Friday, January 12, 2018

Privilege and Raising Our Voices

Monday my students and I will enjoy a day off from school. While they do celebrate their time without me, I took the time to remind them today why we were off. To them Martin Luther King Jr. is akin to a president from the past, someone that was famous for doing something important. If pressed they can murmur phrases like Civil Rights Movement or that 'I Have a Dream' speech. They haven't given much thought beyond that.

This quarter my class has a nonfiction genre requirement. While my seventh graders read multiple books a quarter, there is one book required in a certain genre each marking period. This allows them to explore genres they might be unfamiliar with, but still allow for choice reading the majority of the time. For the first two weeks in the quarter I book talk books from that genre daily. Today I shared these two books with the holiday approaching on Monday in mind:



I've lost track of how many times I've recommended the March graphic novel series to people since I first read it. It should be required reading. I've book talked it before to my students, but shared it again today. 

I hadn't book talked Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer before, but knew this picture book biography in poetry format would be appealing to many of my students. I shared with my fabulous kids that one of the poems stopped me in my tracks. I know history, it was my major in college. I love learning about our past. I truly believe that a knowledge of where we went wrong can help us to improve the future. Yet when I reached the poem Motherhood, I slammed the book shut. It seems that while Hamer was having a small tumor removed (in 1961), a doctor went ahead and performed a hysterectomy without her knowledge or consent. Mississippi law at the time allowed poor women to be sterilized without their knowledge. In reading this, my breath disappeared, my heart ached, and my mind spun. How was this was only thirteen years before I was born? Only fifty-six years ago? And we wonder why people are angry.

This afternoon while home for lunch I read, and shared, the following article on Facebook. (HERE) Immediately I had some friends who I love ask me why I had to keep reading these things that upset me so. They reminded me to ignore the news. That I don't need to pay attention to our government to the degree that I do, that I can just focus on all of the positive in my life. I thanked them for their concern as tears welled in my eyes.

Friends, they said that from a point of privilege. To be specific, white privilege.

I could ignore the news. My social media feeds could be filled with photos of my boys, my dogs, my husband, books, Starbucks, and sunsets. And it is, at times. 

But I am angry. I cannot be silent. I don't speak up all the time because, to be honest, it is exhausting. And I know that is me using a privilege that I have no right to use. Others don't have a choice, they can't remain silent. These actions are impacting them. Every. Single. Day. So I try. I truly do. I try each and every day to be kind. To be compassionate. To show my love for everyone I meet. 

And I raise my voice. When the President of my country uses the word 'shithole' to describe the countries that some of my students used to call home, I speak up. That is not ok. 

Politics will always be about debates. One side will never agree with the other and that's ok. But there should be a level of decency. When we fall below that level, it is my belief that both parties should rise up, should speak up, should shut that down. In my dreams we do. Lin-Manuel Miranda said it in one of my favorite songs from Hamilton, History Has Its Eyes On You. As a teacher, I'm reminded every single day that not only does history have its eye on us, but our children do too. And while I don't share my political leanings, or beliefs, in the classroom; my students know what kind of person I am. They know I would never allow name calling to happen in front of me. They know that I would never allow racist remarks to fly by unchecked. I won't for them, and I won't on social media. 

Remaining silent, ignoring the hate, is a form of privilege. I have friends that don't have that privilege available to them. I have students that don't either. And these horrible remarks in the news are directed at them. For them, for these kids I love, I will raise my voice. I can't do anything else. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Shielding Our Students from Darkness


This past November at NCTE I stood in the exhibit hall with tears rolling down my face while standing at a publisher's booth. I had heard about Matt de la Peña's new book that Loren Long illustrated, but I hadn't seen it yet. Reading Love in that booth, that exhibit hall, was one of those moments that I won't soon forget. The noises of the exhibit hall melted away. I felt like I was in this quiet space, the words whispered in my ears, the illustrations all I could see. I knew it was a book to share, a book to find yourself in, a book to comfort, a book to know that you are not alone.

