reading: Rebecca

December 27, 2015

If Jane EyreDowntown Abbey, and Gone Girl had a baby, it would be Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. This book combines the tense suspicion and guileless heroine of the Gothic novel, with the upstairs / downstairs tension and time period of the television series, and the horrifying husband and wife intrigue of the modern novel. If you are looking for a cozy but creepy read this winter, you must pick up this book.

From the very beginning, this book is lushly written. The unnamed female narrator describes a dream of her abandoned home in which nature has darkly overtaken the unoccupied English manor: "The woods always a menace even in the past, has triumphed in the end. They crowded, dark and uncontrolled, to the borders of the drive. The beeches with white, naked limbs leaned close to one another, their branches intermingled in a strange embrace, making a vault above my head like the archway of a church." The struggle of the civilized property against the dark influence of the uninhibited desires of nature symbolizes the struggle of the main characters against the maniacal personalities of others.

This unnamed narrator is a young woman that chooses to marry an older widower, Maximillian de Winter despite his reserved and gloomy nature and higher status. She is overshadowed in her new role as Mrs. de Winter by his previous wife, Rebecca, although she is dead. All anyone can talk about is Rebecca, the whole house is still arranged as Rebecca would have it, and the deranged housekeeper Mrs. Danvers will not allow a new mistress to take over. The main character doesn't even get a name, and the book is named for the deceased wife.

As the book progresses, suspense builds immensely. Mrs. de Winter struggles to fit into the house, and begins to unravel the truth about Rebecca, and her death. There are many unexpected twists to the story, tightening the fabric of the narrative. Mysteries are solved, renewed, and deepened. I don't want to spoil it. All I can say is that if you need to read this book.

liking: getting organized with Sugar Paper

December 13, 2015

Sugar Paper weekly planning pad, padfolio, and calendar

I couldn't resist snapping up some of these blush colored stationary goods from Target when I saw them. It's the little things that make an impact on my mood and productivity. The lovely weekly planning pad has helped me organize my meal plans, and I am looking forward to using the calendar for the new year, and the padfolio for conferences and trainings. 

styling: slouchy knit + marsala pants

December 4, 2015

outfit: thrifted sweater (originally from H&M), scarf from Target, polka dot tank from Target, belt from Target, essential skinny pant in Julie fit from LOFT, and ankle boots from Target.

As the weather gets chilly, I find that I just want to wear layer upon layer. This outfit fits the bill, and is really comfortable for long days in the classroom. I can't seem to walk out of the house without a sweater and scarf. For winter, look for some long drapey sweaters, as they make life better. I promise.

Also, I bought these pants from LOFT this fall, and they are magical. They hold a nice shape, and have a seam up the back, which is a fun detail. I want to collect all the colors.

reading: The Bone Clocks

November 30, 2015

I would recommend this book for avid readers of David Mitchell's books. But, if you are new to David Mitchell's writing, I would suggest reading Black Swan Green, an inventive coming of age story, or Cloud Atlas, an exploration of structure in which six stories are wrapped into each other like nesting dolls, before reading The Bone Clocks, which includes characters and motifs from other books by David Mitchell.

The Bone Clocks is a set of six intertwined stories focused on a fantastical battle between reincarnating beings called Horologists, and the vampiric evil of the human killing Anchorites. It also focuses on the character, Holly Sykes. The combination of the very mortal Holly, and the very surreal war being waged on the periphery of her life is disorienting. The blending of fantasy and realism left me cold. The infinite conflict made the finite experiences of the mortal characters seem to lack consequence.

The book raises interesting questions about the lengths that humans will go to live "forever", about the dichotomy of predator and prey in human nature, and about the interconnectedness of life. I also enjoyed the references to his other characters, the interesting spiritual world he weaves into all of his books, and the way the book echoes the structure of Cloud Atlas.  But, in the end, I found the book less enveloping and meaningful compared to Mitchell's other works that I have read.

sponsored: Drinking Chai Tea and Planning

October 11, 2015

Tea India sent me the cutest pack of chai teas as the fall started, and I have been loving them. Their Chai Moments line is made up of really convenient powdered chai mixes that only require hot water. As a teacher, I am really excited by these; they are portable, flavorful, caffeinated, and quick. What more could an avid tea drinker who lives the busy life of a teacher ask for? These teas are a great alternative to soda during my afternoon slumps and easy to make at school, but they are equally lovely on my cozy weekends at home.

Today, I had the cardamom flavor, and sipped it as I planned for my week ahead. The spiced steam curled around my cup as I sorted through my Filofax and made sure I knew what was coming up this week. These teas are creamy, strongly flavored, and just delicious. If you are looking for a quick way to enjoy chai tea this fall and winter, I would highly recommend these. The masala tea is the kind of chai I am more used to, much like Starbucks, but less expensive and more convenient. The ginger tea is the spiciest, with that almost crystallized ginger bite to it. The milk tea is a great mild and creamy black tea. The cardamom has a lighter spice to it, and is great on a sunny fall day.

