Monday, November 20, 2017

NCTE 2017

I'm trying to decompress after a whirlwind four days. When I try to explain to teachers, to friends, who don't attend NCTE what is involved, they look at me like I'm crazy. I mean who sinks in hundreds of dollars of their own to go sit in professional development for days? (And I'm a lucky one, my district pays for some of it.) Yet, I am not alone. I have no idea how many people attended this year's NCTE, but judging by lines for the exhibit hall, it was a lot.

Today at school someone asked me to explain NCTE, what did I get out of it? I tried to sum it up, but it seemed inadequate. In having the conversation, however, I figured it might make a good blog post. With that notion in mind, here are my top takeaways from NCTE 2017:

Sessions > Exhibit halls
I was floored by the lines to get in the exhibit halls before they opened. I mean, Saturday morning there was a line beginning at 8am. Jackie Woodson spoke at 9am. If you have the opportunity to hear her speak, grab it. It's Jacqueline freaking Woodson! I sat in the room, let her words pour over me, and was grateful. Yes, I missed some books because I couldn't get there in time to be at a signing. I can buy the book later, I can't buy back the experience. 

Jason Reynolds
My students are obsessed with Jason Reynolds this year. I cannot keep his books on the shelves. I understand their feelings, after hearing him speak I am obsessed myself. The man is brilliant. He obviously has a way with words, he's a writer, but listening to him speak is hypnotic. Some of my favorite quote from his over the past four days include...

“When we talk about disenfranchised readers, we should really start being honest...these are kids who are often disregarded and discarded.”

"Maybe it's not just about a kid not finding 'the right book' ... maybe kids need the right person to give them the book."

"You don't gotta be a hero, you gotta be a human. You don't have to save them, you just have to see them."

"You can't make a connection with a young person when you've already disrespected them."

"We only think about brutality when we think about death but most of us survive. Think about the kids in your class who survived."

"This is what love looks like. it is our obligation to be honest with you. if i respect you, i should be able to tell you the truth. i should be able to make you uncomfortable."

“You cannot be more loyal to your fears than to your futures.”

I mean, seriously. Truth spilling over. Brilliance in the air. I wish I could bring every one of my students to hear him speak.

There are so many moments of connection while at NCTE, it's hard to even write about them... 

It is seeing friends that are so close to me, yet live so far away. It's getting tight hugs from those friends who know, without my saying a word, that it is needed. 

It's hearing Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher speak and being so inspired that I want to jump up, get in my van, and head home to teach immediately. They have a book coming out this spring and I can't wait.

It's the words from Matt de la Peña...
"Maybe the a-ha moment doesn’t happen the minute kids finish a book. maybe it happens when they see the moment in the real world."

"Just because you’re the teacher doesn’t mean you have to be the expert. kids can be the experts of the books they read."

"Books don't save lives. Readers save their own lives, using books as the tools."

“The canon of tomorrow is being written today in YA."
It's the new picture book by Matt, LOVE, that took my breath away. Out this January, this book will have a place in my seventh grade classroom library. Beauty.

It's meeting blog readers who come up, introduce themselves, and tell me that my words matter. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Sessions = Worth it
If we've met, if I've shared my anxiety with you, then you are aware that speaking in public is difficult for me. This year I had three session to present in:

The Nerdy Book Club presentation where I talked about reading communities - in your classroom, in your school, and in your town.

The Voices from the Middle podcast session where Sara Kajder talked about how to podcast in your classroom and then the podcast team recorded a live podcast in front of the audience. (That was a bit stressful, but went well.)
Jess Lifshitz, Donalyn Miller, Sara Ahmed, Katie Muhtaris, Pernille Ripp, me, Katharine Hale
And the Storytellers session. This is, no exaggeration, my favorite session I've ever been a part of. These brave ladies all shared a story, a personal story, and connected their stories to our students. They made me think, they pushed my comfort level as I examined my own biases and whether I was willing to speak out, and they tore me up inside as I watched them up close, hands shaking, as they poured out their truths. My heart was filled to bursting.

I left NCTE with far more than I brought - inspiration from authors I love; the push to keep examining myself, to be truthful with my beliefs, to listen to others who are speaking up; ideas to put into practice; the nudge to return to writing, to honor my own voice; and love from friends that made me feel whole. If I saw you over the four days, thank you. If I didn't get the chance, until next time. What a gift of the past four days, my students and I will all reap the reward. Bounty.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Best Part of Teaching Middle School This Week...

I'm a year and a quarter into my middle school experience, though this time as a teacher. Actually, I'm old enough that my first experience - as a student - with seventh grade wasn't even called middle school, it was junior high. 

I digress.

In my move to middle school I have had friends, parents, and colleagues ask if I regret it yet. Middle school kids get a bad rap. Some of it is earned, I am sure. It's a volatile age. Their hormones are a mess. Middle school is a time to figure out who you are and what you stand for - in doing that work, you are bound to have some emotional meltdowns. But, can I be honest? Middle school kids are real. There is no BS in the middle school world, they call it like they see it. And this week? It has been filled with everything that makes middle school a beautiful place.

