Posted in Uncategorized

2020: Dreams and Nightmares

Take a journey with me, to a land far away, a land of dreams and nightmares…

I’m in a classroom surrounded by all my anxieties about the upcoming year. Teaching in person and online simultaneously. Getting Covid. Spreading it. Being too lax. Being so uptight it breeds fear. Not having enough time to do it all. Not being my best for my students. Failing them when they need me.

Then.

I stop. I breathe. I calmly affirm that I’m ready. 2020 has thrown almost anything it can at us already. We’ve got this; I’ve got this. I stand at peace with whatever comes next.

Suddenly I’m roused awake by chaotic barking. 6:54 am. I hear the back door crack open. Matthew sets the dogs loose on whatever it was. Then, from behind the safety of the screen door, Matthew screams, “SKUNK!!!!!”

I’m out of bed. Bobby is yelling, “get the dogs in! Get the dogs in!” But it’s too late. I arrive at the back door in time to watch the dogs rolling in grass and drooling profusely in an effort to clear the stench.

Touché 2020, touché.

Happy Sunday Morning.

Posted in Uncategorized

Reopening and equity.

So, part of the reopening plan for Texas gives the indicators for being able to return to school. (See below).

It puts the student or staff member out of school for a minimum of 10 days (because all three conditions must be met.) Now, I’m not picking a bone with that part. I want to be safe.

HOWEVER. The third option allows an individual with say, allergies, to get a doctor’s note saying that they don’t have COVID. It’s just allergies. It’s a great option. It’s an option my son with asthma could use. BUT. It puts students and families with few economic resources at a disadvantage. They will have to stay home for a minimum of 10 days (about 8 school days), and another kid with access to health care will be back in a day, note in hand. Who has an educational advantage in this situation? It’s an equity issue.

This illustrates one of the MANY simple yet profound injustices in our world.

And next time you see me in person, ask me what I know about being on the other side of this situation, the receiving end, if you will. It might surprise you.

“Any teacher, staff member, or student who experiences any of the symptoms of COVID-19 (listed below) should self-isolate until the below conditions have been met.

  • In the case of an individual who was diagnosed with COVID-19, the individual may return to school when all three of the following criteria are met: at least three days (72 hours) have passed since recovery (resolution of fever without the use of fever- reducing medications); and the individual has improvement in symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath); and at least ten days have passed since symptoms first appeared; or
  • In the case of an individual who has symptoms that could be COVID-19 and does not get evaluated by a medical professional or tested for COVID-19, the individual is assumed to have COVID-19, and the individual may not return to work until the individual has completed the same three-step criteria listed above; or
  • If the individual has symptoms that could be COVID-19 and wants to return to school before completing the above self-isolation period, the individual must obtain a medical professional’s note clearing the individual for return based on an alternative diagnosis.”

Edited to add: I don’t have a problem with requiring doctors notes, as long as everyone has access. If not everyone has access (which they don’t…), then we need to either: address the problem by creating access (ideal) or abandon the requirement until it can be addressed. In this case that would take the form of either (1) not requiring a note OR (2) making everyone complete all 3 criteria before returning.

Edited again: To be perfectly clear. This will mean that more poor children, more black and brown children, more children with unavailable parents, will miss school than kids with middle class and / or white and/ or available families.

Posted in English escapades, teaching, Uncategorized

Summer Reading Series: Shout

Shout, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Whoa. There is a lot to unpack here. I borrowed this book from the library, but I love it so much and plan to use some of the poems in my units next year, so I’m going to have to buy it.

I have a lot to say, but I want to split my thoughts up into sections that make sense because all of my thoughts are jumbled.

Classroom Use/ Library

This book and other books that address abuse, trauma, sexual violence etc. should absolutely sit on our shelves. I’ve written several times in this series of posts that our kids need to have access to books that they can 1.) see themselves in and 2.) see others in. What I love most about this book is that the reader can see what becomes of the survivor. She grows up and becomes an author and tells her story and raises kids and lives her life. Our kids who’ve suffered horrible things need to know that this can be in the cards for them, too.

If you are unfamiliar with the book, it is a memoir in verse<– two things our students probably don’t read enough of, but will fall in love with if they do. Memoir is a powerful genre that our students should be reading and writing in, and verse is an amazing vehicle for it. I find that reading in verse can lower the burden of length for students who don’t view themselves as successful readers. The pages flip faster, and this builds confidence. A student who likes this book might pick up other books from the author.