If you can get your hands on a box of Chai Moments, I would highly recommend it. I plan to repurchase the cardamom flavor and keep a box in my desk at school for those days when I just need a chai pick me up.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

teaching: preparing for the first week of school

September 6, 2015

As I prepared my classroom for this next school year, I realized that my process for readying my physical spaces and mental processes has improved greatly from my first year teaching. Here are five tips on setting up a classroom for the first week of school:

1. Decode your schedule and strategize ahead of time.

I always start my year by checking to see if my room assignment has changed. My school often has teachers sharing rooms for part of the day because space is so limited. I look to see how many students I will have in each room, as this will guide how many copies I make to keep in each room, and how many desks I will need in each room. I also ask myself how many sets of informational signs, turn in bins, and class supplies I will need to outfit each room.

Also, I begin to think about what my days will look like. Do I have prep early in the morning, allowing me to plan for tomorrow and check on the materials for that day? Or, do I have prep in the afternoon, allowing me time to grade assignments, and make copies for following days.

2. Set up your physical space to be fun, and functional.

Even though it is time consuming, working with the teachers I share a classroom with to claim a corner, a shelf, and part of a bulletin board is important. It has helped me to stay organized if I have a nice looking space to communicate information, collect papers, and store extra copies. Bedsheets make great covers for older bulletin boards. Large width washi tape creates great organizing boxes on chalk boards and white boards without leaving residue behind, even after months sitting on the board. I double up my signs on expectations to match with tasks they teach students about. For example, this year, my "no name" papers instructions and absent student resources are going to be placed in a single folder stapled beneath a coordinating sign.

3. Communicate class expectations clearly, with room for student input.

I use my school's guidelines for behavior as the skeleton for my class expectations. I like to have these posted in my classroom on the very first day. I center my expectations under a few categories, that way if a student is acting inappropriately, I can remind them of a general category that is easy to remember. Talking about what it means to be prepared, be respectful, be responsible, and be safe is where the students are able to clarify what that looks like and what it means.

I also think through my warning system before the school year starts. The more I have thought about this, the better I can communicate it to students. I plan to use a non-verbal reminder first, then a verbal reminder referring to the rule. After that, I will conference with the student in the hallway. I find that saying these processes out loud allows students to trust my process and helps behavior management run smoothly. I want to continue to improve my communication and consistency with students each year.

I also think through my late work policies, absent work policies, and how to hand in physical papers and electronic work. Picturing my classroom and all the possibilities that may pop up in a week helps me to be as organized as possible before school starts.

4. Create a class website that can be your central command.

I like to post my class materials and expectations to a third party website. Often, I find that school systems for websites have to get updated, and content can disappear. I especially like posting policies, calendars, daily summaries, and resources on my edublog. The time I use to post items online pays off in the end, because students and parents know where to look for make up work, and it reduces the amount of rummaging I do for copies late in the semester.

5. Think through student work flow before you start receiving assignments.

Schoology is my best friend. I post all my assignments and quizzes there, which gives students a streamlined way to complete assignments, and gives me a streamlined way to provide feedback, and grade. If you have the opportunity to go largely paperless and use Schoology, I really encourage you to do so. 

a reflection on #BlackFair

August 29, 2015

Today I met with hundreds of other people at Hamline Park in Saint Paul, and marched down Snelling Avenue toward the Minnesota State Fair. I had been told by various sources that the protest was intending to stir up trouble, that violence was imminent from both organizers and hecklers, that the protest set up by Black Lives Matter Saint Paul was "inappropriate" and lacking a cause. Here's how I saw and experienced the event as a white woman who has grown up in Saint Paul and is committed to a more just world.

The Purpose

I saw the purpose of this event as two-pronged. To point out the disparities within the State Fair, and to use the visibility of the Fair to point out racial injustice within the state and country. Although the Fair doesn't prevent people of color from having booths, it doesn't collect data on the race of vendors so that diversity and equity can be tracked. This is why no one was able to provide information about the amount of diversity represented at the Fair from either side. Seeking more transparency and tracking from the Fair is a valid reason to peacefully protest. Bringing a protest to a place of commerce always seems to rub people the wrong way, but it seems to be the only way to bring visibility to overlooked issues. My hope was that the visibility of the protest would continue to bring attention to the ways that systematic racism and mass incarceration harm our whole society.

