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 :)