Thursday, December 8, 2016

Queen Girls - The Fairy Tales I've Been Waiting For

Growing up, we each had our favorite fairy tales and disney princesses. I adored Pocahontas and would run around in the woods behind my house, trying to find my solace in sync with the natural world and my independence from all others around me. I adored Belle because she was an avid reader and I wanted a library like hers one day. But all fairy tales in the end led down the same shallow path. They ended happily ever after with the man and the sunset. Not that those aren't nice things if that's what you want - but that certainly is not all there is to life. 

The stories we read are the stories that shape us. Clearly, as this terribly 90s photo shows - I had no interest in boys. I had no interest in dresses. I just wanted to be done with my graduation ceremony and get back to I'm sure whatever book I was reading. 

Sorry Man, you probably were a good person.
 I just wanted #QueenGirls Books instead. 
Why were all fairy tales about finding love? And not about finding passions, careers, personal achievements? Why not about the incredible things women had achieved aside from the stereotypical, one-angled roles, as Queen Girls summarizes in their mission "the mother figure, the homemaker, the exotic beauty, the love seeker. We believe that we should be telling different stories to our children. Let's encourage girls to find their happiness, passions, drive, and self-confidence from within."

Thank goodness for a renewed wave of focus on feminism, diversity in publishing, and continual movements towards justice. Did you know that only 31% of children's books have female protagonists? I knew it was pretty low, but that statistic is shocking. Diversity in children's literature (well, all literature), is a similarly ridiculous underrepresented arena. We need to tell stories, all stories, to encourage empathy, understanding, and multiple points of views and experiences.

Queen Girls Publishing is on a mission to "Inspire Girls to follow their dreams and envision them as possible. This is the reason why the Queen Girl's fairy tales are based on the stories of real women stories." #Yes #Yes #Yes Also super cool, they have a one for one model - so they'll be donating books to local and international organizations focused on fighting illiteracy and empowering girls. 

Have I dated myself yet? This was the first computer we had at home.
 I remember getting it at the Gateway Store!
 Just imagining if I had stories about Ada Lovelace instead of Belle.
So, why am I so excited? Because these stories, all of them, need to be told. Imagine, just imagine, if it's no longer just disney princess and fairy tale queens, but truly the #QueenGirls this world already has been graced with! 

Good news - Queen Girls Publishing already has their first three pieces in the works! Their first is about Bessie Coleman, the first African American woman in the world to hold a pilot's license. The next two are based on Isadora Duncan and Savitribhai Phule. Considering I only knew one of those three people until I read more from #QueenGirls (and I'm hoping I'm not the only one so ill-informed), we all could use some more #QueenGirls in our lives!

Also good news - you can play an integral part of helping Queen Girls' mission and dream come to life. They're running a Kickstarter to collect necessary funds to print their first book, Bessie, Queen of the Sky. I'm thrilled to be supporting them - and if you also believe in a different find of fairy tale - you can donate and receive one of the first limited copies here! For more information, visit Queen Girls to learn more.

Happy reading my friends! 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

YA Favorites: Top 10 Fall Term Reads 2016

It's time for the annual tradition - get into the swing of the school year, and realize you've been so excited about reading and learning and tweeting you forgot about posting to your blog! :) 

So without further to do - here are my list of favorite fall reads from Sept.-Nov (find my whole list on my Goodreads challenge shelf), These selections I would highly recommend checking out for your clasroom library and your own pleasure too! What have been your favorite reads this fall?


Ghost by Jason Reynolds

I think I would read anything Reynolds writes. A menu, directions to make a PB & J, his to-do lists - his writing is what writing should be. Ghost is a beautiful portrait of Ghost (Castle Cranshaw) as he struggles to navigate his identity, self-worth and belonging. Despite a challenging family situation, he with the help of his mom, coach, and teammates, learns to grow beyond what he ever saw possible. Beautiful tribute to running, healing, and most importantly, the students to whom this book is dedicated “to all the young people who are running… may this book be breath.”
Grade Level: Upper Elementary & Early Middle School