The Protest

I attended the protest with a close friend, her husband, her sister, and her ten month old daughter in a stroller. We heard the organizers reminding the gathered crowd before starting that Black Lives Matter was created by queer black women, and that the liberation and acceptance of women, the LGBTQIA community, and other groups experiencing discrimination were all tied together. We heard the organizers encourage the crowd to protest peacefully, and take care of themselves. And then we started walking. Standing in solidarity with my fellow Twin Cities residents, of all colors, abilities, ages, and orientations was an honor. I was in awe of the organized and caring way the marshalls in neon vests directed marchers, and the passion they communicated to us through their voices amplified by megaphones. I felt thankful for the police that created a perimeter for us and kept us safe, but also resented that they were partly there out of fear that protestors would turn violent. I felt a soaring hope that agitation helps make things happen in the shadow of the front gate of the State Fair, and also felt ashamed when I heard heckling coming from fairgoers on the other side of the chain link fences. I felt relief and pride as we peacefully walked back down Snelling Avenue to end our protest. 

The Impact

So, now I am sitting at my dining room table, and it's getting late. My feet are sore, and I am tired. But the work is not over. I feel extreme hope when I remember all the beautiful people that marched on the Fair. I feel extreme sadness when I look through social media and see white people criticizing the movement for timing or venue and claiming that "all lives matter" and "white lives matter, too." I don't think tearing down attempts at equality or feeling guilty and attempting to minimize the problem help progress. 

As civil rights activist, Anne Braden, said, "I’ve never seen it [guilt] move anybody. I think what everybody white that I know has gotten involved in the struggle got into it because they glimpsed a different world to live in. The meaning of life is in that struggle, that human beings have always been able to envision something better. I don’t know where they get it but that’s what makes human beings divine I think. But all through history there’ve been people who’ve envisioned something better in the most dire situations, and that’s what you want to be a part of. You won’t see the fruits of it but that that’s what you want to be a part of."

Envision a world in which people truly were judged by the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin. Imagine a world in which all cultures are respected, celebrated, and preserved. Imagine a world that shares in a rich diversity of knowledge, customs, and skills. This is a world in which black lives matter. This is a world in which all lives matter, because, finally, black lives matter. Imagine what we could accomplish.

I plan to educate myself and continue to show up for events that promote equity and this vision of a better future. I plan to combat colorblindness, privilege, and apathy within myself. I plan to share what I have experienced with others. I wish you well on your journey, and encourage you to do so also. 

My sources:

reading: The Poisonwood Bible

August 24, 2015

I had very little idea of what to expect when I cracked open The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Many people had recommended it to me, and I had walked past the book on library shelves more times than I can count. Once I finally started reading it, what I experienced was a visceral novel about family, gender, religion, colonization, love, and forgiveness. This is now one of my favorite books.

The Poisonwood Bible tells the story of the family of Nathan Price, a Baptist preacher who uproots his white family from Jim Crow era Georgia to be missionaries in Congo, which is on the cusp of revolution and unrest. When transplanted to African soil, European ideas and intentions morph and change beyond what anyone could have imagined.

“Everything you're sure is right can be wrong in another place. ” -Barbara Kingsolver

The story is narrated by Nathan's wife, Orleanna, and his daughters, Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May. Each of these women has her own discernible voice. I was often laughing at the way vain Rachel mixed up words (for instance, saying Damnisty International), being struck by the poetic observations of stunted Adah, and feeling for Leah's constant striving to overcome her whiteness as she realized how Africa had been manipulated by Europe and America. The characters grow up completely, and this story is an epic, tracing their lives from childhood to adulthood. The book tells the story of colonization though the metaphor of this small family, as each character makes an impact on Africa whether they want to or not, and is changed irrefutably by Africa whether they want to be or not.

"Away down below single file on the path comes a woman with four girls, the pale doomed blossoms. The mother leads them on, blue-eyed, waving a hand in front of her to part the curtain of spiders’ webs. She appears to be conducting a symphony. Behind her back the smallest child pauses to break off the tip of every branch she can reach. She likes the stinging green scent released by the broken leaves. [...] If the mother and her children had not come down the path on this day, the pinched tree branches would have grown larger and the fat-bodied spider would have lived. Every life is different because you passed this way and touched history. Even the child Ruth May touched history. Everyone is complicit." -Barbara Kingsolver

I was also drawn in by the depiction of religion, and the comparison between Nathan Price's harsh and judgemental God, and the natural and flexible view of the divine held by Brother Fowles, the previous missionary to Kilanga before the Prices. Borther Fowles befriends the natives of Congo, he lets their customs blend with his, and he shares the life of the place he visits, instead of combatting it. He sees God in nature, and believes that salvation is not as simple as being born in a "civilized" country.

