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.

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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.

It’s all about the little moments.

The number of times I uttered the phrase “I don’t get paid enough to work here” during and after my time in the middle school today might be a new record.

I don’t know if you’ve worked much with MS kids, but they are an interesting group. Let’s just be honest – MS is hard. Each kid is at a precious, confusing age and life is weird. Suddenly you are developing different interests and, in some cases, becoming a different person almost overnight, which is scary for anyone.

The amount of growth – physical, mental, and emotional – I see reflected in my kiddos over the years is absolutely crazy. I am currently employed at the Chadron Middle School After School Program, and this is my 4th school year with my people (MS’ers). I’m not sure I can fully articulate my years spent in the halls of the MS, but I can say that it’s been a roller coaster. I’ve had the best days where I felt like I was walking on air and the worst days when I went home and questioned my ability to be a teacher. It has been an experience that I am thankful for; despite all of the long and challenging days, leaving in two weeks will be one of the hardest things I’ve done.

Today, though, was especially rough. To be honest, I spent most of the day counting down the minutes until I could leave. So when I finally made it home, I was jarred by reading the following question: “What do you love most about teaching?”

Wow. What do I love most about teaching? Although I’m not a classroom teacher yet, I have spent nearly 3.5 years with these students. I’ve watched them grow over the semesters, and I have, in some cases, spent every day for a year or more with them. Some of the bonds that we’ve formed are ones that I will always remember and cherish. With that being said, I think the thing I love most about teaching is the little moments.

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The little moments make everything worth it. It’s the surprise hugs coming from the kids you least expect them from. It’s the animated talks about Star Wars and the latest pop culture craze (I cannot begin to tell you how many times I watched videos of the Harlem Shake). It’s seeing kids after a summer and suddenly they’re a foot taller but still just as sweet. It’s being approached by a student who hasn’t been to program in over a year to buy candles for a fundraiser because they thought of you. It’s catching up with those 8th graders who have been busy with sports and still feeling the close connection you made your first year working (which was pretty rocky if we’re being honest). It’s the smiles on the hard days. It’s being stopped in Walmart by high schoolers who remember you and want to catch up. It’s the talks sitting cross legged on the floor. It’s hearing “HEY MS. REGAN” being screamed out the window of a moving car. It’s the laughter. It’s learning about their family and background.

And, today, it was being grabbed in the hall by a 7th grade student and told that even though they haven’t seen me yet this year, they don’t want me to leave in 2.5 weeks.

It’s knowing that even though I have messed up time and time again, they still love me and want me here. This is the magic.

So what do I love most about teaching? It’s this. All of this. The love and compassion shown by kids that are in a volatile period of their life. It’s being loved and giving love. These kids are my people, and they gave me so many of my “firsts.” They allowed me to be human. They allowed me to grow.

They gave me an even bigger heart for teaching. I love them more than they will ever know.

 

RG

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 11/27/17

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I am currently immersed in a book flood, and I am LOVING IT.

I spent my Thanksgiving Break week doing a lot of travel, which in Regan’s world means a lot of reading. I traveled hundreds of miles between grandparent’s houses and my school visitation. This extra time allowed me to crack open some new finds from the fabulous NCTE conference and also get into some books that had eluded me over the past few weeks.

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One of my goals at NCTE was to snag Matt de la Pena’s new picture book, Love, and I’m proud to announce that I did it; yay! I stood in line and made awkward small talk while he signed this gorgeous, moving picture book. If anyone ever tries to tell you that picture books aren’t for adults, they haven’t had the chance to experience this one. Love reminds readers of the many ways we experience the true, precious feeling that unites us all. It was beautiful and moving. As I rated it on Goodreads, I noticed another user said that her daughter loved it as well and thought it deserved “twenty hundred stars.” I have to say that I agree. I can’t wait to use this in my classroom (and brag that I got it months before the rest of the world).

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I feel like a failure of an English major for admitting this, but I hadn’t read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 prior to diving into this graphic novel adaptation. I bought this novel at NCTE because I am a firm believer that the “classics” as they stand just don’t suit every kid (I mean, do they really suit any kid?). However, I do believe that there are ways around reading the classics, well, classically. Graphic novels are a great way to work the system when novels such as this are required and inaccessible for many. The heart of this novel – censorship – really spoke to me as I read. The depictions of the firemen burning books that are seen as central to our recollection of history was jarring. This is something that we need to continue to reflect on today, and I am lucky to have this particular novel in a different format because, to be honest, there is no way I have the time or energy to sit down and read the entirety of Fahrenheit 451 and neither do my students. This reading definitely has me convinced that any required reading in my classroom will be accompanied by graphic novel adaptations and Cliff Notes.