Only a few hours later I spoke to a friend who said that a major player in the world of children's books had decided against carrying Love because of an illustration in the book. Matt describes the illustration in his beautifully written article which appeared in Time yesterday:

"In the scene, a despondent young boy hides beneath a piano with his dog, while his parents argue across the living room. There is an empty Old Fashioned glass resting on top of the piano." (Click HERE to read the full article.)

This notion of protecting children from darkness isn't new. Kate Messner wrote about it in regard to her book The Seventh Wish last year on her blog (HERE) when she was uninvited to a school visit. I'm currently reading S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders with my seventh graders. In an interview I listened to with Hinton she talks about how people took issue with The Outsiders for being dark, violent, but that was what she was seeing in her own school. Was she supposed to change her own truth to make others comfortable? 

I've been in teaching awhile. I know there are times to shield our kids. I also know there are times to be there, with them, discussing the hard stuff. I remember September 11, 2001 like it happened yesterday. I absolutely shielded my students, my beautiful nine and ten year old kids, from the horror of that day while it was happening. But on the 12th? We talked about it. Some of my colleagues across the country didn't have that luxury. For some, the events unfolded outside of their windows. What I have learned is that kids are resilient, often more so than adults. 

As we began The Outsiders this week we looked at the background of Oklahoma in the 1960s. Looking at the economy of Oklahoma, students noticed that the oil they had profited from began drying up during that time. We talked about how the loss of jobs in the oil fields and how it would create problems for families. When one student suggested that a family could just move to find another job, another student pointed out that they were saying that from a point of privilege, that moving requires money that often times, families don't have. Another student pointed that the loss of jobs in the oil business reminded them of the loss of jobs in regard to factories, to coal we see today. My seventh graders and I discussed the problems with automation, but also the advantages. We looked at why companies decided to leave our country and build factories elsewhere. One student pointed out that they now understood why I kept saying education was important - it often gave more opportunities for you in terms of career. 

As we dove into The Outsiders, reading both together and on our own, we talked about the different characters. How Darry had to step up and become an adult, putting his own dreams aside for the sake of his siblings. We looked at Dally's life, what leads someone to make the choices he made. Yesterday our hearts broke a bit when we learned what Johnny went through with the Socs, what his home life is like. One student spoke up quietly that this book made him rethink what life is like for some kids, what judgements we make about others without realizing it. Another student quoted Pony when he said, "Just don't forget that some of us watch the sunset too." Kids nodded as I looked at their serious faces.


Life is hard, harder for some than others. My favorite part of teaching Language Arts is that we get to examine our own lives while learning about the lives of others - fictional and not. Reading makes us more empathetic people, if we let it. After twenty-one years of teaching I am still convinced that the world would be different if we all read, if we all soaked up stories that are not our own. Just as important is that reading allows us to see our own stories inside of books too. Some of our stories are "dark". I wish I could change that, but I can't. 

What I believe is this... we don't need to shield our children from the darkness, but instead we need to walk into it with them, hand and hand, and ask them what they notice. Through that we can all grow and maybe find just a bit more love to share. One good way to do just that? Check out Matt and Loren's new book, the trailer is below.

 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Powerful Quick Writes


I started using quick writes in Language Arts class years ago thanks to Linda Rief. I purchased this book and the ideas started flowing. As I grew comfortable with the concept, anything became an opportunity for a quick write: images, videos, songs, poems, picture books, or bits of text. This week I had my students do a quick write off of an image from my camera roll:

Then my advisory class did a quick write for the New Year after watching two videos from Hank Green:




This gave my middle school group the chance to talk about what Hank meant when he said, "You make you..." or the notion that they were always changing, they didn't have to be who they were right now. Important and deep conversations.