“ in Creation which is made fresh daily and doesn’t suffer in translation. This God does not work in especially mysterious ways. The sun here rises and sets at six exactly. A caterpillar becomes a butterfly. A bird raises its brood in the forest and a greenheart tree will only grow from a greenheart seed. He brings drought sometimes followed by torrential rains and if these things aren’t always what I had in mind, they aren’t my punishment either. They’re rewards, let’s say for the patience of a seed.” -Barbara Kingsolver

This book is challenging. It is lushly written, emotionally gripping, and extremely thought provoking. It is a must read. 

styling: Inspiration from Ginnifer Goodwin

August 17, 2015

I love to collect pictures for style inspiration on Pinterest. I have a board devoted to style inspiration, and one person that consistently shows up in this board is Ginnifer Goodwin.  Here's the link to the board if you are curious. 

When I look through pictures I have pinned, I like to look for details that recur in the pictures, or are reflected in my wardrobe. These are elements of my personal style and taste.

Here's why I love Ginnifer's style:

  • Her hair: I love her pixie cut. It looks so chic and quirky!
  • Her sunglasses: With her hair, she can pull off classic Wayfarer type shapes and more unique cat eye shapes. 
  • Her collars and shirting: I love that her character Mary Margaret on Once Upon a Time is a teacher. She wears a lot of collared shirts buttoned up all the way, which Ginnifer does also. It makes a button up style dress or shirt look crisp and unique. 
  • Her shoes: I love the variety of shoes she wears, from ballet flats to clogs to lace up oxfords. These are some of my favorite style to wear. 
  • Her knee length skirts and slim fit pants. So flattering and wearable for work. 
  • Her use of pattern: I love stripes, plaid, and black and white mixed patterns, so it's no surprise these showed up on my inspiration board. 
  • Her use of layering: She wears so so many cute jackets, coats, and blazers. I love to layer, and celebrate fall for just that reason!
If this made you curious, I encourage you to think about people whose style inspires you. Create a place to keep images, and then reflect on what your personal style is. This will help you sort through your wardrobe, and make smart purchasing decisions that fit with the image you want to project. 

teaching: Keeping in Touch with Friends During the School Year

August 14, 2015

During my first year of teaching, I felt like I was in a tunnel of loneliness. I was drowning in my own paper work, trying to maintain order in my classroom, and ignoring my nutritional and social needs at home. Over my last few years settling into teaching, I've realized that there are some pretty effective ways to maintain the friendships that keep me going. Here are my top five strategies to make time for my friends.

1. Trivia. Many restaurants run trivia through services like Trivia Mafia or Sporcle. Get a group together, and meet once a week to chat, snack, and compete.

2. Exercise. Make plans to exercise with someone close by that you want to see regularly. I attend a weekly yoga class with one of my best friends, and it's a great way to get necessary exercise and catch up with her.

3. Book Club. I love to read, and so do many of my friends. My book club meets every month, and so far, that schedule has been lovely. I get to read something besides student essays, have meaningful discussions of books, and see old friends.

4. Work Date. When I need to spend an afternoon grading, I call up my friends that like coffee, or have writing or projects of their own to complete. We hit up a coffee shop in the area, drink good coffee, and distract each other from the task at hand.

5. Weekly Dinner. My husband and I often scrounge for dinners- we'll eat what's around the house without blinking an eye. But at least once a work week we sit down to eat dinner together, talk about our budget, and just unplug from our phones and Netflix.

Definitely make plans with friends a part of your routine, and allow your meetings to multitask as opportunities to do things that matter to you.

reading: The Maytrees

August 10, 2015

During college, I made my way through many of Annie Dillard's books, such as Teaching a Stone to Talk and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which are strong examples of narrative nonfiction. Her writing is so rich, and her observations are so detailed. I was excited to read a copy of her second novel, The Maytrees, to see her caliber of writing turned to fiction.

"For a long time they owned no car, no television when that came in, no insurance, no savings. Once a week they heard world news on the radio. They supported striking coal miners' families with cash. They loved their son, Pete, their only  child. Between them they read about three hundred books a year. He read for facts, she for transport. Nothing about them was rich, except their days swollen with time." -Annie Dillard

The Maytrees is an ephemeral story of a bohemian couple living on the sliver of Cape Cod between sky and sea. The blur between wide open expanses serves as a backdrop for the story, but also as an image for how the story is structured. As the story follows the main characters, Toby and Lou, time slips through the fabric of the story, early memories combining with later ones and the perspectives of the family flow into one another. Toby's poetry is his life, along with loving quiet painter, Lou. Lou's life centers around her son and the books she reads. The story meanders along their lives, telling the story of the way a couple can separate, and find each other many times in a lifelong friendship.