Nine, Ten by Nora Raleigh Baskin 
Nine, Ten beautifully and movingly tackles the events of September 11 through the eyes of four young adults. Beginning the story two days before allows us to get to know the characters, and really feel what it was like to be a child on that day. For the generation now who was born after 2001, this book could not be more important, or timely. Baskin does a great job of highlighting 4 diverse lives - young adults Sergio, Naheed, Aimee, and Will, from the east to west coast, of varying religions, races and backgrounds. A captivating read you won’t be able to put down, and your students will benefit from. Great work with point of view, and great mentor text of a braided narrative and characterization.
Grade Level: Upper Elementary & Early Middle School 

Save Me a  Seat, by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan
This is a heartwarming, perfectly adolescent story of two classmates, Joe and Ravi, who both feel misunderstood and out of place. Joe is a special education student, who lives on sequence, routine, and quiet focus. Unfortuantely, all his friends have moved away. Ravi, a new student in school, has just moved from India where was at the top of his class, but isn't having a very easy transition to his American classroom. These two learn through who they can depend on, and find their way to friendship as they seek justice from their common enemy, the class bully, Dillon. You'll feel every emotion in this book. The combined brilliance of Weeks and Varadarajan truly shows through the spot-on voices and characterization of Joe and Ravi. The sequencing is beautiful, the plot precise and suspense building, and the themes immortal.
Grade Level: Upper Elementary & Early Middle School 

 This Side of Home by Renee Watson 
What do you do when home doesn’t feel like home? In this novel - Maya, a high school senior, her twin sister Nikki, and their mix of old and new friends struggle with the effects of gentrification in their Northwestern suburban neighborhood. Despite plans that have set for an entirety, that Nikki, Maya, and their best friend Essence would attend Spelman together while their boyfriends, Ronnie, Davin, and Malachi attend Morehouse - they begin to learn that each has a separate path calling their name, and have to adjust to be able to grow up both together and apart. With old friends moving out, new friends moving in, and a neighborhood ever-changing - this novel grapples with how gentrification affects teens, families, schools, and the entire community. What makes this novel stand out is the depth of engagement with the subject. Gentrification is not just a background topic but instead a driving force - empathy, equity, and justice are thematic pulses throughout this incredibly timely novel
Grade Level: High School 

A Tyranny of Petticoats: 15 Stories of Belles, Bank Robbers & Other Badass Girls Edited by Jessica Spotswood
This collection is an absolutely brilliant repository of what it means to have female writers #leanin both to their craft, and to the collective history of our humanity. With tales from 1710-1960, this curated collection of tales from 15 leading young adult writers spans the fantasy-historical realm to what is so realistic it nearly seems to be true historical narrative. From the civil war spy tales inside “The Red Raven Ball” to the independent heroine of “Pearls” who forthrightly declares “I am done with men owning me,” (137) as she packs her bags, to sparks of activism being awakened in “Pulse of the Panthers,” every single story has something magical to offer. Some language and sexual references, so read and recommend carefully.
Grade Level: Upper High School, with caution & specific pre-selection


The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden & The Trial of the Century by Sarah Miller

The Borden Murders is an absolutely fascinating piece. Could sweet darling Lizzie have possibly murdered her father and step-mother? This books delves head-first into trying to answer that long-debated question. This text will leave you captivated, speeding page to page to find out! The mix of narration, historical analysis and primary sources (photographs, newspaper articles) leads to a spirit of investigation and discovery that will persist long beyond closing the covers of this text.
Grade Level: Upper Middle School & High School

Really Professional Internet Person by Jenn McAllister

The story of JennxPenn, a youtuber whose journey began where most students are at - feeling awkward and like they don’t fit in. Her solace was the camera, and she filmed from a young age with her parents support. In a easy to relate to, conversational book - any child who has ever felt out of place will easily connect to her journey. This book full of her stories, top ten lists, pictures, and screenshots would be a huge hit with any fans, or aspiring youtubers, but also a great read for any adolescent as a reminder they, too, are not alone, and this, too, shall pass!
Grade Level: Upper Middle School (8th & Up) & High School

Some Assembly Required by Arin Andrews
In a world full of bigotry, discrimination, and intolerance - we all need a heavy dose of empathy, understanding, and listening. In Arin’s memoir, Some Assembly Required, we can begin to understand, for those of us cis-gendered folks, what it may be like to be in a body you feel trapped in, in one you feel like is a mistake. This memoir from childhood to high school chronicling his doubts, fears, heartaches and victories could not be more valuable to our national and international dialogue on LGBTQ rights. He discusses coming out to his family, and the long process to advocate for himself and begin gender reassignment. A frank, honest, and open memoir - giving all of us much to listen and learn from. Does reference some sexual activity - so use passages with caution.
Grade Level: Upper High School

