Sunday, December 6, 2020

Kissing Books

My love affair with romance books has taken many twists and turns over the years, as has my love affair with running. Both loves require some attention, some care, and sometimes those relationships have lie dormant for years. However, it just so happens that I have a healthy relationship with both at the moment. So, on my long run today (which isn’t long at all when looking at my youngests eleven mile run yesterday), I thought about romance books and what they mean to me.

As a middle school student, I was obsessed. Always a lover of series books, my mom bought me the first book in the Couples series of the 80s. Lordy. I read and reread each book, wanting to be friends with these characters, trying to learn more about relationships through them. My heart was broken along with a few of them. Side note, check out that 80s fashion. Goodness, we did love a bit of neon. Also, second side note, I know I read this book, but now I’m trying to figure out of Conway was writing about a polyamorous relationship. Surely not. 

When I hit high school, I was ready for more. My mom gave me one of her Danielle Steel books. While I devoured all of them, the one I remember the best was Jewels. I loved everything about Steel’s books. Eventually, I began to realize that there was romance in more than just these books. Heck, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry had elements of romance and I read that one countless times between high school and the end of college.

As I hit college, I moved away from romance and, quite frankly, any leisure reading. A history major for my undergrad degree, I barely could keep up with the weekly reading for all of my classes. It was intense. After college, I found my way back to books - first for myself with books like Jan Karon’s Mitford series, then with books for my students like Lightning Thief

Over the years I began to read more and more young adult books. My friend Franki and I teased two other friends about kissing books, even writing a Nerdy Book Club post about our favorites. I still argue that Sam from Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver is one of the best book boyfriends of all time. In reading a few of these YA romances, I began to look to romance books written for adults.

First, I checked on what makes a romance a romance. Many folks will list Nicholas Spark’s name when they refer to romance books, but many of his don’t follow the number one romance rule - a book qualifies as a romance if it’s a love story with a happily ever after. Dealing with a ton of anxiety in 2017, I decided some reading that could guarantee me a happy ending sounded absolutely perfect. And thus, I dove in. 

This year I’ve read 355 books. I’d guess that over 275 of those books have been romances just for me. I’ve also written my own. My first short story is published in a romance anthology that came out on November 30th. You can find it here. My story is the second one in the book, Love at the Library. My first book is currently with an editor, my second one is in revisions, and I’m writing my third. I’d love to publish the three of them next summer, but we’ll see. 

I smile when I look back over my time with “kissing books” and wonder what my twelve-year-old self would have said if she’d known that one day she would write those books she loved. Instead, I just pay it forward and when a student tells me they’re stressed and they just need to find something to read that makes them happy, I say, “Have you met Jenny Han? I think I have something for you…”

PS - This is my teaching blog, so I don’t write much about my writing life here. If you’d like to follow that journey, head over to my writing website and subscribe to my newsletter. It comes out around the 7th of each month.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020


At shortly before ten this morning, teachers in my district got the email we’d been wondering if we’d ever get. Our schools were switching from the hybrid model to 100% remote learning for the next two and a half weeks. I stood in front of my students who were reading quietly as I read the email and I wondered how to tell them. Some would be ecstatic, but some would not. School is a safe place for many kids. I wasn’t sure how this would go.

As it turned out, I got to wait a bit until the next group arrived, my homeroom. They spend a lot of time with me in this weird COVID year. I have them 1st/2nd hour for Language Arts. 5th/6th/7th hours are back with them for study halls, mask breaks, and band/choir for those participating. At the end of 5th hour when they all were in attendance, I broke the news. To say they didn’t react as I expected would be an understatement.

One girl excused herself to use the restroom. Upon returning she immediately emailed me to tell me she had to go cry because she loved her teachers and didn’t want to leave. A boy who typically doesn’t love the academic portion of school asked if I’d Zoom with him each day to help him get his homework done for other classes because that’s what I do in study hall. A student I teach, but isn’t in my homeroom, came in to load up on graphic novels. Kids said they were grateful to go home because they were afraid of the increasing numbers in our town. Other kids said they hoped we’d be back soon.