"They held themselves alert only in those few million cells where they touched. She learned from those cells his awareness and his courtesy. Love so sprang at her, she honestly thought no one had ever looked into it. Where was it in literature? Someone would have written something. She must not have recognized it. Time to read everything again." -Annie Dillard

The true hero of the story is reserved Lou. Although the third person omniscient perspective allows the reader into the minds of father and son, Lou's mind is the one that the reader experiences true love through. Despite the fact that Toby attempts to write poetry, and capture the idea of love, he falls short of understanding love and living it out. Instead, it is the ideas trapped in Lou's silent contemplation that teach the other characters, and the reader, about the true nature of love.

"Wishing and doing, within the realm of the possible, was willing; love was an act of will. Not forced obeisance, but- what? The obvious course of decency? Innate knowledge of goodness? Was it reasonable to love the good and good to love the reasonable?" -Annie Dillard

In The Maytrees, Annie Dillard told a story in which true love is not happy or easy, but somehow, in the end, that depiction rings true and is comforting. The book allows for a life lived well, despite difficulties, and despite the fact that life must end.

teaching: Three Vital Mindsets for Success

August 7, 2015

The most inspiring speaker I heard while attending the NAFNext conference in Anaheim was Dr. Randal Pinkett. He spoke on the modern situation, and described the three mindsets necessary to succeed in this modern landscape- the mindsets of the entrepreneur, the innovator, and the global citizen.

As he describes it, our world is shaped by the economy, technology, and diversity. Those who can make do with less, keep up with change, and work with people who do not look like them will be the ones to succeed. 

Entrepreneurs make do with less, they are creative, resourceful, courageous, resilient, and passionate. He emphasized that students have these traits, and that we can help them hone these traits by modeling passion for our subject matter, and working effectively on a team.

Innovators have a healthy acceptance of failure and change. They fail fast rather than hard, and are willing to persist enthusiastically to pursue solutions. Teaching students through project and experience based learning allows them to develop the skills to take risks and learn from mistakes.

Global citizens embrace diversity in their work and personal lives. They build meaningful relationships with people who think differently than them. Randal emphasized that only interacting with people that think like you nullifies the benefits of diversity- multiple viewpoints. He called for teachers to diversify their networks to set a positive example for their students.

When we hear presentations that say that we are preparing students for careers that have not been conceived of, I think teachers can fall back on these ideas. Economies, technology, and diversity will be consistent presences in our growing world. If students can build skills and mindsets that help them to navigate these modern hallmarks, they will have transferable skills for whatever changes occur. Not only that, but they will have strong supports to help them succeed despite difficulty, change, and culture.

If you are interested in hearing Dr. Randal Pinkett speak on this topic, here is a TEDTalk similar to the speech he gave to our conference: He is a great speaker, and so it is worth checking out, and maybe even playing for your class. 

teaching: Using Teams of Teachers Effectively

August 3, 2015

Some of the best NAF trainings I went to dealt with team dynamics, and how to work with other teachers in ways that didn’t waste time, were organized, and actually make a difference in the performance of students. The two most helpful trainings I went to were led by Michelle Swanson of Swanson and Cosgrove Consulting. Here’s a summary of my takeaways, and some of my thoughts on implementing these ideas.

Leveraging a team to support struggling students

Teaching can be a lonely enterprise, but it doesn’t need to be. As schools grow, the growing trend of using teams of teachers to collaborate and support students combats the overwhelming number of students in schools and classrooms. With the NAF model, academies are teams of teachers that can be leveraged to identify and support struggling or at risk students. There are four steps to effectively use a team to support students according to Michelle Swanson: identify the team, structure the team’s members and meetings, define “struggling” and how to notice the signs, and then create systematic supports for students.

1. Identify team members, and then look within your team to support struggling students.

2. Spend time structuring the team so that the work is centered on the students. Meet to identify students that need support, not to cover announcements that could be sent out in an email.

3. Define what the early signs are for struggling students. What are the red flags that show that a student may need intervention to succeed? Some possible suggestions for these signs: missing more than 10% of school days, semester course failure, GPA below 2.0, and negative in class behavior.

4. After defining what the signs are, decide on supports such as summer bridge programs, tutoring after school. mentoring, and having a teacher that advises students identified as struggling.

The idea is that all students are capable, and that a team of staff can work together to catch more students and help all students use their talents and seize all the opportunities possible.

Making team meetings as effective as possible

So many modern meetings seem to be all about releasing information that could be sent through email. They feel like a waste of time. As we develop more ways to communicate information, our meetings need to be necessary, student focused, timely, and use clearly developed expectations and norms to drive truly meaning work.

