interior space we go to when we are lost in a book, is essential to creating life-long readers. Books have the opportunity to bring the entire world into a small classroom who may or may not be able to experience it without the stories. Atwell discussed the improper use of Lexile scores and the importance of a workshop community. Students shared what helped them enter the Reading Zone:

  • Book Talks
  • Choice
  • Mini-Lessons
  • Comfort while reading
  • Utilization of TBRs
  • Recommendations
  • Homework reading
  • Daily Reading Time
  • Individual Conversations with Teachers
  • Special bookshelf filled with kids’ top choices

Next up was Kittle and Gallagher, and I felt like a kid in a candy store. They discussed the fact that our reading diet is off balance and suggested a new equation: 50% independent reading, 25% core texts, and 25% book clubs. Their portion of the session centered on showing us what this looked like in their classrooms along with sharing testimonies and videos from students involved in their cross-country book club (Kittle is a teacher in New Hampshire while Gallagher teaches in California).

Teachers are creators and facilitators. What we discuss in class tells students what we believe is important; we are constantly delivering a message, which is something to be cogniscent about. Books, they argue, are an imaginative rehearsal for the real world. They pack so many life lessons in the pages, and by sharing our readings, we can create a culture of love and diversity.

Perhaps the best part of the session was the discussion of every day practices. Every day in their classrooms, Kittle and Gallagher make sure their students participate in these activities:

  • Read
  • Write
  • Study
  • Create
  • Share
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The book choices during the Social Justice Book Club

The importance of hitting all 5 areas every day could not be stressed enough. Engagement in all of these leads to an engaged student who is thinking and pushing the boundaries within a safe place. This safe space needs to be open to exploring different perspectives, which is done through the cross country book club. Kittle and Gallagher shared the texts involved in their Social Justice Book Club and discussed the selection criteria, which coincidentally did not take into consideration the Lexiles of those involved.

Friday was, clearly, spent with the powerhouses of English and education. The main theme I took away was summed up in a quote I heard during Baca’s presentation:

We fight ignorance with knowledge.

Letting students choose and truly engage with the “real world” creates learners who are aware and look at situations from every angle. If we expect students to become better humans, we need to look at our practices and see if we have the environment to support them.

Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to St. Louis we go! – NCTE 2017

In mid-November, I had the opportunity to join thousands of innovative, inspiring leaders, movers, and thinkers in St. Louis, MO. I spent days talking with educators and authors who were all invested in bettering the sphere of education for our students today. The level of care, love, and energy put in to these peoples’ careers were so clear to see.

I was in heaven.

Going into the classroom next semester has been a source of anxiety for me lately. I wonder if I am good enough or ready to be out facilitating the education of students. I took these fears with me to St. Louis, but the NCTE Conference, and I’m glad I did. This conference instilled a renewed sense of excitement in my profession. Through NCTE, I was able to surround myself with a large group of passionate educators who were actively seeking ways to improve their practices. The speakers and professionals sitting on panels reminded me why I chose English Ed. in the first place; NCTE was truly a breath of fresh air.

NCTE allowed me to hear some of my idols speak in person (Penny Kittle, I’m looking at you sister). It allowed me to be validated in my profession. It seated me amongst people with a common mindset. NCTE fueled my fangirl obsession over the authors I love (swoon). It sent me home with piles of books and discussions on censorship in the classroom. It put resources in my corner as I enter into the classroom.

Really, it ignited my spark again, which is something I was in desperate need of.

From the panel centered on how to reach boys on day one to the session done by The Paper Graders on day two, each session and panel was filled with enriching information. I have spent the past two weeks digesting the teachings and time spent with friends. I can’t begin to describe the amazing experiences had while in St. Louis, but I will do my best to rehash the daily experiences. Here are the links to my daily recaps:

NCTE was one of the best experiences I have had to date. I am so thankful for my experiences and all the things I learned.

We might be able to raise test scores, but is that really the essence of our job? Our career should be focused on creating better humans. Help them as they struggle to find out who they are.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 12/4/17

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Week 16 is upon us.

I feel the tension and post-semester sickness starting to creep in. Between finals, packing, and trying to fit all of my last minute visits with friends into my schedule, I am feeling run down. Moving is hard, and leaving behind a special place is even worse (I can’t believe I just called Chadron “special” – woah.). I know that the end is creeping closer every day, and I have been actively avoiding it.

So, naturally, I’ve turned to reading.

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Again – Not the right cover. Sorry!

