Category Archives: Housekeeping

Update on Taking the Diverse Books Pledge: Harder to Reach 100 Than I Thought (sigh)

I pledged to read at least 100 books written by diverse authors this year. I make my kids keep a chart where they list the number of books read (goal: 40 by year’s end). In keeping with do as I say and also what I do, I thought I should check in to note my progress and make some final plans as the year ends.

I keep too many lists in too many different places. Plus, I read a variety of texts, to my bio kid, with my other kids (students) and a bunch in between. Some recent favorites for the boypie:

For my students:

For Me:

Some In-Progress Reflections: There are not many books that feature kids of color just being kids of color, doing normal kid things. The closest I can find are the John Steptoe, Angela Johnson and Spike Lee board books. In the Johnson books, Joshua goes to the ocean, walks in the rain and looks at birds. There’s nothing didactic about them, and, I’m realizing, those are the books I want to read with my son. I don’t want to always feel like there’s a lesson beyond: hey, it’s fun to wear rain boots and splash in the puddles. Why does it always need to be deeper than that? We need more of THOSE stories! Thus, I’ve found us reading more books about other topics of interest: trucks, Wolfie the Bunny, Find it books because they are FUN, essentially. What is disappointing there, though, is that when these books feature actual people, few, if any, are people of color. UGH.

I do not like when my reading time is compromised. I rarely read at school because I’m (hopefully) having reading conferences with students. I had been reading on our morning commutes, but my toddler now wants to use that time to read together, and I love that special time. That means, though, that I have to carve out time to read, which is fine, but that time is inconsistent of late. I am most settled and happy when I know I’m going to read for a particular amount of time every single day. Since I seem to have insomnia of late, I have been reading for about a half hour or so in the early hours of the morning. I totally get what my students say when they complain about finding time to read. Thing is, though, once you have the time as habit, then it’s much harder to give it up.

I set out to read only diverse books, but my interests take me everywhere. I read a bunch of parenting books. Okay, actually I read only one that made sense to me, so I stopped there (Peaceful Parent, Happy Kid) because I knew that if I didn’t watch out, I was going to parent as I was parented and I didn’t really like that, and others on Family Traditions and another one on Failure. All are ones I highly recommend, but none are written by diverse authors.

I’m going to ball park my current progress and say I’m at about 50 books, give or take a picture book here or there. With one month to go and midterms, a national conference (woot!), and teacher-related stuff, who knows if I’ll make it to 100, but I’m going to try my hardest. I’ll also share my progress with my students tomorrow as a way of modeling the need to reflect and re-evaluate and, as having a growth mindset suggests, continuing with deliberate practice to meet my goal.

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The Feel Good File

As the school year creeps to a close, it’s really easy to think that absolutely nothing worked, look at what remains to be graded and fight back feelings of inadequacy, and think that summer really is never, ever going to arrive.

Jimmy Fallon writes thank you notes?! I might have to use this to remind students of this fine art.

When I work with pre-service teachers, I encourage them to keep every scrap of good news, be it a Post-It that has a quotation of what a perceptive student said, notes from parents or students, events that evoked positive emotions. Put all those pieces into a file folder and label it your “Feel Good File (FGF).” Put it in a location that is easily accessible (the location of it is critical; it must be easy to put one’s hands on on days when teaching is particularly brutal) and then, on days when you need a boost (we all have those days: lessons fail, administrators demand what they demand, students are, well, students), open the FGF. Read through it. Reread as much as is required to remember that we do know some things. Repeat as necessary.

I’ve been cleaning up my classroom now that my seniors have departed and I have  been fluffing my own FGF. For the first time in my career, I have an abundance of thank you notes! Seriously, this graduating class was the most grateful group of young people, and someone taught them the importance of penning a thank you note (my heart rejoices for what they’ve proven is not a lost art). Students even returned after graduation to give me notes. Talk about feeling appreciated! I read their kind words (some from parents, too), and tucked them away, because I know there are going to be PLENTY days in the future when I’m not feeling so optimistic. I can just open the folder and remember. I can feel good that yup, on a good day, I’m not doing a bad job.

