Leaving Teaching: Who Gets the Books?

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So MANY Books…going to a good home!

After nearly 16 years of teaching and learning with young people, I’m leaving the classroom at the end of the school year.

I am not leaving entirely; rather, I’ll be working in a program that prepares pre-service teachers, a pursuit I’ve wanted to dedicate much more time to doing.

Now, though, is the hard part of leaving. My first thought after accepting my new position was: what is going to happen to my books?  I knew I wanted them to go to someone who knows why a robust, diverse classroom library matters–for all kids, but, in the case of my work, particularly for underserved kids. I also wanted to be able to give the library to someone who might not have the resources to acquire this treasure for him/her/themself.

And while I’ve worked to create a school-wide culture of independent reading at my current school, I’m not so sure it will continue in ways that I’m comfortable.

So, this was a wonderful opportunity to look backwards–something I’m not that fond of doing because, well, when that happens we can see the good and the bad.

Hindsight, certainly.

I have a beloved colleague that used to teach down the hall from me about 10 or 12 years ago. We have continued to be critical, thoughtful friends for each other over the years. He’s wanted to gain a foothold with independent reading with his kids. He knows it matters. He has made smaller achievements with them. He could make leaps and bounds, I think, if he had more resources. His school’s budget has been trimmed even more.

Supplies, particularly books, are usually the first line item to be cut.

He is taking all of the books. All nearly 900 of them that kids WANT to read. He and a colleague are driving across town and will load them all and take them back to their school. 

This colleague sent me an email asking for money for the library.

Is he kidding? But that’s how Chris is. I told him that the fact that I know the books are going to be read and re-read and that that library is going to be used is all the peace of mind I could ever want, and a small step towards giving kids access to all the books they want and need.

But yes, he could take me to dinner and we can catch up as thanks, for sure. Always. I’m also reminded of how ideas leave us connected and believing in the power of literacy and kids’ rights to have literate lives, reminding us to work like heck to realize those ideas.

 

 

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#sol17: Where To Find Me

Hey everyone: I’m participating in the annual Slice of Life Writing Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers.

For the month of March, I’ll be writing every day about parenting. Some educational stuff might slip in (i.e., I’m sure I’ll write about what I’m learning about equity and preschool, for instance), but during this month, I’ll shift my focus.

Please come join me at Single Mom So Far. And, if not, I’ll see you soon.

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#ReadYourWorld Making Friends With Billy Wong

blogger-buttonI’m so happy to be participating in Multicultural Children’s Book Day this year! What a fantastic way to learn about diverse texts for young people.

I’m reminded, too, that when writing about diverse experiences, I think it’s critical that those books are written by #ownvoices, cultural insiders who share the background(s) of the people they’re writing about. I need to foreground that before I review the book I was mailed for MCBD: Making Friends with Billy Wong by Augusta Scattergood.

In this middle grade historical fiction novel, Azalea is a young white girl about to start the sixth grade after enjoying a summer with her beloved parents in Texas. Imagine her surprise, then, when those same parents (mom, actually), drive her to Arkansas to help her ailing grandmother. Suddenly, her summer plans aren’t looking too great at all.

Until…she meets the mysterious Billy Wong, a Chinese American boy whose aunt and uncle happen to own…wait for it…the only grocery store in their small town.

And it’s 1952.

And Billy Wong isnew2bbilly2bwong2bhires2bcvr called all kinds of racist names by a particularly mean white boy, Willis, who is upset about his own poverty and that Billy Wong might take his place on the middle school track team.

But Billy doesn’t get angry. Nope. Instead, Billy, who dreams of being a reporter, responds in a journal. The novel alternates between Azalea’s narration and Billy’s journalistic entries.

This novel is great for teaching about why we need cultural insiders to write their own stories. In the Author’s Note, Scattergood describes becoming interested in Chinese American settlement in the South, leading her to do some research and talk to a Chinese American friend. As far as I can tell, Scattergood is not Chinese American. She has a Chinese American friend.

My largest issue with this novel is that Billy is a flat character and a foil for Azalea. Essentially, he and his family are the model minorities (see: Model Minority Myth). Billy lives with his aunt and uncle and helps them run the store because he wants to attend the school in their town. His old school, where his parents live, was an African American school that had no resources.

I know that this history is important for young people to learn. Many adults are unfamiliar with the long history of Asian American settlement in the South. While it’s great that Scattergood felt interested in this topic, I know that there are #ownvoices writers who are telling that story through well-developed, nuanced characters who live their own lives and who don’t exist to placate or develop white characters. (See: Erin Entrada Kelly, and I know she’s not Chinese American, but it’s important to know that ethnicity matters, too!). In my opinion, you should actively seek out those writers if you really want the perspective of this time period. It would be a great activity to introduce students to critical literacy by doing actual research using primary sources and comparing them to the depiction of Chinese Americans in the text. If you want to push it further, you might even do some work with the White Savior Industrial Complex by Teju Cole and how it works in this book.