Here are some of Michelle's suggestions for making team meetings effective:
  • Don’t meet if you don’t need to. Information delivery can be saved for email, collaborative, student focused, action oriented work lends itself to meeting in person. 
  • Adopt a common meeting mindset. Value each other’s time, and create meeting norms and working norms to ensure expectations are clear. If we expect our students to be professional and learn life skills, we need to demonstrate those skills also. 
  • Make sure to use meeting goals and agendas that accomplish the larger goals of your program or department. 
  • Stick to an agenda, and hold everyone to predetermined time limits. 
  • Use systems like Google Docs to take information from the meeting, and turn it into action. 
  • Each meeting, take time to reflect on the effectiveness of the meeting. Review and revise the norms, and hold people accountable for them. 
  • Make sure everyone on the team has a role in the meeting and beyond their teaching. If someone can claim a part of the team’s duties as their own, they are more likely to be engaged. 
In the end, I think that these are great suggestions. I want to push committees, planning teams, and even my students to consider some of these solutions, especially with setting norms and making work time worth while. Who knows, maybe we could even use this for our staff meetings. 

reflecting: NAFNext Conference, 2015

July 29, 2015

After spending three very full days in Anaheim, it's nice to sit down and reflect on what my takeaways from the NAFNext Conference. The National Academy Foundation puts on a great conference annually, and the days were filled with sessions that attendees could elect to attend, speakers during meals, and time to plan with academy teams.

Conferences and trainings in general

I think it is very worthwhile to attend conferences and trainings if you teach with national programs like NAF, AP, IB, or AVID. Attending this conference allowed me to understand the larger goals of the National Academy Foundation, network with teachers from throughout America, plan with my team, and learn from experts. Often, the time spent speaking with teachers from other areas is as illuminating as the lessons from the speakers; it's interesting to hear how other schools operate and implement their programs. These insights also allow me to examine what my school and district do well, and what we can continue to strive to improve.

Career education

The National Academy Foundation is committed to marrying rigor and career education. They are opening thousands of industry themed academies around America to help close the skills gap between what students know leaving school and what companies are looking for. Career education is not just for other people's children, it is not for students who are not cut out for college. Career education is a way into college, with a focused purpose and distinct direction.

Why teachers should seize every summer training opportunity

It was truly a pleasure to get to interact with teachers from my school, as well as teachers and administrators from across the country. If you teach with a national program, or a program that provides training during the summer, think about going. Not just for the content, but for the opportunity to network and reflect on your practices. Sometimes it’s necessary to take some time to get out of your house during the summer and really schedule some time to intensively work on planning for the year to come. It’s easier to do that when you are surrounded by other inspiring and inspired professionals, rather than with your dog who wants to constantly go for a walk and pull you away from your work station at the dining room table.

packing: Professional Conference or Training in the Summer

July 24, 2015

My top three tips for packing for a training or conference:
1. Pack light for your personal item, toiletries, and technology. Take the minimum, and only take what is necessary. Use lighter devices and multitasking products to save space and weight.
2. Pack clothing that can multitask: casual dresses to use as swim suit coverups, jumpsuits or dresses as business casual and cocktail hour wear, tennis shoes to work out and walk around in,
3. Pack clothing that fits into a color palette and can be mixed and matched to make various outfits. Think in terms of plane, daytime, and evening. Your daytime business outfits should be stand alone outfits that you planned ahead of time, because then you can save time and avoid deliberating on what to wear in the morning. Your evening outfits can be created by a few mix and match casual pieces, that can be combined with your flying outfit.

To pack for a five day business trip, where I traveled two days and spent three days at a business conference, I used a carryon suitcase, vintage Coach leather tote bag, Coach wristlet wallet, and smaller organizing pouches. If I could do this trip again, I would also pack a medium sized bag for evenings to bring my camera and wallet on excursions.

For flying, I always prefer to wear pants, a tank, a sweater, and a scarf, no matter the season. I hate being cold, and find airplanes are always cold. I can take off the sweater and scarf upon arrival. Smart items to bring along: notebook, magazines, iPad, wallet, empty water bottle to fill up after passing through security, and a small pouch with necessities like tissue, gum, and lip balm, as well as a pencil case to keep pens from escaping into the bottom of your bag. Things I wish I hadn't brought: my laptop computer and heavy books, as my iPad was enough for taking notes and reading.

I was unsure of what the temperature would be like at the conference. Basically, what I learned is that most trainings and conventions are going to be air conditioned. The conference that I just attended was at a hotel, and many trainings are hosted by colleges. So, err warm for your outfits- I was happy with sweaters, long sleeves, and scarves. I also appreciated that my jumpsuit did double duty and I wore it for a more formal dinner with evening makeup and earrings as well as to sessions with casual sandals and layering.

It's a great idea to have day and evening outfits, with the evening outfits being more casual. I packed a dress that could double as a swimsuit coverup, and shorts that could pair with my tops. I also brought clothes to work out in. The place you stay will probably have exercise equipment, and running around a new city is a great way to get your bearings. Bring your swimsuit, just in case. 

