teaching: why teachers need to be informed about Black Lives Matter

February 29, 2016

One of the sessions of district professional development that I attended last week was on the connections between the civil rights movement and the Black Lives Matter movement. The speaker passionately spoke about the lesser known details of the Civil Rights Movement, the connection between historical and present movements for equity, and the necessity of understanding Black Lives Matter in the modern classroom. Here are my thoughts on the necessity, and benefits, of learning about and including Black Lives Matter into the classroom.

Connecting the Civil Rights Movement to the Black Lives Matter Movement

If you agree with the ideas of Black Lives Matter, but disagree with their tactics, please hear me out.

Disruption is necessary. The bus boycotts, the sit in's, and the marches of the midcentury created disruptions. Blocking highways, protesting at places like the Mall of America, and interrupting presidential candidates are disruptions. These actions target systematic and institutionalized racism by drawing people's attention to inequities that many people of privilege can be blind to. Disruption shakes people out of their routine and requires them to focus on their discomfort in comparison to the loss of many lives to police brutality. 

I would highly recommend watching the movie Selma if you haven't already. The parallels between movements are obvious while watching the film, and Selma does a strong job of showing the resistance against the actions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from the powers that be at the time. 

Another great resource that I recently found is this video on the friendship of Bayard Rustin, and James Baldwin, who were both involved in the civil rights movement, and gay. The video touches on many important events in this history, including the murder of Emmet Till, which I never learned about in school.

Why teachers should be aware of the movement

Our students are aware of Black Lives Matter. Our students are aware of Donald Trump. Ignoring or skirting around topics involving racism breaks trust with students, and passes up valuable chances to engage students in authentic classwork. Whether we teach diverse or homogenous groups of students, they know that race is important, and they know that it is being talked about across the country. By being able to direct students to resources, or include a lesson on race and Black Lives Matter, teachers are able to reach out and interact with their students on these topics. Students of color benefit from the ability to see themselves represented in a curriculum, and white students are able to learn that the struggle against white supremacy can involve them, and needs to involve them.

How to get informed

I would really encourage any teachers (or people in general) that want to know more about Black Lives Matter to follow the closest local chapter to them on Facebook. I follow Black Lives Matter Minneapolis and have so much respect for the community organizing and events my chapter supports and endorses.

The other resource I want to point out is the guiding principles posted on blacklivesmatter.com/guiding-principles. These principles call out Black Lives Matter's principles: inclusion of transgender and LGBTQ+ people, restorative justice, empathy, and community (among other things). This, to me, is a gorgeous picture of what a more just world should look like.

If you are up for more time intensive undertakings, I would suggest reading Between the World and Me by TaNehisi Coates, and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

How to talk about Black Lives Matter, and include it in your curriculum

You don't need to press your beliefs upon your students, but becoming aware of the connection between Black Lives Matter and the civil rights movement is a good start to engaging with it in the classroom. Providing resources for students who ask questions about this is another way that you can authentically engage with this topic. 

I have included Black Lives Matter into my curriculum. I used articles about the death of Jamar Clark at the hands of a police officer to examine point of view and bias with my ninth graders. I used a press release from Donald Trump to explore tone and emotion in writing. Now, my students will be completing a literary analysis of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, and looking at theme, structure, tone, and figurative language. My students were intensely interested in our units, and I found that my rapport with students grew as they understood who I am, and the importance that I place on the sanctity of all human life. 

It's okay to not have all the answers. It's okay to be nervous that you won't be able to talk about race or other issues of discrimination with enough finesse. Be transparent about that with our students. Give students the chance to process their beliefs, and create a space of accountability and respect that includes you. 

All we have to lose is our chains. 

styling: gray blazer and emerald courduroys

scarf from Target (similar), thrifted Banana Republic blazer, short sleeve color block sweater , and platform brogues from Forever21 (similar). 

I accidentally matched the last day of the February Style Challenge from Wear What Where, which hosts monthly style competitions. Today's prompt was "Leaping Leopard". I am thinking about participating during March, as I would just have to follow the daily prompts, and they are giving out a Louis Vuitton Neverfull tote, and gift cards to the runners up for participating.