This week, I tackled my ARC copy of The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell. I have one word: wow. Holy cow you guys, this book covers SO many topics and does so artfully. Readers enter into a neighborhood full of kids who take ordinary boxes and create colorful, fun costumes over the summer. The kingdom is filled with dragons, a sorceress, robots, and, perhaps greatest of all, acceptance. This kingdom is one that is open to everyone. I absolutely loved the beautiful graphics and colors within this novel. It’s separated to tell each child’s story individually which allows readers to create background knowledge on each character and how they chose their alternate identity. I think this is a must-read; be looking for it on the shelves in June of 2018!

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Book recommendations from my friend, Carlie, have always been great, so when she plopped this book down on my table, I knew I was in for another wonderful story. Piper tells the story of Maggie, a young deaf woman who dreams of finding her perfect match. As the rat population increases in Hameln, extra measures must be brought in. Maggie meets the mysterious Piper, and suddenly it seems like maybe she can have it all. However, as she grows closer, she notices a more sinister side to his demeanor. Can true love conquer all? Or can vindictive motives ruin everything they built? Readers of this story will get a fresh look at the tale of The Pied Piper situated into a historical perspective. This novel serves as Jay Asher’s (author of Thirteen Reasons Why) debut into the world of graphic novels.

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I dipped back into the March series this week with book two, and I was not disappointed. There’s just something about reading these truths that gives me the chills and makes me think about how not long ago this all happened. Book two centers on the Freedom Riders and the march on Washington, D.C. Readers don’t have to look hard to find the brutality and inhuman treatment of people throughout the novel as Lewis details his time spent in prison and the treatment of those around him. From attacks on children to igniting a bus on fire, this novel packs a punch that no reader can soon forget. It ends with the speeches from the Big 6 and the march on Washington, one of the most significant historical events to come from the Civil Rights movement. I cannot stress this enough: everyone NEEDS to read the March series. This is a group of books that needs to be in ever school across the nation.

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My love for John Green is thinly (if ever) veiled. So, when Mary Anne offered to let me read her $1 Black Friday find, I jumped at the chance. Let it Snow is a collection of 3 short holiday stories that center around a single snowstorm that leads to chance interactions and love. From the train getting stuck in the snow to cheerleaders at the local Waffle House creating a competition, these three intertwined stories left me smiling and gooey. Who doesn’t love a happy, mushy story every once in a while?! This book was just the escape I needed this week.

1493853294187.jpeg I also happen to love Rainbow Rowell. I was handed Carry On last week, and even though I’m not very far into it, I can already tell that I am going to enter the reading flow with little to no problem. I’ve been dying to read this novel ever since Fangirl was published and Simon and Baz were brought to the scene. Hopefully I will have more information on this next week!

Happy reading!

Grateful For: The Humor

If you know me, you know that I love to laugh. And when I say laugh, I mean double-over-from-laughing-so-hard-while-crying laugh.

I laugh at everything; from classic shows like The Golden Girls to falling down the stairs, I can find humor in just about everything. I truly believe that laughing makes life better. Being able to find laughter in a situation makes it that much richer and, sometimes, helps you through. As it turns out, teaching comes with a lot of laughter.

Guys – my people at the MS are hilarious. Seriously. They keep me on my toes daily and keep me laughing at everything. Some of my best memories are centered around the funny one-liners I get from my students daily. The things that come out of their mouths are some of the strangest, most creative strings of words I have ever heard. Here are a few examples from last week that my coworker, Mary Anne, tweeted out:

I mean, c’mon – they came up with this stuff without even thinking! The stories told during our Roll a Story game were hilarious. They left me with a smile and stories to take to my classmates the next day.

One of the funniest moments I can remember happened my first year working at ASP. I came to work looking like I always did (so, probably not grade A material) and the day seemed to be moving along like every other day before it. All of this changed when a young girl joined me for activity:

Student: Ms. Garey, do you have a boyfriend?

Me: No, I don’t.

Student: But you aren’t wearing makeup today?

Me: Nope, I’m not!

Student *leans in closer to whisper in my ear after giving me a once over*: Maybe that would help? Couldn’t hurt to try!

I remember whipping back in shock; did she actually just say that to me? I had heard that MS kids were brutally honest, but this was my first entrance into just how brutal it could be. And you want to know what I did after reeling back? I laughed.

And I laughed, and I laughed, and I laughed.

Because you know what? Kids really do say the most interesting, hilarious things. I love my job because it means I get to work with bright kids daily. These kids haven’t lost that spark of creativity yet and haven’t been jaded by the “that’s not a cool thing to say” phase. For that, I am so thankful. They have been a bright spot daily for the past few years and have caused me to buy waterproof mascara for fear of crying it all off.

I guess laughter really is the best medicine.