When I had a minute, I looked at my computer because while I do have many kids at school, due to remote learners, students that have been close contacts, and students with the virus - I currently teach more students online than I do in person. Sure enough, they had filled my inbox with loads of emails. So. Many. Questions. 

Before we knew it, the day was over. I took a picture of my homeroom group before they left. I teared up a bit when I realized that two boys who rolled their eyes at my picture taking at the start of our time together, had hopped into the front row of this one with no complaints. They’ve changed. We’ve all changed. 

Fifty-two school days ago, I met these kids for the first time. I worried that I wouldn’t be a good teacher to them this year. I’ve spent more hours working in the past three months than any previous school year, including my first years in education. It has been an emotional upheaval, day after day. That being said, I love these people that I get to spend my time with.

Today I came home and I wanted to collapse on the couch, eat a ton of chocolate. Beyond replying to parents and students’ emails all afternoon, I taught a Zoom class for my remote learners, emailed back and forth with students giving advice in regard to their stories, and had a separate Zoom for a student who needs to get ahead in a project. 

And I graded, and graded, and graded. Online feedback is hard, but unless I give it, the kids can’t get better. And so it goes.

The couch called to me, but I turned to yoga. More and more I find myself finding solace on the mat, or with my feet pounding out the miles. It’s been a year. As a teacher, I’m not sure if I’ve ever felt less valued by society. Teaching has felt like a constant juggling act where I’m trying to teach, trying to connect, trying to take care of my students emotionally, and trying to keep us all safe.

It’s been a lot. 

Most teachers I know are hurting, struggling. As a person who has always been confident that I will teach well into the years that I could retire, this has been the first year I’ve wondered if I should do something else. I love my administration, my colleagues, my students. But to say any time I’ve spent on social media has been disheartening would be a colossal understatement. 

I shared this Facebook post this summer. It is as truthful now as it was back then. As a society, we have to do better. 

Teachers are strong. They love your children. They sacrifice so much to do the best they can. But I think it’s time to ask ourselves, how much are they expected to sacrifice? Today my heart broke as I said goodbye, for now, to my students. I was also beyond grateful to my administration for a decision that I felt kept me safe, and these kids that I love too. 

This has been a year.

Sending loads of love to all of the folks in education out there. Also sending my gratitude to all of the essential workers, especially those in the hospitals working to heal us all. You have my utmost gratitude and respect. 

Stay safe. I hope to see you all on the other side.

Saturday, September 5, 2020


 It's been a moment or two since I've written here. A lot has happened since May. That might be the biggest understatement I’ve ever uttered. Well, like so much right now, I suppose it is what it is.

At the end of July our oldest, Luke, came home from Cross Country practice to tell us he had decided to quit the team. As a parent, I’m not sure there is anything harder than watching your children struggle. We knew he was having a hard time. He had already decided not to run in college a few months back, and that was huge. But for him to quit a team he loved, a sport he loved, was concerning. Then he shared that he was struggling a bit with depression. We were more concerned. After a few emotional conversations, we made a plan. 

I’m going to be honest, my heart was breaking. I felt powerless.

The next day, Luke posted this on his Instagram.

As a parent and a teacher, I was impressed how open he was about his struggles. That type of post, while I’m sure he didn’t realize it, can have ripples. I’m beyond proud of him and grateful for the fact that he’s open about where he is and working his ass off to get where he needs to go. 

And yet, I am still adjusting. 

Last Saturday was the first meet for the varsity team. Luke was home. I went out for a run, thinking about the kids running that day, and realized sweat was not the only thing running down my face. I came home and went to see him. Was this a hard day for him? He looked surprised and said no, he was comfortable with his decision. He was confused as to why I’d think it would be. I explained that I was trying to adjust my vision of what his Senior year would be. I’d already done that due to COVID. But now, I was reconciling myself with the idea that I wouldn’t be out there cheering him on. He laughed and said I could cheer for him at his first marathon.