Ten Days a Madwoman by Deborah Noyes
This informative, thorough, riveting book takes the reader on a journey with Nellie Bly, be it the Ten Days in an asylum, 72 day race around the world, or any other fascinating day of her life. For a period of history often inaccessible and impersonal - getting us into Nellie’s life, her family, friends, daily routine, workplace occurrences, successes and rejections - the detail in this book is incredible, and Nellie’s life's work creating suspense and captivating audiences in her writing is similarly well captured by Noyes. Whether in the main narrative, background interludes, images, or quotes from Nellie herself - a well done, invaluable piece of historical record.
Grade Level: Middle & High School 

Women in Science by Rachel Ignotofsky
An incredibly easy-to-digest anthology of women, this text is one that leaves you mesmerized by these women’s achievements, from modern day to early history! From Hypatia, a Greek astronomer, mathematician, and philosopher, to Maryam Mirzakhani, an Iranian mathematician, this books gives a voice and fills in gaps left untold by most history books. With words of wisdom, trivia, amazing illustrations by this graphic artist, and short 1 page biographies on each woman, this is a wonderful way to read non-fiction. As one of the women, astronomer, poet and mathematician Wang Zhenyi wrote, “It’s made to believe/women are the same as men;/are you not convinced/daughters can also be heroic?”
Grade Level: Upper Middle School & High School 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Being the "Computer Woman" and not "Computer Guy"

As I mentioned in my previous post, this academic year I've transitioned roles from teaching in the classroom to now being an Instructional Technology Facilitator. I now split my time between a middle school, high school, and our county's technology services. It's been an awesome role for me, as I always love sharing tips and tricks with my colleagues, and learning about the latest technology!

This past week in my new role, though, something happened I didn't even think about encountering. Moments like these are truly when we learn the most though, aren't they!

So let me set the scene. During a back to school night event, while at a "Tech Info" table for families, I ended up chatting with a family and the most precious young ones you can imagine. While mom was watching a presentations for her older child, I offered to keep an eye on the younger ones. So, because drawing is universal kid language, we colored, talked about school, and played tic-tac-toe. On top of wondering why I didn't ever teach elementary because these children were so darling - a turn of phrase came up during conversation that made me sink back into why initiatives for girls in STEM are so important.

When introducing myself to the family and what my role is at the school, I said something along the lines of, "No, I don't teach students here, but I teach teachers! I'm a technology facilitator, so I help teachers with their technology and share new, awesome tools with them!"

The elementary-school aged girl then asked me, "So you're the computer guy?"

At first, I didn't know what to say, because technically no, there's a desktop support engineer who does more of the hardware repairs, my job is more teaching how to use software. But in that, I suppose, fixing many of the most common issues with tech that can be hardware, and showing software applications, I could presumably be the "computer guy." My brain then jumped into hyperspeed, realizing that this sweet young girl, who could grow up to be anything in the world, was still growing up in a world with the same sexist, gendered language I had growing up 15, 20 years ago. That it would still be a "computer guy" who is male. To some, it may just seem like just a word, but to a woman who has always been slightly techno-phobic because it was a "man's" job (so no wonder a 'girl' didn't know how to fix it), I immediately knew I needed to help correct that stereotype.

"Well actually, I'm one of the computer women here at the school," I said.

The conversation then continued from there. She then told me how they have one of those at her school too, there's a man and a woman but they call them both "computer guys."

We talked about how awesome it is to have both a man and woman working with their computers and doing awesome stuff for their school, and then continued to draw and play. But something about that 30-second interaction keeps replaying in my head, even still, days later. Children grow into the world around them, and the language that we use is a defining feature of the parameters of that world.

Upworthy recently highlighted a video from Inspiring the Future's #RedrawTheBalance campaign that demonstrates this quite well too. In the video, you see children who are asked to draw people of certain careers (firefighter, surgeon, fighter pilot), and then the shock when they bring in the actual careerwomen. The look of surprise is incredible (terribly sad but so important) to watch. As a child cries out "they're dressed up!" you realize just how important it is to talk about gender and careers.

So next time you want to "call the X guy," to see if "he" is busy (which I too, am now realizing I've done far too many times), let's remember that could be a woman too. And let's realize our children are not just watching, but listening.