Curating a FGF is a perfect end-of-the-year activity because it helps to gain perspective. Sure, the papers, late work and final tasks remain, but taking a moment to reread the folder allows me a moment of joy.

Some of the latest entries into my own FGF. Two graduating seniors were asked about their favorite teachers. One said:

Dr Parker: Dr. Parker treated me, and my fellow classmates, like an adult my sophomore year — her class challenged me more than I had ever before experienced, both socially and academically. It was incredibly rewarding. I began to learn from Dr. Parker as much outside the classroom as I did inside — we collaborated with a community organization to facilitate workshops on race/class at CRLS, and we worked together to bring more discussions about these pertinent issues into the classroom (through programs and storytelling). I found myself constantly inspired and challenged. She always said, “I’m always down to start a revolution!” And I guess, after three more years of a personal relationship, I am, too.

and another:

Dr. Parker a.k.a. DParkz. Dr. Parker gave me my first really bad grade, and then taught me that that was okay. Her English 10 class was the hardest class I took at Rindge (besides maybe Calculus) and her Lit class was no joke either. She taught me about the growth mindset instead of the fixed mindset, which was a big deal for me. We had the best conversations in her class, because she allowed her students to argue against her, and draw their own conclusions, which I think is really rare in a teacher. I read the best books I have ever read in her class. But best of all, one day in Lit we all brought in cupcakes and tea and we had a book talk with cupcakes and tea! It was a dream come true.

It’s amazing what kids remember (tea and cupcakes? that was a spur-of-the-moment decision, too!). Indeed, though, their kind words and their gratitude leave me feeling pretty darn good.

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Filed under Housekeeping, Reflective Practice

Thinking About…

This stretch between Thanksgiving and the winter break might just turn me inside out if I allow myself to get “overwhelmed” with everything that’s to be accomplished. We have about five weeks remaining in the semester. In that time, we’ve got to sprint through Frankenstein, I’d like to have kids do some independent work by posing their own questions, pursuing their own lenses as they read and some other ideas I’d like to try…

But we’re also finishing up Macbeth. At one point in time, kids had simultaneous projects going on and I was feeling unsettled. I knew that because while they were working on something, I was reading recipes on food blogs. That’s usually what I do to find a moment of clarity: read recipes. There’s something so soothing about measures and baking and temperatures.

On Wednesday, I had kids watch Thinking About You from Brave New Voices and write a response about what they were thinking about at that moment. I told them, honestly, that I was thinking about what mattered most and what was most important.

I told them I wanted them to create excellent Macbeth final projects. That I was thinking about my concern that I was asking them to do to much at one time, that I worried we were going to compromise quality. I had to remind myself that the time we have remaining still matters. Above all, I was thinking about excellence–honest excellence–and making sure all kids had a chance to shine.

I tend to have moments where I have to stop myself and check in. That’s what I did on Wednesday. I told the kids where my head was at and then I adjusted the timeline to allow for an additional day for them to make any necessary changes/adjustments/whatever last-minute things they needed to do in preparation for today: The Shakespeare Festival.

They’ve uploaded their films onto our Macbeth You Tube channel. I couldn’t help myself: at 4 a.m. this morning, I watched bits and pieces of all of their films and they are–as I’d hoped and expected–brilliant in all kinds of different ways. And later today, we’ll eat some food, watch the films and debrief the experience. We’ll enjoy the time we have, knowing that–because I created more time for them–they, yet again, return the favor with excellent demonstrations of what they’ve learned.

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Welcome

After lots of writing and rewriting blog posts in my mind, I’m finally doing something about it. Welcome to this space, one in which I turn over what it means to teach English, to be a part-time academic with aspirations, to work with hesitant students as they explore the craft of writing. Mostly, I’m blogging here because I need to remember–always–what it’s like to write beside them.

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