reading

The R-word.

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Disclaimer:  Racism, police brutality, and racial profiling are not always connected topics.  Each can be as dangerous with or without the others present.  This post is in reference to a particular book and specific incidences of the three intertwined.

 

“But here are the words that kept ricocheting around me all day:  Nobody says the words anymore, but somehow the violence still remains.  If I didn’t want the violence to remain, I had to do a hell of a lot more than just say the right things and not say the wrong things.”  Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely, All-American Boys

It’s easy to sit in my culturally diverse suburb, and teach at my 40/40/10/10 school, and feel like a well-adjusted, culturally blended, superior-minded adult.  I, thankfully, grew up in a home that didn’t judge based on things the eye could discern.  And I sit in my house as I write this with my sweet black widow neighbor to the left, an Asian family across the street, a black couple next to them, and a multi-generational Hispanic family to my right.  AHHhhhh, what a lovely world it is that the pot is finally melting us all together!

But what about when the news stories hit.  What about when another case of police brutality involving an unarmed black man, or child, tops the headlines.

What then?  Oh, we don’t riot or vandalize each other’s lawns.  But our neighborhood quietly, politely starts to show lines of division.  Helen next door solemnly dons her “Justice for Michael Brown” shirt, while Dan down the street quietly applies a “Back the Blue” bumper sticker to his new truck.  Helen probably feels like the police are the new KKK, and Dan down the street can probably quote you all the times police have shot unarmed white men who don’t make the news.  And the family of the cop around the corner probably looks over their shoulder a little more for a while.  But neither will engage the other in any sort of debate.  Neither will call the other foul names.  Because nobody’s racist anymore.  Right?

I just finished reading All-American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, and I’m not sure why this isn’t required reading.  Right. Now. (For the record, I hate required reading…but hear me out…I’m making a point.)  Probably for the same reason the teacher in the book was discouraged (by administration) from continuing The Invisible Man after a student at their school was beaten by a security guard.  It’s too much.  It gets students all fired up.  Last year in the classroom across from me, an actual fight broke out after an essay about police brutality was assigned.  Oh, people talk about it all the time in one-sided discussions with like-minded friends.  But it’s no wonder people avoid the topic in mixed company.

For people like me, the “Oh I can see both sides and I know people on both sides so I’ll just stay quiet unless someone asks and then I’ll make it clear I see both sides” people, there is a lesson in a quote that expresses what has been tried and tested throughout history, through religious persecution, the civil rights and women’s rights movements, in times of war, and certainly amid the horrors of genocide:  IF YOU ARE NEUTRAL IN SITUATIONS OF INJUSTICE, YOU HAVE CHOSEN THE SIDE OF THE OPPRESSOR. – Desmond Tutu.  So, in essence, “seeing both sides” is the same thing as not standing for either, including the one you think is right.

Just as there are non-violent ways for police to apprehend innocent-until-proven-guilty-subjects and place the alleged crime in the hands of our multi-cultural justice system, there are ways to go about reading books like this one and discussing these topics with young people in a non-provoking way that promotes unity and affects change.

Just like this book.  Two writers from two different sides of American culture, who came together to write a book where the characters’ worlds were pretty well blended – much like the high school where I teach – but were fiercely divided in a time when headlines pit one against the other.  To them, and in the real world of 2017, being racist didn’t necessarily mean overtly hating other races…it meant subconsciously siding with your “own kind” regardless of the facts, or what is right.

And if you don’t think real old-fashioned racism still exists, ask yourself this:  Did your parents ever give you the speech?  The list of ways you have to behave if the cops stop you?  Never fight back.  Never talk back.  Keep your hands up.  Keep your mouth shut.  Just do what they ask you to do, and you’ll be fine (pp. 50, 289)…?  Just checking.

This chapter in American history has to end someday, right?  And it’s clear it’s not going to end with the older, scarred and divided generation. And it’s not going to end with or because of the polite generation I’m in.  It’s going to end with our kids.  Our students.  Our future.  They have to learn how to argue without fighting.  They have to learn how to disagree without hating.  They have to learn how to be different without excluding.