And my fellow #Eduhero educators, how else do you help break down stereotypes of gendered careers? Especially for girls in STEM? Please share any favorite resources below!

Summer Loving: My Summer Bucket List and Reflection

Summer is always wonderful. From the beaches to the mountains, to finally having a coffee table full of magazines instead of piles of student work, summer is a great time to re-charge, re-calibrate, and set some goals for the year ahead.

For me this summer was also very unusual, as I transitioned into a new role from inside my classroom to an Instructional Technology Facilitator (ITF) position for my school district. This was not planned, I hadn't been looking to leave the classroom but when our school's ITF was transferred to another department, I spoke with my principal about applying and he was very encouraging. With his support, I applied for the role, and after being offered the position, I had a really tough decision to make. While I had not expected to leave the classroom, I do love using, researching, finding and applying new technology. I naturally would share my tips and tricks with peer teachers to help make their lives easier and classrooms more interactive, and this role would help me be able to do that at an even larger scale. So with bittersweet goodbyes, I packed up my classroom, loaned out my library and resources to wonderful teachers I adore, and started in my new role as an ITF.

I knew it would be especially important to squeeze in every ounce of summer I could, since new school years are full of exciting, albeit time-consuming weeks! My new position also has a shorter summer (4 weeks) made this even more of an urgent priority. So here is my top list of what I wanted to do this summer, the education connections they inspired, and the things I hope to remind myself of come June 2017 :)

1. Travel

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Right to Read: Censorship is Not the Answer, but Respectful, Compassionate Conversation Is

This past week, one of the authors of All American Boys, Brendan Kiely, sent out a tweet asking for teacher and student assistance:

Now, while there is nothing new about a "fear" that knowledge will bring, there is something uniquely depressing about each time it occurs. 

Below is the letter I sent in support [ed. slightly for length/audience]. May we all do all we can to continue to fight for literature, and the right to read. Especially with books so worth reading. 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Being a Connected Teacher: #ettchat, Twitterbabies & Positive Change

I've written before about the blessings of Twitter in the classroom. An author connecting straight into your classroom is certainly fabulous, but so is having an array of Professional Development right at your fingertips!

For example, a colleague and I were struggling with how to tackle persuasive writing. Our students were struggling to capture point of view in texts, think outside of their own perspective, and really evaluate sources in an argument.

Alas - twitterbaby was born. Not sure if that's a thing, but here's my definition:

n. a new idea that has come into being from an inspirational tweet, that subsequently causes lots of brain gear shifting and sparks deeper in-person between colleagues

Here's the original EdTechTeacher Post shared on twitter where Greg Kuloweic @gregkulowiec, shows us how to make a book using offline resources which then go into Google Slides, you can collaborate with multiple people on, and then send to Issuu to make your beautiful magazine. Alas, the idea from twitter.

Then, after sharing this idea with my amazing colleague, the twitterbaby of Point & Counter Point Magazine was born. So here's what we did. Instead of the traditional "write an argument," paper, we took this, and made it more rigorous in order to address both points of view (point and counter point) before students began their own Op-Eds, writing their subjective opinion after evaluating each side. We did this in order to meet our goals of students understanding point of views, thinking outside their own perspective and being able to better evaluate sources.

It took a rather long time, as we learned, but so worth it! Students were able to dive in, we had them gather multiple kinds of sources like real investigative journalists. They conducted polls and interviews, researched articles in databases and found other blogs and video opinions. Instead of just seeing their one side, they were forced to see the other. And that caused such deeper analysis, learning, critical thinking and synthesizing.

When we surveyed students midway through this process, the survey results spoke for themselves:

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Writing for Nerdy Book Club & Four Authors Who Push Me to Dare Greatly

My 6:31 screenshot so I could remind myself later, no you
weren't dreaming, this actually happened!
In what now seems absolutely surreal, I woke up a few weeks ago to a milestone I never thought I'd achieve, my name on a Nerdy Book Club byline.

Already, by 6:30 a.m. my phone was lighting up with a flurry of new twitter followers, people sharing on Facebook, commenting, and to my pleasant surprise none of my worst fears (people telling me it was absolute crap) came true. It was shared over 1,000 times from their website, hundreds of times on Facebook, and somehow, no negative Internet hatred had yet rung down upon me.