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Pride of Baghdad was given to me a couple weeks ago in Special Methods, and I finally got to it this week. If I remember correctly, it made the rounds around the class until it finally found itself in my hands with the message that this was a must-read novel. This graphic novel – and I do mean graphic – depicts life on the war torn streets of Baghdad. When 4 lions escape the city zoo following a bombing, can they survive? Or will the environment they wanted to be reunited with so desperately be their ultimate end? This novel follows the pride of lions and their struggle to survive. Through the vivid pictures and text,  readers will fly through the novel to find out the fate of the pride.

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Honor Girl was a step straight back to the early 2000’s. In this graphic novel memoir, Maggie Thrash reminds us all what it felt like to be 15 and straddling the edge of being a kid and trying to find yourself as an adult. Maggie spends summers at an all-girls camp far from her Atlanta home. Camp Bellflower has always been the place where Maggie goes to participate in a peaceful summer, and at the onset of this summer, it appeared that this year would be no different; with her love of all things Backstreet Boys and aiming at getting her DE in shooting, Maggie’s summer seems to be shaping up like it always does. That is until it suddenly becomes much more than ever before. Suddenly Maggie finds herself falling for Erin, the older camp counselor. As she tries to navigate newfound feelings and friendships within the camp, Maggie begins the process of peeling back the layers of who she is told she needed to be and finding the person she wants to be. When I first started reading Honor Girl, I was a bit nervous. The reviews I received from others were that it kept you reading and then dumped you off at the end with no real answers. I must say that I felt the same way, like there was a piece missing at the end. However, the angst and heartbreak are certainly palpable. Also, if you enjoy the Backstreet Boys, give this novel a read; it had me listening to some throwback tunes all night.

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I have one word for Angie Thomas’s debut novel: stunning.

The Hate U Give is truly a modern classic. This is a novel that had me staying up until 3 a.m. because I had to know what was happening next. It follows Starr, a 16-year-old who finds herself stuck between two worlds: Garden Heights, her home, and Williamson, the fancy prep school she attends. The thin partition between these worlds comes crashing down after Starr is the witness to an act of violence involving a cop that ends in the death of her unarmed best friend, Khalil. Soon, Khalil’s name is plastered everywhere, but no one is telling the story in the same way. Was it murder or was it self defense? As tensions escalate, Starr’s home becomes a war zone and school becomes less of a neutral ground. She feels compelled to share her story, but she knows that it could destroy her home and put her in danger as well.

In today’s world, The Hate U Give serves, as Jason Reynolds puts it, “as a much-needed literary ramrod.” This novel approaches the topics of systemic racism and police brutality with complete honesty and heart. This is a must read for everyone.

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P.S. – This is not the same cover as my novel, but my phone camera is doing weird things.

One of the coolest things about NCTE was the fact that so many awesome ARC copies were available to take for free; yes, for free! I managed to snag quite a few and left most of them at home over break, but I brought back The Cardboard Kingdom with me because it’s a graphic novel and I am very curious. I’m not far enough in to give you all a quality review, but I will say that the graphics are fabulous and full of color. Check back next week for a full review of this ARC graphic novel set to hit shelves in June of 2018!

 

RG

Reality.

You guys. We have 2 weeks of actual class left this semester.

Two weeks until Chadron State College releases us out into the wild, crazy classrooms of Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, and everywhere else to actually put our looming degrees into practice. Two weeks left as residents of Chadron. Two weeks left of hopeful (or hopeless?) cramming to finish all of our obligations still unfulfilled this semester. Two weeks until our English family is broken up, until I won’t see any of the people who encouraged and pushed my thinking daily for the past 3.5 years anymore or possibly ever again.

Sometimes, reality bites.

Despite the craziness and tears that the next few weeks will inevitably hold, I am choosing to look at the bright, joyous side of the coin:

We are FINALLY entering a classroom in a month!

I can’t articulate how thrilled and scared I am to enter a classroom as “Ms. Garey” (seriously – a kid called me that on my visit last week, and I almost didn’t answer). In just a few short weeks, we will be preparing to enter into classrooms and soak up all the knowledge our cooperating teachers have to offer. We will learn from the students as we play double duty in the student/teacher mode. We will have the chance to learn, grow, teach, and touch lives. How amazing is that?