Because what if they don’t?

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Girl Power!

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{It’s not what you think.  I’m not a feminist.  Just defining some things that make life better.  And I’m a girl, soooo….}

The English language does an obscene injustice to the vast color-wheel of envy and coveting experienced by the common female.  Oh, we don’t like to admit it.  But admit it.  Even the best of us has experienced this little demon at some point in our life.

Looking back, my 20s and 30s were plagued with it.  I may not have been symptomatic, but I was a carrier.  Envy presented as “ambition”, but it was there.  Friends had higher paying jobs.  Other friends (or worse…the same ones) had *perfect* marriages (cough cough).  Other friends had nice homes (I realize now I was envious of absurd mortgage payments).  I longed for the country club membership, the nice car, achievements that would bait all the likes, the job that made me sound uber important, or the husband with one so that I could attain the highest of all female statuses…Housewifery.

So I joined the Junior League, bought the used Mercedes, spent money on clothes, got the Master’s degree.  Moved into the bigger house, bought tickets to Charity Ball, earned five half-marathon medals, and got a whole lotta likes.  Know where all that got me?  Exhausted and broke.  And even a little more envious because it appeared that others did it with such ease (cough cough).

Not that my 40s instantly propelled me into total WGAS-mode, but I must admit, I’ve been freed from the chains of the things I used to care the most about.  I’m sure this change was supported by moving out of Victoria and into a life of near-anonymity, as well as baptism into Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love way of thinkingEither way, I’ve found happiness in downgrading cars (come on and hit me with your best shot).  The last thing I want is no job (more jobs is actually what makes me happy).  And maybe even laster than that is wanting to dress up to go to a fancy restaurant or sit poolside with people who American Expressed their perfect lips and thighs.

After five years of half-marathons, I had one excuse after another – divorce, family in town, that little matter of the tib-fib fracture.  The last time I met up with my original running girls (why did we not call ourselves ORG?) was 2012 – I went to cheer for them and eat with them and hear their war stories from the course.  And I felt like a loser.  I love these girls with all my heart, but here they were, more fit than ever, obviously more reliable than me, and with more medals than me.  I was happy for them, but I was sad for pathetic old me.  Guess that was which friend I was.  The loser one.

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What. the actual. hell.  Same meet-up last weekend…they ran, I showed up to eat.  Guess what we discussed over Mexican food and the smell of Icy Hot?…Their run, of course. Their training.  Their journeys.  But also my book.  And my next book.  My happy grown-ass independent daughter.  My awesome new job.  Our years until TRS kicks in (I think this officially makes us adults).  Our amazing husbands and kids.  I’ve done a hella lot this year.  So training for a marathon wasn’t one of them.  WGAS!

I owe this realization to a meal and conversation about running in that very same Mexican restaurant ten years ago with the very same friends (God bless Lupita, whoever she is).  I owe a lot, in fact, to watching them both (should I call them Sarcy or Marah?) and their desire to study and truly learn the sport (thanks, RPG, for everything), commit to something and stick with it, and support each other through accountability and lots of laughs.  I have those traits!…just didn’t use them in the same way.  And guess what?  I’m not sure if I was more proud of their marathon or if they were more proud of my book.

Moral of the story:  In good times, and bad times, I’ll be on your side forever more.  That’s what friends are for.

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So yeah, that’s what friends do.  Sorry and sad it took me this long to enjoy it this much.

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Victoria Days (ABC Challenge)

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I spent 13 years living in Victoria, Texas, after spending ages 5-21 living in a small town just 25 miles away.  Previous to my life in that area, I lived in Kennedale, Burnet (at a boys’ home), and La Porte (another boys’ home) – all in Texas.  For brief smidgens of time in early adult-hood, I lived in Plano, Dallas, Vanderbilt, and Bay City.