Anyway, I liked getting to break out my platform oxfords that I picked up in Tokyo. Sometimes they feel like "Sunday school shoes", but today I felt like they dressed up my outfit.

styling: throwback thursday for spirit week

February 28, 2016

necklace from JCrew, sweater from Target (similar), vintage dress, tights from Target, and shoes from Indigo by Clarks (similar)

I wore this outfit for Throwback Thursday during spirit week at my school. I had a student accuse me of throwing back too far, but I quite enjoyed getting to pull out this dress and wear it at school. 

styling: black boots and white knit wear

February 26, 2016

Duckworth glasses from Warby Parker, thrifted GAP sweater, pants from GAP, Apple Watch 38mm Sport Edition, and my Office boots (here is a similar pair).

Hooray for PD Friday. My students are off, and I am wrapping up a day of thought-provoking training.  This outfit was great for running between morning training at another high school, and afternoon training back in my building. I love this sweater. It's oversized, soft, and comfy. My advisor and Methods of Teaching professor in high school gave our college cohort advice to always dress professionally, even on training days. She explained that as young teachers, those events are potentials for networking, and making connections that make a difference. I tried to toe the line between comfort and professionalism today.

What do you typically wear for PD days at school?

styling: chartreuse and sequins

February 24, 2016

scarf from LOFT, thrifted sequin top, cardigan from LOFT, Cafe Capris from JCREW, shoes from Target

I felt like I needed a shot of color this dreary Wednesday, so I went for my yellow pants. I liked the contrast between the heathered gray and the mustardy chartruese color.  Also, I love wearing sequins in the middle of the week. I found this shirt in a thrift store while I was studying abroad in England, and it is surprisingly comfortable and versatile. 

styling: gingham and sheath dress

February 23, 2016

glasses from Warby Parker / gingham shirt from Target / thrifted dress / ankle boots from Target

styling: striped sweater and metallic flats

earrings from JCrew, thrifted sweater, Apple Watch, pants from LOFT, and shoes from GAP

I love these shoes! They added a quirky but sophisticated feel to my otherwise basic outfit today. I was properly cozy,  but felt put together.  I'm glad I stepped out of my comfort zone and picked these up, and I will have to keep the power of metallic accessories in mind for later. 

reading: Lolita

February 15, 2016

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.

Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, an initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.”

― Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

The novel Lolita is both repellent and beautiful. It is a story that draws the reader into the account of Humbert Humbert, a man in love with a child, who proclaims himself an author, pedophile, and murderer in one breath. The reader both condemns Humbert for his behavior and is complicit in his actions by reading the account of his possession of Lolita. 

The sentences and framing of the story are gorgeous. It is a story within a story, preluded by a fictional psychologist who found the manuscript, and then penned by Humbert himself looking back on his past. I was hooked immediately by the narrator's self-awareness and the sly reveal of his murderous action. He deceives and reveals while trying to explain his actions. His stepdaughter, Lolita, is frozen like a taxidermied butterfly, stuck with the pin and glass frame of her "father's" story. The reader observes her, but cannot free her. 

It's a difficult read. The content is off putting, but the writing is gorgeous. If you can make it through, it is worth it.

teaching: using an Apple Watch

February 8, 2016

I bought an Apple Watch, and it is really useful to me in my classroom. I got the Apple Watch™ Sport 38mm Gold Aluminum Case with the Antique White Sport Band from Best Buy. I love it. The watch goes with all of my outfits, holds up to the school day, and is a meaningful accessory that allows me to be more effective.

The Apple Watch is not a necessity, but it helps make my day easier as a teacher. Here's how:

App capabilities

My Apple Watch can connect to Class Dojo, act as a Keynote remote, act as a camera remote for self-recording and reflection(or taking outfit of the day photos before school), act as a phone in the case of a classroom emergency. There are so many more options for using an Apple watch in the classroom.

Knowing the date, time, and day of the week

While I am constantly writing passes and dating them for my students, it is nice to have all that information on my wrist. I also generally look for watches that can provide all of these details. It comes in handy when traveling or during the summer when I lose track of what day it is. 

Tracking activity level and steps

I spend so much of my day standing, and walking back and forth between my students answering questions. It's nice to have a device that tracks my standing hours, and calories burned while on my feet all day. It's also nice to have a subtle reminder to stand up once I am home, and not while away hours on the couch watching murder mysteries. 