In general, trainings and conferences are such a great opportunity. Getting to fly to a new city and explore it in the evenings is also a great opportunity. I hope you find these tips helpful for packing and maximizing what you bring along with you!

reading: The New Jim Crow

July 13, 2015

When Bekah proposed that we read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander for our book club, she said it was necessary and urgent to read. I really value her passion for racial equity, and respect her insights greatly. Her blog,, is a reflection of what she is thinking about and working on. We all jumped at the chance to read her recommendation and really challenge ourselves with the content.

This book's premise is that the War on Drugs has created a new Jim Crow, a new system of oppression that is "colorblind" yet overwhelmingly targets people of color, and denies citizens liberty indefinitely by labeling them a felon.

The structure of the book is interesting, it seems to me to be more of a coil than a step ladder. Michelle Alexander explains to the reader in the introduction the ideas that will be outlined in the book, she expands on these ideas and provides stories and data in the middle, and then she circles back in the last chapter to remind the reader of what has been said, and what must be done. I needed her to circle around the ideas like that, because it's a lot to take in.

"What this book is intended to do- the only thing it is intended to do- is to stimulate a much needed conversations about the role of the criminal justice system in creating and perpetuating racial hierachy in the United States." -Michelle Alexander

It was, and continues to be, disturbing to learn about the ways that the criminal justice system rounds people up on drug charges, uses mandatory drug sentencing to acquire guilty pleas and keep people incarcerated for as long as possible, and then makes rehabilitating nearly impossible. If you wonder how this would be possible, I encourage you to read the book. The evidence in this book showing that ours is a system of control and racism, rather than a system of justice and rehabilitation is staggering. What is truly concerning is the role that my complicity, along with that of many other Americans, has played in allowing an injust system to label African Americans as criminals. 

One of the most powerful quotations from the book was this:

“In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. So we don’t. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color “criminals” and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind. Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans." -Michelle Alexander

I still want to stew over this book, and its implications for my teaching. I can see some parallels between mass incarceration and suspensions. That both are systems that do not actually help people succeed despite hardship, but rather just remove them from the situation and penalize them. I would be interested in using portions of this book in my classroom, along with The House We Live In, a documentary that pairs well with this text. This may also be a useful text to read for equity work with the staff at my school. At the end of the book, Michelle Alexander calls for people to realize the trap of thinking about our system as voluntary, and wake up to the fact that all people of all races are committing crimes that should be landing them in prison, not just African Americans. She calls for us to care about the fate and humanity of all people.

“The genius of the current caste system, and what most distinguishes it from its predecessors, is that it appears voluntary. People choose to commit crimes, and that's why they are locked up or locked out, we are told. This feature makes the politics of responsibility particularly tempting, as it appears the system can be avoided with good behavior. But herein lies the trap. All people make mistakes. All of us are sinners. All of us are criminals. All of us violate the law at some point in our lives. In fact, if the worst thing you have ever done is speed ten miles over the speed limit on the freeway, you have put yourself and others at more risk of harm than someone smoking marijuana in the privacy of his or her living room. Yet there are people in the United States serving life sentences for first-time drug offenses, something virtually unheard of anywhere else in the world.” -Michelle Alexander

reflecting: AP Summer Institute Training

July 2, 2015

Well, this week I attended the AP Summer Institute for teaching AP Literature and Composition. I’ve spent four days being a student again and been able to be a part of a larger movement for rigor and a pursuit of analysis, working with teachers from other schools and other states. It’s enjoyable to challenge myself, and reignite my excitement for literature by really dissecting the act of reading, writing, and finding meaning.

There are a few things that I have learned about classroom instructions, writing for analysis, and reading for analysis that I want to record and share.

Classroom instructions: 

Teenagers, and even adults, benefit from clear instructions, especially in regards to routine and expectations. Often, our class was left to make decisions about ending times for class, or we were expected to decide when to start an activity. I loved the ideas presented in this training, but unintentionally, the instructor taught me about the vital necessity of preparation, clear cues, and the teacher making scheduling and routine decisions. Student choice has a place, just not when directions need to be clear to help things run smoothly.

Reading for analysis: 

I love what our instructor told us to start our training: “Language is the black marks on the page. Literature is about the white space between the marks.” It’s so true: the allure of literature lies in the meaning created by the interaction of the reader and the text. We read a lot of poetry, which was a great divergence from my usual choices for class; in the last few years I have shied away from teaching poetry because it felt like such an undertaking. But in our use of poetry, we were able to look at language condensed, used at it’s most potent, which makes analysis really interesting and fruitful. We also talked about reading for the meaning of the work as a whole, and then matching the analysis to that overall meaning. This process could be adapted to the three steps of close reading: summarize the topics, find the overall meaning with proof and create nuanced theme statement, and then make a connection and explain why it matters.