In the weeks since I've still been processing that something could actually go well and not be a total disaster. As humans, as women, and as teachers, we often are our own worst critics. From trying a lesson that doesn't go as planned, to not having all students meet that goal we set out to -- it's so easy for us to blame ourselves and spiral into negative spaces. However, one of the many powerful things about teaching as a profession is that we are always learning, for our students, for ourselves, and for our school communities.

With this is mind, over the past year, I've been working on trying to portion out a larger percentage of that learning energy for myself too, feeding my own soul and doing what makes me feel most alive. A big part of that has been working up the courage to prioritize myself, which, not surprisingly, is making me more effective in my classroom as well.

From taking the #100daysofrealfood challenge with my boyfriend to reignite my love of cooking and help ourselves get healthier, to getting back into running, to gardening, it's been a good year of working on my own personal growth. However, my last goal seemed the scariest: writing. It's something I've wanted to do since childhood. (Just ask my mother, she loves telling the story of my elementary school days, when I, forever writing, even wrote a book for my dentist and gave it to him). Writing has been a constant wish, but never something I'd gotten up the courage to do. The voice in my head kicks in that it's not good enough, it's not worth writing because no one will ever want to read it anyway.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

When Twitter Knocks on Your Classroom Door: Let It In!

For the past few weeks, our class has been reading The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn. I'll be honest, I'd never read the book before. It was chosen by the faculty of my school last year, so when I accepted my new position, books were ordered and the class was set. As I read the dystopian/sci-fi, I was intrigued by the themes -- in a new futuristic world of 2025, barcodes were embedded into people's arms as a way of interacting - as payment, tracking, identification, classification, etc. When it became required by law -- the question is will people be able to resist and survive, or will they be swallowed by Global-1?

In an effort to move beyond the "guide questions" model of whole-class novels resulting in immense boredom by every party involved, we've been integrating blogs, collaborative thematic analysis and creative endeavors to dissect the dystopian vision. Therefore, one of the assignments I designed was to create an advertisement or meme for both sides of the debate in the novel: the Global-1 dominating force (the new corporation in place of the government), or the small, but vital circle around the protagonist of "resistors" to the movement, urging people to decode and not get the barcode.

We used google drawings (as I told my class, step 1 to learning how to photoshop), and I modeled making an ad on both sides of the spectrum. I was incredibly impressed and decided instead of just letting the display live on our class websites and our bulletin board, to tweet the author! I'd been honored to get some replies from authors in recent months about just my reactions to books so I figured, why not?

Here is the exchange: 

February Reading Round Up

There is always so much to love about February -- the possibility of snow days (in reality... ice days...), the rush of candy at Valentine's, and the hope of warmer weather right around the corner. In the meanwhile, any chance to curl up with tea and a good book by the fireplace, I'll take. So here's my favorites since the last time I got to share mid-month.

 Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys 

Absolutely brilliant piece of historical fiction! The first I've read of Sepetys, and clearly now will need to read some of her past ones. Won me over from the first page with the Primo Levi quote and kept me glued to the end. Story of four teens from very different paths all trying to escape Soviet advance in WWII, trying to flee by ship. Over 25,000 people died in just 1945 in Baltic Sea. Very new point of view to read from, evacuation ships being torpedoed. Astoundingly well researched, as a history major in my undergraduate, very impressed! I now want to go read all her suggested titles for further research.

For teachers: there is allusion to a sexual assault leading to pregnancy and the "taking" of women by Soviet soldiers -- fine line here. Otherwise no objectionable material. I'd say definitely 8th & up, 7th with caution depending on circumstances.

Eyes Wide Open by Paul Fleischman 

This book would be a welcome addition to any MS/HS classroom! Great piece of non-fiction exploring environmental work and digging deeper into the issues. Index, Glossary, Citations, recommendations for further research - excellent read!

Fleischman really challenges you to think about what we consume in the world, and what our responsibility is as we are continually avoiding the more challenging questions in favor of "well, we'll take care of it later." 

One mention of condoms in a metaphor, but otherwise clean! 

Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban 

This book is the very sad, soulful story of ten-year-old Manami, who after the attack on Pearl Harbor, is forced into an internment camp. Yujin, their family dog, is lost in the process and sent home. Yearning for him, and Bainbridge Island, WA, their true home, she loses her voice metaphorically and physically as her family enters and struggles to adjust to life in the camps. Solid, harrowing historical fiction. Great debut novel! Would be a good addition to any WWII Study or Historical Human Rights Studies, Upper Elementary or Middle School! 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Four Winter Reads: All American Boys, Inside Out & Back Again, Teaching with Heart & Pax.