Thus, on this Multicultural Children’s Book Day, it’s my hope that you read some really great books, that you learn more about who should be telling particular stories, and why those own voices matter now, more than ever. 

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid’s books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.  

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team are on a mission to change all of that.

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include ScholasticBarefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. RomanAudrey Press, Candlewick Press,  Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTVCapstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle SwiftWisdom Tales PressLee& Low BooksThe Pack-n-Go GirlsLive Oak MediaAuthor Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books 

Author Sponsor include: Karen Leggett AbourayaVeronica AppletonSusan Bernardo, Kathleen BurkinshawDelores Connors, Maria DismondyD.G. DriverGeoff Griffin Savannah HendricksStephen HodgesCarmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid ImaniGwen Jackson Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana LlanosNatasha Moulton-LevyTeddy O’MalleyStacy McAnulty,  Cerece MurphyMiranda PaulAnnette PimentelGreg RansomSandra Richards, Elsa TakaokaGraciela Tiscareño-Sato,  Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also work tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

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#kal (Kids are Loving) Reading Ladder: Mighty Memoirs and the Women Who Write Them

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Image: Amazon

I used this article from The Guardian as today’s Notebook Time invitation. I wanted students to reflect on their reading that they’d done and the reading they want to do in this new year. Two themes emerged from their responses: a number of them want to read books from authors of color because they “want to know about their background” and their “history,” while many others want to increase their text complexity. They’ve reached that moment of reading where what they started reading in September is now too easy. They are now discerning enough to tell me what they want and need more of.

They want to up the ante!

Thus, I think I’ll spend some occasional blogs on Reading Ladders as part of #kidsareloving (#kal) where I create suggestions for a range of complexity that will help kids grow as readers. And, because it matters, I’ll make these Reading Ladders as diverse as I can make them because, well, #weneeddiversebooks and because my kids want them.Thing is, once I read Reading Ladders a couple of years ago, that’s all I think about in terms of making recommendations. I also am motivated to get these out there because I know that we tend to keep suggesting the same books because we don’t know any others.

I bet we have similar dreams of reading ladders for kids; we simply need to write them down and share them. Thus, please feel free to make suggestions and recommendations as we go.

I know, I titled this memoir, but I have had readers start with Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-fattah and then move up the ladder. This YA book does a fantastic job of giving us a narrator that is smart, spunky and trying to figure out life as a teenager. That she is Muslim is only one part of who Amal is. Her character development is well done and I’ve had Muslim students read it and remark that they found all sorts of similarities between themselves and the main character. Win!

My fellow Heinemann Fellow Kate Flowers recommended I read Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person. This was such a great recommendation! I loved it because as an introvert, Rhimes talked candidly and hilariously about what it means to step outside of ourselves and do what scares us. It also is a great parenting memoir, writing memoir…it’s everything. And I think kids would like it who are into reading about interesting people, or into Scandal, or anywhere in between.

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, Issa Rae. I can’t keep this book in my library. It just returned today and is on my Next List, but I know I might get bumped if a student has to have it RIGHT NOW. Issa Rae is hilarious and a model of what it means to keep showing up, working hard, having lots of gumption. She is all #blackgirlmagic and fills a void for those readers looking for stories about how to make it doing what you love. [BTW, the Fresh Air interview with Issa and Terry Gross is everything, too.I was particularly struck with how much of her story is about literacy!]

Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me? Mindy Kaling: as hilarious as watching the Mindy show. Another one that is usually checked out all the time.

You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain, Phoebe Robinson. I know Robinson from her fantastic podcast, 2 Dope Queens. Her book sounds like it’s even more of what I love, tackling issues of race and popular culture while being hilarious. Yup. It can be done! (This one is on order).

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Source: Magic 95.9, Baltimore

Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner City Funeral Home, Sheri Booker. A coming-of-age memoir about a 15-year old girl who starts working at a funeral home for a summer job. From Amazon: “As families came together to bury one of their own, Booker was privy to their most intimate moments of grief and despair. But along with the sadness, Booker encountered moments of dark humor: brawls between mistresses and widows, and car crashes at McDonald’s with dead bodies in tow.” Seriously. You know you have a kid that will just LOVE this one!

I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual, Luvvie Ajayi. Luvvie has kept me sane while being one of the best critics about, well, everything. If you read this book, you should then immediately go to Luvvie’s home page and read everything she has ever written. You will laugh until you cry. She is that good.

Unabrow: Misadventures of a Late Bloomer, Una LaMarche. First, LaMarche has written some great YA titles that my kids love (i.e., Like No Other and Don’t Fail Me Now). Kids who’ve read her memoir have howled aloud in class during reading time, drawing all kinds of curious stares. That qualifies as a good book and one that’s kid-approved.