I ran in various circles in Victoria – from teachers to piano students to church small groups to CAbi parties to volleyball moms to band gigs.  Through all of that, I probably had something to do with almost everyone in town at some point.  During my later years there, I came to the hard realization that there was no way I was going to be able to keep up with the lifestyle of my peers, and I found myself resenting where my circles had led (too much wine and spending too much money) and regretting the expectations my daughter had established growing up around friends with money and entitlement.  She was about to fall off the edge in various ways, and in an attempt to save us both, I moved us here.

I moved to our current city – a suburb of Houston – almost four years ago, and – other than the town where I lived most of my childhood – never had I felt more at home.  My husband has been here and involved for more than 13 years, and I do a lot of things with a lot of wonderful people here.  Yet, it seems like when I least expect it, my Victoria friends show up in the most extraordinary ways.

I posted an “offer” on Facebook to take old books off anyone’s hands – I need to fill my shelves with great books that freshmen will embrace.  I expected my current local acquaintances to chime in and help.  Not a peep.  Over ten offers from old Victoria friends in less than an hour though.  One offered to hook me up with hundreds of books leftover from the Victoria Public Library purge.  One offered me whatever I wanted from her school library purge.  One drove an hour to meet me to bring me a box of books (and drink mimosas).  And at least four others have offered to drop boxes of books off with my daughter for transport to me here. (One of hott husband’s H-town friends also offered books…I don’t want to neglect to mention her 🙂

I know it seems like a small, impersonal thing (books), but it puts a lump in my throat to think about it and feel the outpouring of support these folks show each other – and even me.  I miss that.  People in Victoria rally together.  People in Victoria don’t do anything alone.  People in Victoria are some of the most generous people I’ve ever known, and though I once felt like something of an outsider by the inherent “elitism”, I know they balance all of that out with their philanthropy, and then some.  It’s a little bit like a cult, but they didn’t disfellowship me even when I moved away and haven’t talked to them in years, and even though I never had to resources to help them in the same way they helped me.

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Our band’s second album.  Didn’t feel the nostalgia it refers to at the time.  And it might not have been my best of times, but they are truly the best of people

Social media helps maintain bonds that otherwise would fade away with time.  I know I gripe about Facebook, but I know in my heart that if I moved to Botswana and was craving Whataburger and one of them found out, somebody would raise enough money to build a Whataburger in my village.  I may not be one of them anymore, but I want to return the love and goodwill any way I can, and I will be eternally grateful for the way our lives intersected while they did.

Updates (ABC Challenge)

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The A-Z Challenge was over for most people yesterday…I’m a little behind, but I thought I’d take this opportunity to evaluate progress in the areas I’ve been challenging myself.

A- Acceptance:  Took the A-Z Challenge…still with it.  Took the new job…still excited!

B – Boys:  I’ve stopped trying to understand boys.  Boys and girls are not meant to understand each other.  I am still trying to educate my boys (the little ones) about girls and mostly how to navigate the differences and not piss off the ones you like.

C – Confidence:  Meh.  Wearing a short-sleeved shirt today – does that count?

D – Diet:  Bummed about this one.  Stopped most carbs and alcohol, started Insanity and Workweek Hustle with my FitBit (getting in no less than 10,000 steps a day)…Not a pound lost.  Depressed and discouraged, I rage-ate pizza and wings a few times.  Even besides that, probably not doing too well with this one – and DEFinitely not doing as well as I know how to (as my skinny gynecologist pointed out when I expressed concern about recent weight gain.  Bitch.  Jk, I like her.)

E – Expectations:  I’m realizing that my internal clock ticks really fast…that’s helped some.  I’ve also had a conversation with my hott husband that might have given me more insight than before on how his brain works and why some things don’t happen the way I expect them to.  Besides, I would hate it if I knew what went on in my head went on in his too.

F – Facebook:  This one took for a while, but then I found myself stoplight-scrolling uncontrollably.  Today, I’m going to make the conscious effort once again to not look unless I have something I specifically want to find.

G – Grout:  Picked it…going with the one that’s the most like taking me on a date…cheap and easy 😉

H – Husbands:  Great success in loving without fear.  It isn’t as hard of a task as I thought…and it feels so good.