These books!! Some old, some new, all of them so important! 

All American Boys
Required reading for 21st century America. A brilliant, timely read for not just young adults, but all adults grasping with police brutality, race, action, anger and frustration. One of those books that reminds you of the power of fictional stories to get to the heart of, and help grapple with, real-life tragedy. Among the best I've seen. Braided narrrative between Rashad and Quinn, one who is the victim of police brutality, and the other who sees, and says nothing, and has to grapple with that choice. Cannot wait to be out in paperback, definite addition to the syllabus for 2016-17 school year. I read aloud pieces with my students this year, and it's quick to be passed around! Highly recommend for Middle & High School!

Inside Out & Back Again
So glad I finally got to this one! Charmingly sweet story of a young girl who escapes the Vietnam War and resettles in Alabama. What most inspired me was the author's quote at the end, as she explains her similar background: "Aside from remembering facts, I worked hard to capture Ha's emotional life. What was it like to live where bombs explored every night yet where sweet snacks popped up at every corner? What was it like to sit on a ship heading toward hope? What was it like to go from knowing you're smart to feeling dumb all the time" (261). The wisdom of this feisty young girl who "touches the floor first" will speak to many hearts and minds, and truly reach out to young readers. As the mother says, "Oh, my daughter, at times you have to fight, but preferably not with your fists" (216).

Teaching with Heart

An absolutely stunning collection of poetry by and for educators. Each poem in the collection is paired with what the poem means to the educator who submitted the poem. I'm honestly not quite sure what I enjoyed more, all the voices of educators from around the world, or the poems themselves! This collection offers an incredible look at the life of teaching from another perspective. I so enjoyed seeing some favorite poems and getting introduced to new favorites in this anthology. On a more personal note, as a Middlebury alumna, it was very exciting to see a fellow Middlebury alum among the submissions, hoping I get to cross paths with her in the future!

This sweet piece tells the story of a young boy Peter and his pet fox, Pax. They've been seperated because Peter's dad, before he left to fight in the war (leaving Peter to live with his grandfather), made Peter set Pax free into the wild. Unable to live without Pax, Peter runs away to find him. As they learn to survive without each other, he and Pax (story in both voices), both learn much about themsleves and their friendship as they grow closer together, and farther apart. I was originally skeptical of the plot line and how invested I'd be in these characters, but Pennypacker makes it so genuine, any age could truly love it. I'd recommend for Upper ES/MS.

Monday, January 18, 2016

5 Things I Re-Learned About Reading While Reading Minecraft

Admittedly, I thought my nerdcred has always been on point. After I got over a larger portion of my adolescent angst, I started to hang out with the “smart kids.” I was in more AP classes than I could count my junior and senior year, and even hit the epitome of nerdlife by being in our Calculus Club.
Regardless, when the Minecraft boom hit, I was in the awkward end of my undergraduate, starting my “real life” years and missed the boat. I knew enough to “pass” amongst friends and students who played -- I could catch the pixely references and admire other people’s creations in the game, but never had really dove in myself. I decided over the winter break for the sake of some of my kiddos who happen to also be some of the few I haven’t been able to match books with yet - I’d make the jump. Alas, there I was, a mid-twenties lady buying Minecraft books at Costco days before Christmas Eve (good choice, Brittany!). I got the box set and began.
WOW. That is really all there is to say and all that I have to say. Reading the books, while the lexile is upper elementary middle school, as an “educated” person with several degrees, I was stumped. I constantly bothered my boyfriend… and humbly, have a few reflections to offer:
  1. Context/Prior Knowledge/Schemas - IT MATTERS - The book begins with a kind intro chapter for those of us without pixelated castles into the sky, helping us dive in -“What is Minecraft?” I thought this would be the perfect place to get my lexicon and move forward, but even then, I was struggling. Servers - how do I understand how the game is played without knowing what a server is? I thought those just stored stuff, how can you play a game on it? And NPCs? Despite the appositive definition (non-player character), I still was lost. How is it a character that doesn’t play, it’s robot-character? Isn’t this a game people play together?