Whew! Reading Ladders grow and change all the time. Thus, if you have something that works here and keeps with the theme: memoir by a woman of color that is funny and either works with young readers or you think has the potential to work with young readers, then please leave it in the comments. Happy New Year!

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Homework Will be the Death of Me #hfellows

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‘Cause Drake is always the answer

Perhaps I’ve been prolonging writing this blog post because I simply couldn’t figure out a way to begin.

 

For the third time, I have a cohort of young people that I’m bringing along in my sophomore English class with the goal of preparing them to move into advanced/Honors English classes. I’ve been successful with the previous two cohorts, so successful that I decided to actually document my work as part of my Heinemann Fellowship. (I won’t write too much about the genesis of that question, as I’ve written a post for Heinemann that I’ll link to when it’s up to provide that background).

This third cohort has confounded me, though. In a moment of feeling like an absolute failure, my colleague (@emilytwo) reminded me that documenting what isn’t working will help me to answer those inevitable questions we all ask when we are teaching: what do we do with the kids who “don’t get it”?

In short: I have never had a group of kids who didn’t do the independent reading that is their assigned homework. Their nightly expectation (seven nights a week) is to read their independent choice reading book for 20 minutes.

We are nine weeks into the year, and there are a few kids who consistently do not complete their reading. They are apologetic sometimes when they explain that they have other work to do, or practice, or they forgot, or…

Sure, a missed assignment here or there isn’t going to be detrimental, but when it keeps happening and nothing changes, we.have.a.problem.

When I ask the kids, they say they know reading is important. They know that it’s tied to increasing their overall reading comprehension and fluency and enjoyment. They love the books they’re reading, even! It’s just that, when they’re faced with read a book outside of class (THAT THEY CHOSE AND GENERALLY ENJOY), they simply don’t do it.

What I’m getting at is that I’m trying to figure out what it will take for them to just do it. I want reading to be as natural to them as breathing. We’ve tracked the way they use time in the day to find gaps. We’ve set reminders on phones. We’ve brainstormed ways to get in the reading, even breaking it up into chunks.

If reading is a habit we develop, how are these kids going to develop a habit if they don’t do it consistently?

I’ve been able to figure this out for so many years.

Until now.

And it’s the not knowing how that keeps me awake at night.

Image credit: https://media.isl.co/2015/05/drake_7.gif

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Back on the Case: On Being Named a #hfellows Heinemann Fellow

I’ve written about how this year has been difficult largely because I’ve not felt as intellectually challenged as I have in previous years. As a teacher-scholar that has always found something to think deeply about, work on, or consider, that I had to grapple with that issue was one that made me think seriously about the reasons why many of us both choose teaching and choose to pursue lives beyond teaching.

Then, though, a series of events happened. The first was that I collaborated with colleagues to produce a wildly successful Educators of Color Conference that convened so many amazing educators of color sharing their work, celebrating excellence, and simply exhaling together.

The next was being named one of 11 educators from across the nation as a Heinemann Fellow. A primary undertaking over the next two years of this fellowship is to conduct an action research project. Essentially, I get to think deeply about what has been happening in my classroom and focus on a question I’d like to set about investigating. I’d been taking lots of notes during our initial meeting last week, but when our leader, Ellin Keene, began explaining why it’s important to follow our hunches and to think about what is most curious or most troubling about our teaching, I felt my gears start to shift into motion again. 

I have hunches all the time. I ask questions all the time. I write them on Post-Its and in notebooks that I rediscover randomly. For the most part, though, I’ve not spent any meaningful time thinking about how to answer them because of a host of reasons. Largely, though, I’d venture that I’ve not felt compelled to pursue them because I’ve had neither the time nor the compunction to do so on my own. Such a realization is a huge one for me, as when I began teaching I was largely a lone wolf, content to work on my own (for better or for worse). It was only once I got my teaching sea legs that I realized how much more powerful (for myself and for my students) it has been when I go with others. And here I should add that the reason I have been able to remain intellectually engaged over the last two years has been because I have a fantastic colleague that refuses to let me do things alone. Refuses.

Now, though. NOW, THOUGH. Two of my strongest academic experiences were shaped with the help of other people. In graduate school, there was the Dissertation Support Group (the DSG), comprised of three of us working on our Ph.D.s We met often, pushed each other through completion of classes, exams, dissertations, and now, tenure for one of us. Then, there was the Cultivating New Voices Among Scholars of Color (CNV) for NCTE. I was part of a larger cohort of 10 of us that were defending dissertations, applying for tenure-track jobs, figuring out where they fit: in a secondary classroom or in academe (me). In both of these experiences, I was a part of something greater. I was a member of a family. And man, I got some incredible work done!