Personal Reflection

This book was both hard for me to read and too easy for me to understand. It is hard to relive familiar experiences. It’s easy for me to empathize with things I already know too well. I suspect that will be the case for many of my students who pick it up.

I love the complex characterization of her parents. Humanity is complex. We are complex. We forget that about people. I want to explore this more with my students. How can we love someone we know is flawed? What does it mean to love someone? Does it mean we should put ourselves in danger? (no).

In a lot of ways, I feel like she wrote the book I’ve wanted to write about my life. Of course, the books would be different. But she said so much of what I wanted the world to hear. Does that mean that I can breathe deep and move on? Or does the world need all of our stories?

I feel an uncomfortable dichotomy. When people suffer trauma and they don’t recover, others view them as victims, or they view them as weak. After a time, empathy breaks down. (If they ever received it at all, since so many people never report abuse and sexual violence). When people suffer trauma and manage to survive and even thrive, others minimize their pain. It frustrates me to the point of wanting to scream, but that would make me “weak”, so I’ll stick to blogs instead. 

CL

Posted in English escapades, professional development, teaching, Uncategorized

Summer Reading Series: Freak The Mighty

My 6th graders and I started this book as a read aloud, but then I missed 3 days of school for a family funeral and I assigned the rest of the book as independent reading. Little did they know I hadn’t read the book 😬😬😬 Kids read at different speeds, so as they got to the climax and began to then finish the book, I could tell it was GOOD! I kept telling them to remember not to spoil it for “the rest of the class” aka: me 😬😂 I finally had time to finish it this summer.

This one was really good. There were several things I didn’t see coming at all, and to be honest, after reading as many books as I have, patterns emerge. This one does some things I didn’t expect.

Another thought: I’ve seen that several #ELAR teachers read this book during their Hero’s Journey unit. In a way, I could see it being a best companion book to a literary analysis unit also… not just as a piece to analyze, but as a piece to learn from. The author weaves a King Arthur allusion throughout the book, but more importantly, the allusions are broken down and explained along the way. The piece analyzes itself in many ways. What could our students learn from that? 

-CL

Posted in English escapades, professional development, teaching, Uncategorized

Summer Reading Series: Long Way Down

So. In February, I walked in to a training on literature circles (5 min late) and the group was just finishing a read-aloud from this book. I didn’t actually hear any of the book; I just saw their faces. I knew then that I had to read the book. What followed was a discussion on the value of engaging options for students to read, student choice.
I’m also part of an ELAR teacher group on Facebook and this title regularly comes up!

 

I finished the book; then I offered it to my exchange daughter from Spain.  Before I started it that morning, I flipped to a random page with her, and we admired the fact that the book is written in verse. Then, I turned it into a read aloud, and ten pages later, I realized she was hooked. So, I closed the book. I read it, and that evening at dinner I offered it to her.

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Sitting there, she started to read. And flip page after page after page. #win
See, she was my kid for the year, but her mission here was education. I’m a language person, so I’ve been paying close attention. One thing her mom mentioned to me in the beginning was wanting her to read while she is here. Being a language learner and a teenager, I picked a couple of less complex but super engaging texts. She started both and set them aside. The picture below is from the book #180days, and the middle box could have been a direct quote from our girl: this bright, bilingual future lawyer hasn’t read a book cover-to-cover not assigned by a teacher in… a very long time, in either language.

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We talked about it this evening before she stole away with my book. She said that when she was little, she remembers going to a place to “rent” (borrow?) books and videos. The place still exists but nobody goes there.

Not every kid in the room is a non-reader because they lack skills. Sometimes it’s something else all together. It is more than the “readicide” referred to in the book 180 Days. It is a cultural shift away from following through.

Here’s what I mean. The micro-texts we spend hours a day consuming (memes, texts, comment sections, headlines), they don’t tell a full story. They aren’t developed. And in fact, the only reason we can enjoy those texts is because our brains can fill in the rest of the allusions and implied texts. But what about the people after us who have never followed a story’s pattern to its end? The micro-texts lose meaning.
I commented on this to my kiddo, and she said, “yeah. I’m reading all the time, but I’m not learning anything.” From the mouths of babes…

 

-CL

Posted in English escapades, professional development, teaching, Uncategorized

Summer Reading Series: Forged By Fire

This is the book that comes after Tears of a Tiger. I’ve started it, but a student asked to borrow my copy 2 years ago, and I let them have it without finishing it. Now, I’ve bought a new one, and I’m going to try again! Tears of a Tiger was good, but there was a lot I didn’t personally identify with. This book is a different story entirely. From the part I read before, I could sometimes see replacing the main character’s name with my own and calling it an autobiography… (not completely, but you get the point.) I look forward to helping some of my students find themselves in books, too.