I’ve been looking forward to this season of life for years. Teaching has always been my path, and I have looked forward to teaching my own classes since I was playing house and sitting through classes that weren’t effective in high school. They always say that “rubber hits the road” when you student teach, and I’m excited to see and remember what being in a school for 8 hours a day feels like.

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Obligatory “Student Teaching Visit” picture 🙂

I got a small taste of this on Tuesday when I went on my visit. For those that don’t know, I am officially *half* placed for next semester’s student teaching requirement. I will be teaching 8th grade LA, Linguistics, and Journalism in a middle school located in Central Nebraska. It was a whirlwind of a week; between trying to schedule my visit on short notice to traveling from Denver to home right before, I was tired yet on fire to teach at the same time.

Reality, in this case, was a welcome relief. My cooperating teacher is an absolute rockstar. From the moment I met her to walking out the door, she was welcoming and kind, answering any and every question I had while asking me questions to get to know me better. She let me be involved in the classes while I was there and introduced me to her students, who all seemed to eye me with a mixture of excitement and question (“is she even old enough to teach us”) running across their faces. I walked out of the middle school feeling relieved. I have confidence that this next semester will be rewarding. I know that my cooperating teacher will be helpful and, with a classroom like hers, I will be able to learn and grow under her guidance.

For me, reality is hitting. Hard. I was sent home with books to read, apps to navigate, and the knowledge that more is coming for me to learn and pick up. I know that student teaching won’t be a cakewalk. I know that even though I have been looking forward to leaving, when it finally comes time to do so, I will be nostalgic and sad to leave behind so many great friendships and people that I love. But I also know that this semester will be full of new life adventures and excitement. I know that these people that I love will always be a phone call or text away when I am stuck on something or need help. I know that CSC has prepared me and given me a network of people I can lean on when I need to.

I know that I’m ready. T – 2.5 weeks.

 

RG

“It’s all good.”

I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m a perpetually stressed out person.

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I try my best to put things into perspective and reign in the stress, but sometimes it gets to me. Being a senior in an education program is the recipe for stress; you’re trying to pack in as much information as you can before being tossed into the waves. I am constantly told stories of student teaching experiences, and, not surprisingly, most are horrific. Absolutely cringe worthy. Seriously, I’ve had nightmares. Between this, the cramming of information, and lack of communication regarding my placement, I have felt like a person being slowly pulled into quicksand.

Pretty deep, huh? Luckily for me, I heard some great advice last week that has become my mantra: “It’s all good and all okay.” In only 6 words, I felt myself relax and breathe. It’s all going to be okay. I stopped stressing out about not being “officially” placed anywhere. I realized that the extra money I had to come up with to student teach wouldn’t be made through the hours of stressing about it because I don’t get paid to do that. Cramming won’t get me anywhere. The Praxis II will turn out how it will turn out. I will student teach somewhere. You see, I came to a big realization: my stress points can’t be my whole life.

Living stressed is not a healthy life. As a teacher, I know that the opportunity to feel stressed will be at my doorstep every single day. Between meetings, student and administration issues, and balancing my personal life, there are numerous things to stress out about daily. I also know that I can’t let myself fall prey to these feelings.

You see, I am not functioning at my best when I feel stressed. My sleeping goes haywire, I feel run down, and I become a person that doesn’t match the Regan others know. I want to bring my authentic self to the table every day I am a teacher because that is who my students deserve. Sheesh, it’s what I deserve. Choosing to live with the mantra of “it’s all good” is both personal and professional, which makes it a win-win in my book.

Deciding that it’s all good and all okay has made this past week one of the best this semester. I finally shed the stress that had been blanketing me constantly for the past few weeks and reminded myself that everything was going to be okay. I enjoyed NCTE to the fullest while connecting with thousands of English teachers from across the nation (post to come soon!). I screamed at the top of my lungs while driving home in the middle of the night. I walked (semi) fearlessly into a school after finding out I had been half-placed and met one of my cooperating teachers and her students. I got an email that reminded me that sometimes things work out. I also got a text that reminded me that there are bigger things in life than school. I was reminded time and time again that life throws you curves, but you learn to work with them as best as possible.

Sometimes life is great and the puzzle pieces fit together. Other times they don’t. No matter what season you’re in, just remind yourself of two things: it’s all good and all okay.