Writing for analysis: 

The most helpful information I received for writing were the tips on the creation of a nuanced thesis statement. I often include this phrase, “nuaced thesis”, on my rubrics. But, I discovered language and steps to give students to get there, rather than just telling them to be interesting or original. Our instructor described a strong thesis as: stated in a full sentence, the text provide ample proof of the devised meaning, the thesis should not be too universal, too big, not too small, or cliché. A nuanced thesis will also talk about the interplay of two themes or ideas to create meaning, rather than just focusing on one idea.

He also suggested a structure for a sophisticated introduction paragraph which I quite like. It not only breaks the inane hook, background, thesis structure, but it also mirrors how the essay is set up. It could look something like this:
  • 1st Sentence: Specific evidence to start the essay that ties to the meaning.
  • 2nd Sentence: Strong link to the meaning, identify a complex theme.
  • 3rd Sentence: Answer the prompt. How is it used?
  • Conclusion: Why does it matter? Bring it home.
Overall, there’s a lot to mull over. It was an overwhelming, at times unorganized, but overall challenging and compelling week.

reading: Ethics by Linda Pastan

June 25, 2015

I just read this for my AP Summer Institute on AP Literature. Take a second to read it, it's worth it.

(image from tumblr)

Those last three lines are quite incredible, I love the disquiet they leave me with. The breakdown of the moral dilemma into something more complicated is haunting. Also, the expressive description of the painting and the interaction of the painting and the viewer is lovely. The woman views the art, and it becomes part of her. The time of her life, the year, the painting, and she herself become tethered together.

Life without art is meaningless, and art without some one to view it is meaningless.

teaching: My Pedagogical Biography

my great grandmother

If you ask my grandmother, she will tell you I was always meant to be a teacher. Looking back, I find my path more winding, and less definitive. A series of events brought me to my decision to teach, and I have a series of people that helped me to maintain this undertaking.

Both of my grandmothers were elementary school teachers, but neither of my parents were interested in teaching as their chosen careers. Whenever my parents were busy, my grandparents were willing to watch my little brother and me. I remember playing school with my grandmother; memorably, one day I acted as teacher, field trip chaperone, and prima ballerina. School and teaching were magical ideas, capable of expanding to hold all of my interests and passions.

As I grew older, a love for reading replaced my love for pretending. My days of playing teacher were relegated to teaching Sunday school at church, or babysitting in the neighborhood. I spent most of my time with my nose buried in a book, which is its own kind of magic. But then my junior year of high school, I agreed to give up a study hall hour to tutor freshmen that were at risk for graduating late because of their grades for their first semester of high school. This experience showed me that even the most difficult students are highly capable, but often they need extra support and accountability. Each day was exhausting, but I looked forward to seeing those freshmen, and was energized by helping them have their moments of clarity.

After two years of tutoring, I went to college as a declared Communication Arts, and Literature Education major for grades 5-12. I figured that I could combine my love for reading and my new found passion for working with students. I really enjoyed my literature classes, but also found myself quite distractible. By the end of my freshmen year, I was unsure of what I wanted my path to be out of college.

This changed my sophomore year when my American Literature professor reignited my passion for reading. I read all the assigned readings, and loved them. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, Kate Chopin, and Zora Neale Hurston. They came into my life as I was at a pivotal point. They spoke of self-reliance, of beauty, of meaning. Their words, and my professor’s enthusiasm, cemented my resolve to be an English teacher, and share my passion with my students.

As I took more education classes, I learned that I really loved planning. Looking at a blank year calendar, and making meaning and order out of that void, was exhilarating and terrifying, challenging and edifying. Teaching has required me to be much more organized, in the best way possible. Many teachers opened their classrooms to me, and allowed me to observe and teach. They allowed me to be a novice, and gave me advice and space to develop. This process- of staring at blank lesson plans, losing hours of time in my head, plotting, and then being in a classroom and passing hours like minutes interacting with students- is addicting. It’s the cold and the hot, the cerebral, and the active.

I have so many people to thank for inspiring me to be a teacher. My grandmothers, who act as my supporting pillars, they are the invisible history, the strong foundation of my love for education. Teaching itself feels mystical, when placed in the saga of my family, it seems genetically inevitable, a trait that skips generations, lays dormant in double helixes.

My high school teachers allowed me to be student and instructor simultaneously. I was living in a twilight existence- learning and teaching- which I hope to continue my whole life. My college professor’s excitement for American literature was truly contagious and inspired me to want to share my passion for reading. Authors scribbled words onto a page, and I read those black scratchings hundreds of years later and was still moved, inspired, and almost evangelical about their beautiful ideas. Teachers mentored me, and gave me space and advice to make mistakes and succeed on my own terms.

As exhausting and difficult as teaching is, it is challenging and fulfilling. It is duplicitous. It is magical. It is infectious. Is is debilitating. It is empowering.

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