The biggest mistake we can ever make is thinking we are alone in anything. If we can’t find a person to help dispel that myth, maybe we can give a kid a book instead. Shared experiences are powerful in delivering hope.

This book was… hard to read, but I couldn’t put it down. It tells of the wave upon wave of trauma that two young people suffer. This is a picture of my favorite page in the book—the last page. It is a sly reminder that giving a kid a book they see themselves in can maybe save their life. Give it a read: Forged By Fire.

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-CL

Posted in English escapades, professional development, teaching, Uncategorized

Summer Reading Series: Sea Prayer

Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini

One of my favorite authors, Khaled Hosseini ❤️

This is a short illustrated story (basically a picture book) that humanizes the struggles of refugees. In fact, I think it would be a GREAT book to pair with Refugee by Alan Gratz. A teacher might even use this as a read aloud and point students to Gratz if they want more.

I love how books can show us another world. The narrator begins by describing memories of how his country had been before the war. The narration shows both the common thread of carefree childhood and the distinct cultural beauty of a place and its people. The narrator mourns the loss of a country and culture his son will never know in he same way he did.

I’ve read that books can cure fascism. That is because reading helps us develop empathy and compassion. Reading helps us live their experiences and see it from their perspectives.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies; the man who never reads lives only one.” -George R. R. Martin

-CL

Posted in Spanish relapses, teaching

mija.

I was standing in line at the school cafeteria the other day. There was a student in front of me. The cafeteria server was asking the young girl to choose an option. From behind the serving line, I hear a familiar mantra: “this or that, mija”. Mija. Four years of elementary school lunches came rushing back with such force that I was nearly swept away with the flood.

There was a whole line of sweet women who knew me by name and took special care to make sure I had food on my plate. As I stopped for steak fingers, just before sliding her spatula away, she would whisper, “mija”. The next woman, presumably someone’s mother, too, would scoop a vegetable and repeat the word. “Mija”. I’d get mashed potatoes, and a roll, and then slide my tray and pass the last lady my lunch card. Mija. Mija. Mija. I remember the day that I worked up the courage to ask what it meant. And I remember the warm feeling of family that overcame me when the lady replied, “daughter”. This elementary school had a population of 97% Hispanic students. 1% Caucasian. For years, I had been one of the few people in the line who didn’t know the word, but had instead felt it.

Years later, I learned Spanish. In the family unit, we learned “hija”. I was confused, and lost, and I remember saying, “No.” I brought up the word. My teacher was kind enough to explain that mi hija shortened to mija because the first word ends with the same sound that the next word begins with, so they combine. I was at home again.

I talk a lot about the women who have mothered me in the absence of my own mother, but these women are different. My mother was alive and well during these years. My mom even subbed at my school. She spoke Spanish and knew these women. One of them was our neighbor across the street. These women represent motherhood in a different way, in the way that all of us do when we work at a school. Whether we whisper “mija” to a student while we guide her through the lunch line or we speak life or encouragement or correction to a child as we guide him through learning, these are the weighty tasks of a motherhood of sorts. And kids remember it. And it matters.

Posted in classroom management, English escapades, Lesson plan component, teaching

First day of school

I started a new teaching job. This year I’m teaching English, Spanish, and Theatre Arts at a small school. I’m mostly teaching 5th-8th grade, though I do have a specials rotation with 3rd abs 4th grade.

Every year I start my classes out basically the same way: students fill out info and goals sheets as bell work while I do first day attendance and housekeeping. Next, I do a basic introduction presentation and go over my syllabus. If there is time, we do the name game, and class promptly ends. Seven years. ~1000 kids.

This time, I did something different. Year 8 began with stations. I said hello, we made name tents, and off they went to 5 different stations. (1) student info and goal setting, #goals, (2) syllabus puzzle (using block posters) and syllabus quiz, (3) book tasting from my classroom library, (4) a reading survey, and (5) write a letter to yourself.

Doing something different has already changed everything about my class. I was able to teach my expectations by showing my students instead of telling them. They were able to experience my procedures for grouping and moving around the room. And, I got to see how and with whom they interact. It was a success.

-CL