I – Intoxication:  Went drink-free for 5 1/2 days.  Have had many nights without, a few nights with one (none while home alone), and a couple of nights with two.  Probably need to do a 5-day drought every few weeks.

J – Jeri:  Called her so she could keep rubbing off on me.  Need to do it again soon.

K – Keuka:  57 days on the countdown!

L – Learning:  Learned how to delete a row on an inserted table in Word today…so I’d say this one is a success 😉

M – Magazine Perfect:  I have forced myself to leave a few things out that are not bothering anyone.  I haven’t straightened the pillows on the boys’ playroom couch in over a week.

N – News:  This one has been great – not tempted at all.  And the couple of times that I’ve caught the news, it’s been glaringly obvious how terrible it is.  It’s like eating super-sweet desserts after you’ve given up sugar for a few weeks…bleh.

O – Over-analyzing/Obsessing/Over-observing:  Caught myself reading every license plate the other day and then spending way too much brain energy arguing with myself over what year model a particular car was, but otherwise pretty good, maybe?

P – Plans:  Kinda had a grip on this one, then had a long discussion with hott husband that made me shift my grip, if that makes sense.

Q – Quixotic:  Still me.  Still happy about it.

R – Reading:  Haven’t read in a few nights.  Might put down the pedagogy and pick up a YA novel that I’d want to recommend to my future students.

S – SCR (aka Hott Husband):  Love. Him. So. Much.

T – Testing and Treadmills:  Too soon.

U – Updates! – Done!

Testing and Treadmills (ABC Challenge)

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So, if you’re one of the few, the proud, who have followed my journey into figuring out what I want to do now that I don’t need benefits – aka, my mid-life crisis – you’ll know that I’ve recently resigned my “coveted” (ha!) position as Curriculum Specialist and taken a job back in the classroom.  I guess I’ll call that Step One.

I’m mixing reality shows, but somewhere between Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader and The Biggest Loser, I know that at some point, a failed contestant has to look at the camera and say, “I am NOT smarter than a fifth grader,” and Bob Greene says to the kicked=0ff contestant “I’m sorry, but you are NOT the biggest loser.”  I feel like when I walk off this job on June 14th, I’ll gladly look into a camera and say “My name is Angie, and I am NOT a curriculum specialist.”

And that makes me proud right now.  I want to be a teaching specialist…A kid specialist, a learning and reading and thriving specialist, but not a curriculum specialist.  Sure you have to have a curriculum – even though I managed to be a successful teacher for many years either without one or without paying attention to one.  But I understand you have to know what you’re supposed to teach, and by nature, you need some measure of your and your students’ success with those goals.  And since there are thousands of teachers in Texas – hundreds or more of which are not naturally good – there has to be a common assessment.

I don’t want a common classroom, though.

My treadmill broke last week, and it’s been stressing me into a depression.  I’ve learned to do my running and walking in the comfort of my pollen-free bedroom while watching Keith Morrison lay out the details of murder after riveting murder.  There is no way on earth I’m going back outside in the dark where the mosquitos are and it might be humid and there aren’t – fortunately and unfortunately – any murders to be solved.  So I’ve done no running or walking, just cursing a lot at my treadmill and the scales.

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So here’s where I’m going with this:  The scales are how I measure and celebrate my hard work on the treadmill.  But without the treadmill, I am stubbornly content to just watch that number go in the wrong direction and bitch about the broken treadmill – as if that’s how to fix it.  Tests are how we measure our hard work in the classroom – Is that the way I’m going to measure and celebrate my hard work with kids???  Of course not!  Never have, why start now?!?  I want to find alternative ways – aka “the right ways” – to sneekily achieve what our advantaged students achieve – without the moaning and dread and copy machine.  I know this is possible.  Dear friend, colleague, mentor, in a conversation with a Resource teacher, flailing a STAAR practice workbook and bitching about the broken copier, reminded her that what kids really need to is to be reading.  Resource teacher said to friend, “It’s not what your kids need, but it’s what my kids need,” (paraphrasing) to which friend replied, in her head, “My kids don’t need that because they REEEEAAAADDDD!!!!”  I know these truths to be self-evident.