Looking at Facebook this morning I saw this video shared by Kristen Ashley. I haven't seen The Greatest Showman yet, but this moves it to something I really need to do. Wow. What a powerful video. I plan on printing off the lyrics for the song (which I'm pasting at the end of this post) and handing them out to my students to paste in their writing notebooks. Then we will watch this video, I will try not to cry, and we'll fill out notebooks with our own words or sketches in reaction to this beauty. I can't wait to talk about it with them. 


[Verse 1]
I am not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
'Cause we don't want your broken parts
I've learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one'll love you as you are

[Pre-Chorus]
But I won't let them break me down to dust
I know that there's a place for us
For we are glorious

[Chorus]
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I'm gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I'm meant to be, this is me
Look out 'cause here I come
And I'm marching on to the beat I drum
I'm not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me

[Post-Chorus]
Oh-oh-oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh, oh, oh


[Verse 2]
Another round of bullets hits my skin
Well, fire away 'cause today, I won't let the shame sink in
We are bursting through the barricades
And reaching for the sun (we are warriors)
Yeah, that's what we've become

[Pre-Chorus]
Won't let them break me down to dust
I know that there's a place for us
For we are glorious

[Chorus]
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
Gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I'm meant to be, this is me
Look out 'cause here I come
And I'm marching on to the beat I drum
I'm not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me


[Post-Chorus]
Oh-oh-oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh, oh, oh
This is me


[Bridge]
And I know that I deserve your love
There's nothing I'm not worthy of
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I'm gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
This is brave, this is bruised
This is who I'm meant to be, this is me

[Chorus]
Look out 'cause here I come (look out 'cause here I come)
And I'm marching on to the beat I drum (marching on, marching, marching on)
I'm not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me

[Outro]
(Oh-oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh-oh)
I'm gonna send a flood
Gonna drown them out
(Oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh, oh, oh, this is me)

Friday, January 5, 2018

Kids These Days...


I'm assuming if you've been in education for any length of time you'd hear a conversation that began with, "Kids these days..." Or maybe you don't need to be in education, isn't that a perennial comment? The older generation lamenting pitfalls of the younger generation. I've been thinking a lot about that of late. It seems that everywhere I turn, people are decrying that this generation of kids are not what "we" were. This is especially true when I look at Facebook. Friends share that their children have been treated poorly at school, kids are vicious, they have no manners, etc. When I talk to teachers across the country, friends that teach in urban settings and rural, they say the same. So is it true? Have kids changed?

I'm not sure. I'd say we all change, in some fashion. Technology has changed how we connect. Kids are addicted to the screen, but my teachers said that about us and TVs and the first gaming system. Kids today can be cruel, but I remember the things said to me when I was in school eons ago. Cruel doesn't even touch it. Kids can be lazy for certain, but so could we. Students fall back on the idea that they are entitled to things, yet I saw that from people around me growing up all the time. So why do we feel kids today are so different than we were?

I think the answer might be two fold, but both answers point to adults. One, from what I can tell from my students and from some of my friends on Facebook, parents seem to know far more about what is going on in their kid's life than my generation's set of parents did. Teenage years are filled with drama. Kids will have unkind words said to them, or said about them. Hearts will be broken, friendships will end, betrayals will occur. While I'm basing this on my own teen years, watching my oldest enter high school, I think it still holds true. They say that to be a parent is to have your heart walking around outside of your body. That seems to be an apt description. Watching your child hurt is so hard. You want to take over, right the wrongs, and smooth it all out. So far, what I've done instead is to step back and watch. I'm guessing this is all the training they need for life. No life is without bumps, I just have to trust that if I'm needed, they know I'm here. I don't know everything that goes on, and I don't think I should. I try to achieve the delicate balance of being involved, but also being removed. It is hard. When we know more about what goes on in our kids lives, it can be easier to lament the issues that are wrong with other kids, but if we reflect back, we might have seen some of those same "issues" with kids when we were growing up.