Being aware of emails as they come in

I don't want to be a slave to my inbox, but I want to be aware of what is coming in. My Apple Watch discreetly "taps" me on the wrist when I get an email, which allows me to discreetly peek at the message, and then go back to answering questions about writing thesis statements or whatever is going on in class. 

Just in case of an emergency

This "tap" feature also works for texts and personal emails, and so my hope is that I would be aware if there was a family emergency.

How do you feel about the Apple Watch? Can you see other uses for it in the classroom?

teaching: my tips for using Schoology

February 5, 2016

My school is currently piloting the use of a workflow management system called Schoology. We are a 1:1 device school, and all our students received iPads from the district. Schoology is used to release assignments to students and collect work from them. I use it every day, and really enjoy it. If you are unsure of how to use Schoology in your classroom, I would recommend taking a look through the resources provided by Schoology here: https://support.schoology.com/hc/en-us.

1. Organize your class using folders

The best system I have found for organizing a class in Schoology is to create a folder for assignments, and quizzes & assessments. My students got confused by unit folders, or weekly folders, as there are too many things to click through.

Here is how I have set up my resources and folders. I post directions on how to post a Google Doc to Schoology each quarter, and find that it helps to field the typical questions that pop up for students about crossing between Docs and Schoology. Here is a copy if you are interested.

2. Give quizzes using Schoology

I really appreciate using Schoology for quizzes rather than other applications like Socrative. Schoology allows teachers to create quizzes with the largest range of types of questions I have seen, from matching to multiple choice to ordering to short answer to more. 

Honestly, for quizzes on readings or vocab, Schoology cannot be beat. It will grade student's quizzes, and give them immediate feedback. I also recommend resisting the urge to use short answer questions on these quick quizzes. You will still be able to hold students accountable for knowledge that isn't skills based, but won't need to devote a night to grading.

I find that these settings disallow students from leaving the quiz, which reduces the potential for cheating.

3. Use paper rubrics for longer projects (for now).

For now when grading larger projects or assessments on Schoology, I use a paper rubric which I hand back to students and they tape into their notebooks. This allows them to track their porgress from pre-assessment to formative practice to the summative assessment. 

I work with ninth graders and find that they have trouble navigating back to an assignemnt to see feedback on Schoology. So, while Schoology has a rubric feature, for now, I am going to continue to use paper rubrics. 

reading: Never Let Me Go

February 3, 2016

Never Let Me Go combines the futuristic tensions of a world that raises clones to be organ donors and the the slow character development of three clones growing up, falling in love, and dealing with the approach of their deaths.

“We took away your art because we thought it would reveal your souls. Or to put it more finely, we did it to prove you had souls at all.”
― Kazuo Ishiguro

This book explores issues of cloning, morality, and human mortality. It turns a calm eye to the questions created by the world that the characters inhabit, in which they are born and raised to begin organ donations until they complete and die. Some of the questions include: What right does a clone have to its own life if it was born for a specific purpose? What is the purpose of art in life- what does it reveal about the artist? What is the purpose of life if it must inevitably come to an end? The questions were very universal, and reached outside of the story, partly because of the humanity exhibited by the main characters- Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth.

The book moved through their lives at a tranquil pace, narrated by Kathy, and sliding between past and present as she tells stories about her life. The identity of the characters is calmly revealed to the reader, and their destiny never feels like a mystery to be solved- their fate is inevitable. This book moves through the plot without the flash, and intensity of many science fiction stories. It just tells the story of Kathy, who loves Tommy, but cannot be with him.

It is the humanity of the clones that makes the book haunting. To the reader that sees them grow up, and navigate love, they are human. The idea that they must die before they reach their middle age is disturbing and tragic.

“What I'm not sure about, is if our lives have been so different from the lives of the people we save. We all complete. Maybe none of us really understand what we've lived through, or feel we've had enough time.”
― Kazuo Ishiguro

Overall, this story left me with a strong need to enjoy my own life, to appreciate creating things, and connecting with other people. No one gets as much time as they would like. This book reminds me that life is not fair, but it can still be beautiful.

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