I was grateful that he still planned to run, but the sadness remained.

It seems this year has been one adjustment after another. I’m grateful I have the privilege to sit and be forced to make those adjustments. As of the typing of this post, 188,098 Americans don’t have that option due to this horrible virus. That alone tells me to buck up and move on. But I think it’s also ok to recognize that this is hard. The students coming into my class have been mired in this world just as I have. Some have sailed through it and are feeling fine. Some have experienced the aftershocks of this pandemic and it will absolutely impact them. That’s something to remember.

On Wednesday of this past week, students came back into our school buildings for the first time in 162 days. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was anxious about teaching during a pandemic. And yet, we began. Masked up, sanitizing between classes, teaching some kids in person, some remotely. No longer does my class resemble a comfortable coffee house, but instead looks like a traditional classroom with desks in rows. Students cannot “shop the shelves” to find books, I book talk with each child individually, books get returned to plastic tubs when finished to quarantine for five days.

It’s strange. And it’s still school.

I’m adjusting what vision I had for the school year, just as I’m adjusting my vision for Luke’s Senior year. Over and over this week I reminded myself that it would be fine. I have sixty-four kids this year. By Friday, each one had a book. I knew about 58 of their names when I’d see their masked faces. They knew a bit about me. We’d sweated together in my humid room. 

It’s going to be ok.

And here, on Saturday, I lay on the wicker couch on my porch. I looked at my email to see this from a student. She’d exclaimed during homeroom at the end of the day on Friday that she only had a chapter left in P.S. I Love You. I’d handed off Always and Forever, Lara Jean. Her email reminded me that our year might not be a typical year, but it was still going to be pretty amazing.

After replying to her, I heard the pounding steps of a runner. Looking up, I saw Luke jogging down the street, one of our dogs straining at the leash bringing him home. I love that he’s still running, even if it's just for himself. I love that our Sophomore, Liam, is still on the team running. And I’m going to celebrate what this year brings. I think it will be some pretty amazing experiences, if I’m open to them.

Wishing you all a safe and healthy school year filled with amazing experiences.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Silence is a Statement

Twenty days ago I ran 2.23 miles. On that run, I thought about a young man, Ahmaud Arbery, who had been murdered while running in Georgia only three months before. I shared the hashtag #runwithmaud and #irunwithmaud. I had conversations with my sons about the privilege they have which they didn’t earn. We talked about how they’ve never been afraid while out running. We sat in that uncomfort. 

I’ve thought a lot about that. I’ve had uncomfortable conversations with others when I’ve used the term privilege, or white privilege. I know I’ve upset people, angered some. Excuse me if it sound flippant, but I don’t care.

I ran because a young man was out for his daily run and two white men felt like it was their right and duty to detain him. 


Last October I attended several sessions at our state reading conference. One was from a friend and amazing educator, Cornelius Minor. After the session was done, I went up to say hello to Cornelious and introduce him to my colleague. In our brief conversation, I shared with Cornelius my frustration, what can I do? In a mostly white rural community, how can I make a difference? Cornelius looked at me and said I make a difference by speaking up. By never letting a racist comment slip by. By speaking up when I see the injustice, not staying silent. He said that racism isn’t a black problem to fix, it’s a white problem to fix. Just as it is not on women to fix sexist behavior, men need to speak up, we white people need to speak up when we see racism around us. 

I’ll be honest, I don’t know what good my lone voice does, but I do speak up. I speak up, I read, I learn. I screw up. A lot. But I show up again and try. I have lots of conversations with my sons. They have likely had more conversations about consent, sexism, homophobia, and racism than any other child in this area. But I want them to be aware. I want them to feel like they can ask questions in a safe place. I want them to speak up when they see injustice, so I need to do the same.