The bigger problem I see with kids and parents is kids not being held accountable. As I said before, I truly don't think kids have changed much since I grew up - there were problems then, there are problems now. The difference, I believe, is that when I was growing up if a parent was told their child wasn't behaving at school, the follow up at home was immediate. Don't get me wrong, I have been blessed with amazing parents of my students in teaching. But I've also wished I could whisper advice at some times. My parents, I am certain, didn't agree with every teacher I had. Heck, I don't think they even liked every teacher I had. I never would have known that. They might not have liked how I was taught a certain lesson, or the way a teacher treated me, but they taught me that the teacher was to be respected. Far too often, I'm seeing that slip. Or that parents want schools to enforce rules that they aren't willing to enforce at home. This is where the breakdown in norms is happening, I believe. I worry about my amazing students. If they aren't taught to respect authority, if they aren't taught to respect each other, if they aren't taught what work ethic is and how good it feels to do a job well, will they be successful? 

Being the "bad guy" is no fun - I know this as a teacher and a parent. But the problems with whatever term they are calling this generation aren't really the fault of the kids. Kids will push boundaries, make poor choices, frustrate us, be lazy, and more. They always have, they always will. The question is what the adults will do. Can we get back to being ok with not being liked? Can we see the fault in our children, know that those faults are normal, and not put our kids on some pedestal? Can we just value them for who they are and the amazing people they are become? I think we can.

My students astound me every single day. Middle schoolers get a bad rap, but I love them. I said to them today that I know they will change the world for the better, and I truly believe that. They are the most caring, kind, loving, and considerate people I know. They are also the funniest and most sarcastic. And they can, at times, be the most cruel. That dynamic is what it is to be a teen. I am firm, I tell them I love them. I correct them when they are wrong and lay on a huge dose of mom guilt. They accept it and grow. The problems with our kids do not lie with the kids, but with us. We need to change and allow them to grow.

Now, if they'd just get off my lawn.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Starting Over


I love the new year. I think that's one of my favorite things about teaching, that I get this feeling of starting over twice a year - with each new school year and each new calendar year. And while I'm absolute rubbish on resolutions, for the past six or seven years I've picked a word to live that year by. Last year it was the word "present". I explain why in this post HERE

I struggled this year when thinking of one word to move forward with in 2018. I think that the reason I was struggling was that my word for 2017, present, was still calling to me strongly, but I'd already had that word, right? And then I read this post from my new BFF Kristen Ashley, the Kristen Ashley from my romance book obsession. Check out her post HERE

And while her post is long (but amazing), this part made me feel like she was looking right at me, or maybe right into that window into me...

1) Let go of the past.

2) Do not worry about the future. 

3) Be where your feet are. Be as present as you can be in the NOW.


To say I struggle with this would be an understatement. Most of you probably know I struggle with anxiety. It can be traced to #1 and #2 above. I still remember sobbing in the confessional at my church about five years ago, explaining to our priest how the anxiety overwhelms me. He told me that I needed to pray the Serenity prayer ten times a day until I thought of it first as the waves of anxiety came on. 
With Ashley's blog post in my mind and the Serenity prayer on my heart, I thought of my one little word again. Present was the word I had lived in 2017 and it had helped, but I wasn't where I wanted to be yet. Looking up the definition of present, I knew it was my word once again.
Because that anxiety, it isn't gone. When I have a quiet moment at bedtime and contemplate the time before Luke leaves for college, my heart begins to race. When I think back to some stupid mistake I made years ago, I can dwell. I need to embrace the present. I need to get rid of the things that stand in the way of that. I've made progress, but I still have room to grow.

So my word for 2018 is present. And while I don't have "resolutions", I am looking at Ashley's list and embracing many of the 10 Most Important Things she learned in 2017 because they are just great reminders to live your life by. I made this image of her words on Canva, maybe they will be good reminders for you too? 

Happy New Year!

 
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