As a Heinemann Fellow, I am part of a cohort again, and they are some of the most interesting educators I have met in a long time: dedicated, smart, doing great work with young folks. And we’re all doing the work together. TOGETHER. 

Getting back to the research: I had two of the best qualitative methods professors I’ve ever had and I remember both of them talking about hunches and then setting out to see where the data takes you. That, to paraphrase Anne Haas Dyson, is what it means to be “on the case.” I remember being vaguely terrified because, well, that meant that hunches might or might not pan out and what then?!

I’ve come to realize that the what then is actually where the magic happens. That, as one begins to listen, to think deeply, and to simply be willing to be open to what one sees, truth reveals itself. That truth is oftentimes nothing close to what was initially anticipated, but that is okay. Being brave enough to ask the questions is what starts this entire amazing process.

Being named a Heinemann Fellow has reminded me to be brave enough to ask the questions again, and to follow where the case leads. I am beyond excited about this next part of my journey.

 

 

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#kal Kids Are Loving #3: Books My Students are Currently Reading and Loving

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Image from New York Times

Welcome to the latest in the occasional series I call Kids Are Loving. Here, I briefly note books that my sophomores and seniors have loved. (Previous lists can be found here and here). [Note: My classes are comprised of mostly underserved young people (i.e., students of color, ones with learning challenges, boys, etc.) who usually have not had enough positive experiences with reading before starting my class.] Happy reading!

Humor

Zits: Chillax, Jerry Scott, Jim Borgman: This book has captured all types of kids. They say it’s funny and enjoy the comic strip aspect of the book (and even stop and sketch while they’re reading).

Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir, Eddie Huang: Before it became a hit TV show, it was a book. This one resonates for students from a broad range: language learners, different races and ethnicities, etc. All say Eddie is irreverent and hilarious.

Swim the Fly, Don Calame (from Amazon):  three 15-year-old buddies make a pact to see a naked girl before the summer is over and in the process mire themselves in increasing trouble and constant humiliation. All three are on the summer swim team, and, in a desperate attempt to impress the superhot new girl, Matt agrees to swim the dreaded butterfly at championships, despite the fact that he can barely tread water. At the same time, he’s dealing with his horny grandpa, a sadistic swim instructor, and his pals’ wacky schemes to catch a glimpse of bare skin, which includes dressing up like girls and entering a women’s locker room. That would’ve worked if it weren’t for the accidental dose of laxative . . . well, you get the idea. My note: BOYS LOVE THIS BOOK.

Noggin, John Corley Whaley: (from Amazon): Five years ago, Travis Coates died at the age of 16 after a long, hard battle with leukemia. However, Travis was offered a chance to become the 17th test subject in a very unorthodox medical experiment, which involved cryogenically freezing his head and eventually bringing him back to life once science becomes more advanced. Science moves faster than either the doctors or Travis and his family ever imagined, and soon he is back with a healthy 16-year-old body thanks to a generous young donor. Kirby Heyborne fills Travis’s voice with a realistic mix of pain, confusion, and the joy of being given a second chance, as he highers and lowers his pitch and volume. He also tackles the many people in Travis’s life who had to grieve his loss and must now deal with his return from the dead—albeit with a different body.

Hodge Podge

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, Max Brooks: zombies, zombies, zombies. This book got passed around so often I purchased a few more copies. Kids found it spooky, amazing, and couldn’t put it down.

Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible, Suzanne Kamata: I found this book while doing some reading for a chapter I’m writing on multicultural kid lit. Aiko, the 15-year old protagonist has cerebral palsy and creates Gadget Girl, a graphic novel featuring a fearless, creative heroine who solves problems through her ingenuity with kitchen gadgets. Aiko is biracial (Japanese and white), also. I’ve added this one to my classroom library because 1) there aren’t enough books about disability and 2) those books tend to not feature characters of color.

Everything, Everything, Nicola Yoon: A good-old love story that was in frequent rotation. The main character is a young woman in a bubble, content to live there until…Ollie, a cute boy, moves in next door. Things suddenly get WAY too complicated, in those ways that make you love teenage romance and identity development. There are lots of delicious sentences, too, in case you’re looking for mentor texts.

A Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, Misty Copeland: many students have been captivated by Misty Copeland’s story. They find her persistence and ultimate triumph inspirational and profound. That they can also find her on social media is an additional element that makes her life come alive for them.

And One to Grow On: A Great Read Aloud

Blackbird Fly, Erin Entrada Kelly. Kids love being read to. I need to remember that. I found this middle grade gem while doing some reading for the chapter I wrote. Essentially, it makes the reader cringe about middle school and all the reasons why it is a terrible place for many folks, particularly if that life resembles that of main character Apple, a Filipina American living in Louisiana. Yet, there is so much hope here and reminders about the power of parents, and music, and good friends. I read some excerpts to my kids and they ate it up.

 

 

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