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(Really???? Gag me – I don’t mind the STAAR, but I’m certainly not going to attempt to motivate teenagers by having them reach for a test.)

 

So translate, brainiac! (me to self) – If you can find alternative ways to facilitate a learning environment that achieves the same (or better) measures of success in the classroom, why are you so uncreative and unwilling with the running??  You ran outside for decades when it was all you had, but you’ve been spoiled.  Would you be complaining about your kids scores if you had given up on them too?

Not sure what the challenge here is, but I think it’s along these lines:  You know what the goal is, and you know what your resources are, and you know what you have to do…Don’t blame a broken treadmill for your lack of activity.  And don’t ever blame a set of broken standards for your lack of creativity.

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Reading (ABC Challenge)

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I’m not sure how deeply I can delve into this subject in one post.  But since I’ve accepted this new exciting teaching position, I’ve been paying way more attention to the gurus, who, it turns out, operate out of good old common sense – something I think our schools have forgotten how to do.

So in honor of my “R” post (on the day I should actually be on “W”), I thought I’d share some nuggets of wisdom from my favorite book right now by my teacher-crush, Donalyn Miller (world’s biggest advocate for self-selected, non-graded non-worksheeted reading):

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(some research cited from other sources within the book)

“…students in remedial settings read roughly 75 percent less than their peers in regular reading…Students who do not read regularly become weaker readers with each subsequent year.  Meanwhile, their peers who read more become stronger readers – creating an ever-widening achievement gap.  Dubbed the Matthew effect by Keith Stanovich…The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

“Students who don’t read, even if they are capable of completing reading tasks at school, run the risk of falling behind students who read more than they do.  After all, Mark Twain reminds us, ‘The man who does not read great books in no better than the man who can’t.’

“My husband, a self-proclaimed slacker in school, figured out that when he finished his assignments earlier than other students, his reward was more work.  He began to work more and more slowly, stretching out assignments that he could easily have finished…”

“I do not advocate reading to my students because it is good for them or because it is required for school success.  I advocate reading because it is enjoyable and enriching.”

“What makes reading painful is when it takes longer to do reading worksheets about a book than to actually read a book.” (-a student named Sklyar)

“Students are not reading more or better as a result of the whole-class novel.  Instead, students are reading less and are less motivated, less engaged, and less likely to read in the future.”

 

Learning (ABC Challenge)

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Next on my Report Card of Life and things marked as “Needs Improvement”…Learning.  I felt like high school was a lot of time spent doing things that would never matter in real life, and I hated high school.  I felt like college was everything I was ever going to need in life, and I loved college.  And I loved graduate school.  And I loved the classes I took after grad school.  But I block out the noise and flip the “Ignore” switch if someone tries to teach me how to hold a golf club or explain north, south, east, and west because why do I care? 

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And thus, you have the summary my self-diagnosed learning disability.  (Second opinion from husband confirms.)

I don’t really think I have a disability – Contrary to the definition of a disability, I’m pretty sure I chose mine and practiced it to a craft.

It is one of the big reasons why I am so happy to have resigned from my current position to go back to the classroom.  My current (soon to be ex-) job requires me to learn how to do a lot of things that I don’t really care about, and they all make me feel mentally disabled.  The things I DO like to learn about in my job all have to do with teaching and learning.  I’ll learn about learning all day from Donnalyn Miller, Jeff Anderson, Kelley Gallagher, Penny Kittle, Julie Lythcott-Haims, and just about any Ted Talk I can get my hands on.  I love learning about forensic science – that post is coming soon.  I love learning about eating right and home decor.  But try to show me how to import a document into an Excel template and customize the margins, and you might actually be able to hear the sound of my brain powering-down.

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I’m happy that, as I’m writing this, I am firmly reminded that I do still have the superb capacity to learn new things.  It’s the learned-stubbornness against things that I rely on others to know that I need to try harder to shed.

*voice in my head*  I’m still having a hard time understanding why I need to fix this flaw – I don’t feel like this one affects me or anyone else negatively…Geez, I must really have a lot of work to do on this one.