  1. Writing Matters & Authenticity Matters - The fact that this dad (author, Mark Cheverton) figured out how to teach his son about cyber-bullies by writing a book through Minecraft is just, well, the sweetest thing I could possibly imagine. As he signs his author’s note, his authenticity pours out of the page with his sign-off, “Keep Reading, Be Nice, and watch out for the creepers.”

Sunday, January 3, 2016


This may seem like a bizarre time of year (wrong holiday, brain cells!) to think about gratitudes, but as I reflect on this past year and look forward to 2016 and returning to my classroom tomorrow, some thanks I have and would like to share. 

1. People Who Inspire Me
Professors: The people who inspire me to keep going... the people who demonstrate daily that careers can happen and be sustained. From undergrad to grad school, thankful for their research, more experienced outlook and support. They truly are the best of teachers, modeling compassion, (thanks for taking my panic phonecalls, from tricky student situations to professional guidance!), wisdom, and activism.
Coaches: I was lucky to have several coaches in my short tenure so far, Teach For America coaches and a state-appointed Literacy Coach through Literacy Matters, a South Carolina reading program. I would not be the teacher I am without them today. Whether bringing me food when I literally was just forgetting to eat, or inspiring and challenging me to be better, each conversation has led me to be the teacher I now am and work to be.
Colleagues: Whether it's sending memes, not being the only one at school til 6pm, or just a hug after one of those days. Truly could not do it alone.
Twitter Teachers: I realize the creep factor here... but after spending some quality time chasing links, arranging tweet decks in prep of twitter chats, it's truly humbling to see how many dedicated teachers are not just in their own classroom, but actively sharing with others! It helps to not feel so alone when you have a whole internet of world-class, thoughtful teachers.
Non-Teacher Friends: Sometimes it's important to remember everyone works hard... and there can be work-life balance. I may not be there yet, but it's good to see the example.
My Students: Granted, some students will show us they need us in all the not-so-nicest kind of ways, but on the whole, none of us would ever still be teaching if we didn't see the value in our students. I've seen students work harder than I ever could've understood at their age, fight injustice in their communities and break barriers, bring awareness to issues by inspiring their classmates, sing with might, dance with such spirit, grow with determination, and be overall the people I want to be when I grow up. 

2. Guilt-Free Relaxation Time
I posted previously on social media about how grateful I was for finally, in my fourth year, realizing I needed a break more than I needed to catch up/get ahead with classroom responsibilites. The slew of re-posting the scientifically proven benefits of break for teachers was merely the confirmation I needed to know I'd made the right call. I would slug books and papers home, and could feel my anxiety rising every time I looked at it and hadn't done anything. I would try, and just break down, generally not getting anything done anyway. Taking these two weeks, and choosing to take these two weeks has not only been empowering, but truly restorative. 

3. Opportunities to Grow
This month I'll be reaching a new goal, presenting at a conference. I attended the conference, the South Carolina Council of Teachers of English, a local branch of NCTE, at the suggestion of one of my grad school professors last year. Not only did I fall in love with Penny Kittle there, but I fell in love with a session, "What's Hot In YA?" As a voracious reader myself who always tries stay current for my students benefit, I felt right at home! At the end, they mentioned they were looking for new readers, and despite my immense fear of signing up just to be rejected, I gulped down some panic and figured I should at least give myself the chance. Jumping out of my comfort zone, I signed up to potentially read on this panel. I never thought I'd be invited with so many incredible teachers there, but once I got the offer later on that panic turned into such joy! It's been awesome getting to put my reading to good use, connect with other teachers and I can't wait to see the connections that come of sharing the booklove this year. 

4. Making It This Far
As a fellow English teacher and blogger I've become aquainted with through the twittersvere has written in his description, "And at a time when many of my friends have left the profession or are considering leaving, I'm clinging to it."  The stats of teaching are dismal, and I'm not even going to waste time finding the research again. I made it through the first year (thanks for all the people in #1), where nearly 50% of teachers leave, and then I'm over the hump at 3.5 years now, where 50% of teachers will leave between years 4-5. I love my job, at its core, connecting with young people and helping them along their way to do the incredible things and become the fabulous people they'll be and are in this world. And despite the multitudes of tasks, frustrations, hoops and fires we have to jump through and put out each day -- the more I can "bring it back to the small space," as Lauren Quinn writes, hopefully the better I'll be this year :)