This summer I’ve been meeting each week with a book club on Zoom. Our first book was Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. We’ve read others, but then we read Lifting as We Climb by Evette Dionne. The books have taught me a lot. I still have several books in my house to read. I’m learning a bit more each day. What I learn is not great. I am ashamed of our society. I’m ashamed we haven’t done more. 

Yesterday I woke up to the news that George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis while being arrested. That Amy Cooper had called 911 because a black man scared her when he asked her to put her dog on a leash. I watched the video. I was undone.

Amy says she is not a racist and that she was scared. I read this article from Ibram Kendi and wondered, who in America has the privilege of being allowed to be afraid? I remember back to when I saw my son Luke, then around twelve, staring in the backyard. I asked what he was thinking about. He said he and his friends had been playing Nerf wars in our backyard and our neighbors' yards. The boys had hoodies on, scarves over their faces, as they snuck up on each other. They'd run, played, had neighbors wave at them. Never once was he afraid. He was teary when he asked me if he would have been able to do that without fear if he was black. I looked back and had no words. I thought of the fear a mom must have each time her black son leaves home. I wanted to vomit.

On Twitter, Ibram Kendi shared a link to this document. Kendi has said often that it isn’t enough to be “not racist”, but that we must be anti-racist. I’m learning. 

The image at the top of this post is from Instagram user Sirianna_arathi. The entire caption is worth reading, but one part of it truly stuck with me. Sirianna says, “White folx responding to these status’s by asking ‘how much longer can this go on?’ or ‘when will this stop?’...

And the answer is simple.
It will end when white people take action.”

I’m taking action by writing this post, by donating to causes that I can, by reading books and articles that make me uncomfortable because I feel I haven’t done enough, and by speaking up. By working to be anti-racist.

I hope we can all sit in that uncomfort for a bit, recognize that many of us are privileged, and then do something about it. 

Your silence is not ok. Remaining silent is your statement.

Sunday, May 17, 2020


Today is graduation day for the Seniors in my district. I’m positive that back when their parents were bringing them to Kindergarten, this is not the graduation day they imagined. My district has done so much work to give these kids the day they deserve, but it isn’t what anyone planned on. However, I know these kids will be ok. The reason I’m certain of that is hope.

In talking to my friend Cindy Minnich recently, she said these Seniors are born of hope. These kids were born around 9/11 in our country. They are truly a generation born of hope. I have to believe they were put on this Earth to give us hope in the face of despair. They are a reminder that we will go on, that we must go on. They were then, they are now. 

I love every child, every class, I teach. They are each special and own a piece of my heart. That’s true for all classes, but especially this one, these Seniors. I’m not sure why I clicked so much with that group, but they were a group I treasured. They were a group that would come talk to me, long after I taught them. Many of them still send me messages when they read a book they think I’d like, need a book recommendation, see a sunset, have Starbucks, or just are reminded of our time together for one reason or another.

My heart breaks for them as they lost the end to their high school career that they assumed they’d have. I realize that in the scheme of life, in the face of what’s going on, that is a small loss. Yet, I still grieve what should have been. 

I woke this morning and thought of them. I sent a message to my son’s girlfriend on her graduation day. I listened to some music that reminded me of the group. I read some old blog posts written when I was teaching that class. (Specifically THIS one and THIS one.) Heck, my most popular post of all time is about a student from this class. You can read it HERE.

And then, I stumbled on some videos. 

Oh, holy rabbit hole. These videos made me cry. They made me laugh. They made me remember. And, they made me know, with every fiber of my being, that they will truly be ok. Cindy is right, this group of kids were born of hope, and they are my hope moving forward. Reading Facebook and the negativity on there brings about despair. I just need to be reminded of these faces, of all the beautiful kids I have taught and will teach, and I know that we are stronger together. We’ve faced hard times before and will again. 

We will triumph.