Character Lessons We began the week at a low. There was a need for some character building, which came All. Week. Long. After some unsportsmanlike conduct on behalf of a handful of students, some unkindness to others in the hall by others, I started layering our lessons with chances to talk about character. We discussed this quote:

And watched these three videos:

After watching each, over three days, we talked about the message of the video. Sometimes we talked about the lessons we could glean from them, other times we reflected on what we don't know about the weight others carry around on their shoulders. I wanted to open their eyes to what is around them, what they don't see. It was a week rich in conversation.

Reading Community
Our community of readers is new. Many of these kids came having no difficulty in reading, but they don't live and breathe the conversations around books, authors, and illustrators that I know can hook them for life. While each week of the thirteen we've spent together so far offers glimpses of what is to come, two experiences this week made me smile. Both were thanks to author Jason Reynolds. 

Yesterday in my first hour class Slater came up to me as I was entering attendance. He asked a simple question, was Jason Reynolds trying to torture him with the endings to his book. I paused and asked what he meant. Slater went on to explain that he's read four of Jason's books over the past week, and each had an ending that Slater considered "untidy." He said, "I get that he's trying to make me think, trying to make it realistic, but can't he just tell us what's going on once in awhile? Are all of his books this way?" When I admitted that every book I've read of his would likely fall into this category, though I still have two to read, Slater just grinned. I asked if he was going to continue his Reynolds reading binge and he replied with an "Absolutely." 

Today in 8th hour I was doing "status of the class". While I check the kids in, they can sit and read or talk quietly. The room was filled with a low murmur, but I could still easily hear kids telling me what book and page they were on as I called their name. Without warning, a boy named Haiden slammed his book shut as he jumped up and said, "WHAT? You've got to be kidding!" I looked up as the class looked to him. At first I was puzzled, Haiden isn't the type to shout. But then I murmured, "Ah.... Long Way Down?" Some other kids nodded at my comment. Biniam, who had loaned Haiden the book, reached out for it while asking if he wanted to talk about the ending. At the same time, Kalea begged Biniam to borrow the book. He passed it on to her. Community. 

One of my favorite parts of teaching middle school is the humor of these kids. Today in 10th hour, I was grinning. It's the end of the day. The kids are tired. After getting up at 4:30am to walk my dogs and swim at the Y, I was exhausted. And yet, they rocked. We had many items to check off our to do list today. It was a full class, without a lot of instruction time, more of work time. In the front of the room on a couch were two girls. One, KC, was offering up life lessons. She went on to explain to all of us her thoughts on a variety of topics including:
  • Why girls shouldn't date to make themselves happy, they need to be happy with themselves first.
  • Why she planned on staying single for life.
  • How dating would only be fun if you're allowed to wear sweatpants.
  • The benefits of her headband to corral her hair, which is named Cameron (her hair, not the headband).
  • That putting extensions in your hair is a pain, but worth it.
And more. I laughed. I teared up at times. I told her that, hands down, a picture I took of her a few weeks ago (see below) is my favorite picture of the year. It makes me smile and fill up with love every time I see it. She had me show everyone in the front of the class.
I mean, that face and smile? Make. My. Day.

So, after going out to eat with my husband, I had to post for KC on Instagram. And yep, she made me start laughing while I sat there at the bar. 

The week had highs and lows. Frustrations and celebrations. But middle school kids? They are the best. My heart is full. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Whoa...It's Been Awhile

Dusting off the blog, peeking around in the corners, wondering if it is still functioning. I wish I could give you a better reason for not posting for nearly two months, but truthfully it is just one thing that could be put on the back burner. I detest the term "busy", we're all busy. Life is full of priorities and while writing is often one of them for me, this fall it has not been.

There's so much to share. 

Seventh graders still rock. 
The One Book/ One Community project has come and gone.
It was amazing.

My boys have had a Cross Country season full of successes,
And some heartaches.

Neither one is playing basketball this year for our school,
One by choice,
One not.
Parenting is not for the faint of heart.

I have three NCTE presentations in 
T-minus twelve days.
I haven't created a single slide.


I've read very little in the way of Children's Lit.
Lots of picture books.
Jason Reynolds' Long Way Down.
That's it.

I have read a ridiculous amount of romance books.
Kristen Ashely's Rock Chick series.
Pure indulgence.
I'm ready to travel to Colorado.
Henleys are amazing.

I digress.

This fall has been filled with positives in the classroom,
and disappointments.
In twenty-one years it hasn't gotten easier to handle
frustration in the choices children make.

I can talk until I am blue in the face about being kind,
choosing kind,
that character matters,
that our actions show others
who we truly are.

We had one of those days today.
I am so disappointed.
And yet,
tomorrow is a fresh start.

We're watching this video.
We're going to discuss what greatness means,
where you can find it,
and what lies within.

I'm hoping to leave the classroom inspired once again,
silver linings,
crappy days do inspire the fingers to,
once again,
return to the keyboard.

Pull up a coffee,
or I can share this Fat Tire with you. 
Thanks for reading. 

It's all uphill from here. 
This I have to believe.