For any of my former students from this class, I’ve included the videos I stumbled across this morning below. Enjoy. I wish you the happiest of graduations and best of luck in the future.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Student Led Research Projects

Missing these kids.
I saw someone online recently call this time of staying at home The Pause. Not sure if they made that up or it is a common term, but I liked it. I have to say, as I see some friends and segments of the country angry at our political leaders, I feel the opposite. I am happy to do my part, to sit back and let the scientists and doctors try to fight this while I work on not spreading the illness. While I type that, I am also very aware that I wrote that from a point of privilege, I can sit back and let them work because I have a job that is being done from home. I don’t know what the answer is for those that don’t, but I also think we have nothing left to fight for if we’re sick and die, so I’ll stay home.

With that being said, teaching has been interesting during The Pause. I’m still connecting with kids, still talking to them online on a regular basis. It’s not the same, but it has benefits. I’ve loved getting to know them in their home environments. Parents have appeared in Flipgrid videos, Zoom calls. We’ve had some experiences together that have made me laugh out loud. There are absolutely elements of what we’ve been doing that make me want to continue them once school returns to normal. Fingers crossed and praying to anyone who will listen, that’s in the fall.  

As we wrap up the school year, my colleague and I were looking at our last research project. Due to the dates of the school year and remote learning, we’d have less time than usual. Also, a lot of the lessons would be too difficult to do over this type of teaching. Not to mention our district asked us to look at what we taught in this time frame, take half, then take half again. How could we do this project? I thought a bit about how we often give the question - How do humans impact the planet? - then let them pick their own topic to research under that umbrella. Looking at this year, I wondered what if we removed the umbrella? 

As I wrote about in a previous post (HERE), our class during remote learning has had components that could be found in a typical week in class.

  • Daily reading - read independently for 30 minutes a day. Record your reading on the sheet online, similar to our Status of the Class.
  • Daily writing - write for 10 minutes a day. What they write is their choice. One day’s worth of writing shared each week.
  • Weekly interaction - Google Poll question and Flipgrid to respond to. Optional Zoom meeting on Wednesdays. This takes the place of our conferences. 
  • Optional read aloud to follow along with in Flipgrid.
  • New learning - in April they had a poetry assignment each week. Typically this involved a set of poems to read and respond to, either by writing about them, answering questions, or writing their own poem. In May, this will be their research topic.
This week our poll question was this: 

Starting next week, you will research a topic you want to learn more about. You will share this learning on a Google Slide presentation that you will upload to Kidblog to share with us. What is a topic that you would like to spend ten days immersing yourself in to learn more about? 

Now, their poll question isn’t due until Sunday, but here are some of the answers so far:

  • Who is the best baseball player of all time?
  • How do you make the best icing?
  • I want to research and learn more about volcanoes.
  • How do you make the best homemade bread?
  • How do I improve the most as a runner?
  • Livelihood of Justin Thomas(Pro Golfer)
  • Who is the best college softball player of all time?
  • How do you learn to play the piano?
  • What do you have to do to get to a major league sport?
  • How to make the best Brownies?
  • What is the impact of plastic on the environment?
  • Who is the best softball player in the world?
  • Why are pigs so smart?
  • How much good has Corona caused?
  • How do you train a dolphin?
  • Who is the best basketball player of all time?
  • I might research what the best bakery in the world is. Let's be honest with ourselves, it is probably the one Harry Styles used to work at. (I laughed out loud here. Love these kids and miss them something fierce.)
  • Where is the best beach in the world?
  • Why do professional photos look the way they do?
  • What is causing global warming?
  • Who are the greatest musical artists of all time?
  • What happens to you if you do not sleep?
  • Who is the best football player of all time?
  • Who is the best cheerleader?
  • I would want to learn more about adaptations.
  • What are dreams?
  • What is the best way to study the bible?
  • What is the Burlsworth award?
  • Who is the best eventer ( a person who jumps with horses) of all time?
As a result, I cannot wait to see how these kids research these topics and share their learning with us. I think has the potential to be amazing and something we come back to each year.  I've attempted to include my sample below. Hope it helps!