The Good, the Bad & the Stressed

Anyone who has read my blog the past couple months or spent time with me knows I am preparing to become a teacher and completing my last year of college. I’ve bounced around with the Freshman 15, stayed up too late laughing through thin dorm walls, and learned what to avoid in the caf. I am ready to see my name in fancy font on a diploma, maybe.

I still have quite a few steps to take before I walk up the steps to that black stage, some fun, and some not so fun. This past week, I have vividly experienced the ups and downs of preparing for teaching; foreshadowing to the job.

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Last week was busy. Then again, so is every other week. My classmates and I had three presentations meant to prepare us for our future, which were super helpful, but also got me thinking…. or overthinking, to be more precise. In just a few short months I will be interviewing for a real, big girl job which means I will need a resume which means I will need a cover letter which means I will need a new, crisp folder to keep them in which means I need to go shopping.

My realization for this blog came while I was swatching lipsticks in Ulta this weekend. Even while I am surrounded by hair and face products I don’t even know how to use, I am thinking about teaching. I was actually calculating how much money I could spend after all the books I had just bought (whoops) when I realized my future doesn’t have to be all stress all the time. When I walk into my classroom I will be there to inspire children and face their unimaginable realities with them, but I will do so with glossy paperbacks, ‘Rosette’ lips and a cute dress I got on clearance.

Now don’t go thinking I am expecting teaching to be all rainbows and cotton candy, I know better than that. While in the shoe store (I have a problem, I know) the smiley lady helping me inquired what sort of shoes I was looking for. I explained to her I need dressy, comfy shoes to wear while student teaching. Like any good salesperson, she took this as a chance to build a relationship with her customer, a trick I use often in the summer. “what grade do you want to teach?”, she asked with false curiosity. Her attitude visibly changed when I replied with “middle school or high school English!”. Then she proceeded to tell me how her daughter’s class plotted and completed a mission to get a teacher fired. Planting a new fear in an already- stressed college student is an effective way to lose a sale.

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There are some things, unfortunately, shopping can’t fix. One of the presentations I attended last week was about the potential drug and alcohol abuse and situations I may encounter as a teacher. There are more ways to consume these substances than I understand but it is the side effects that scare me most. Right now, I can learn how to handle tough situations and understand the reasons students start substance abuse to make myself a better teacher in the future.

That is pretty much all I need to focus on right now: how to make myself a better teacher in the future. Sometimes I will choose to do so in a retail sense, and always choose to literately. I will immerse myself in YA novels, others’ stories of teaching experiences and work with passion, not with stress.

Photos courtesy of Creative Commons.

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Literature in the Media

We keep talking about all these ways to get our kids reading and how to entice them into story after story. Back in the day, reading was one of the few ways to escape normal, everyday life and go somewhere new without going anywhere at all. Today, I can turn on the TV, pop in a DVD, listen to the music on demand or scroll through my phone where no text I read is longer than a paragraph. Many of these distractions have a common origin; literature.

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How many times have you put off seeing a movie till you finished the book? Or not watched it at all because you loved the book and there is no way the movie will do it justice? My particular favorite is to watch the movie and let everyone know exactly how and why it is inaccurate in comparison with the book.

My question is, is the media popularizing or degrading literature? How can I embrace all these forms while still making sure reading the main form my students digest? What does this mean for my future classroom? Okay, so maybe I have more than just one question over the subject.

I have learned different ways of “hooking” students onto books; audio books, graphic novels and read alouds are all fantastic gateways. But how do second-hand paperbacks compete with box office hits? I have heard “I haven’t read the book but I saw the movie so what’s the difference?” more times than I can bear.

To quote Dr. Cox, “Nothing is original!” I will help my students uncover the origins to all their favorites. Together we can learn which stories stemmed from where and which ones are beloved enough to be replicated multiple times over. We can also talk about how authors recycle plots and characters. Maybe my fears are turning into future lessons.

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I have seen teachers use films to supplement the texts their classes are reading and I’ve seen it done very well. However, I also saw how many of my former classmates took this opportunity to use the text to supplement the film. Some will say it is the quality of the movie or the amount of time a class spends on each medium that makes or breaks this experience. I say it’s neither.

Passion. To answer my own questions and solve almost every problem in my future classroom I will reply with passion. I will not be able to top the latest TV parody of a horror story, but I can recommend and rave on about Stephen King. My passion is reading and learning and I am real life, not an image on a screen or an audio recording. With my humanness I can show the value interpreting a story for yourself and not the way a director wants to. There is something beautiful about unraveling a text for yourself.

Books Upon Books

So I do this thing where I read no less than four books at a time. I don’t know if this is a good thing for my reading life or a bad one, but nonetheless, it’s how I operate. At this moment (a thrilling Saturday night btw) I am pages deep into two graphic novels, three young adult novels, a historical fiction novel, two professional development books and a book aof fairy tales. I don’t know if it’s my attention span or that I just cannot wait to start another book. Either way, I always have a book with me.

I enjoy being entertained by the variety of plots, characters and settings. Inevitably, I run into common themes and steady plot devices. A couple weeks ago I finished “Holding up the Universe” by Jennifer Niven which was fabulous. The characters are vivid and of course there is a teenage love story, a YA novel staple. Every other chapter is told from Libby and Jack’s point of view, the love interests of the story. There’s a school fight, a world record, family problems, an unknown learning disability and high school bullies; everything you need for a good high school romance, right?

Right now I am struggling to finish “Crazy Messy Beautiful”, by Carrie Acros. There is nothing wrong with this novel… it has the love story, the learning disability, the high school bullies, family problems… all the same things “Universe” had. The authors have reviews on each other’s covers, and I can easily see how. I am having a difficult time with the second one because it is so similar to the first.

This insistence paired with the workshopping we’ve been doing in class has got me thinking; how individual is my writing? I understand no one has lived the life I have lived. Our unique humanness allows people to experience the same incident and walk away with different interpretations. Does that humanness transfer onto paper?

In our class workshops I listen and read my friends’ pieces with awe. They all have a spunk different from anything else. Do I? Our education professor chuckles every time any of us utter “voice” but it is the most important writing trait we know.

Voice is embedded in the graphic novels we inhale, the children’s books we read out loud and the YA novels we leave tear-stained. I think I would enjoy “Crazy Messy Beautiful” more if I had read it independently and not so close to “Holding up the Universe”. The voices in my head need different echos to make a complete choir.

Workshop Woes

In fourth grade, there was a writing process poster stapled to blue tablecloth-sized paper in the back of my classroom. I remember sitting on the carpet with my classmates as my teacher described each step and kept using the word “workshop”. My nine-year-old brain only correlated “workshops” with Santa’s elves and a place where cabinets and chairs were made. These were not appealing ideas to me. This is the where my negative connotations with “workshop” began.

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I don’t think I had ever written more than a paragraph or so. Writing was an advanced thing only grownups did and now there was a complicated process set before me to perform. I wasn’t confident and one of the steps involved my classmates reading what I wrote. This made me even more uncomfortable.

**Fourth grade Mary Anne was quiet and kept to herself. Her shell was a solid wall of books only few passed and other kids just kind of existed. She was a foil of present-day Mary Anne.**

 

Writing workshops were a constant from this point on. My peer-reviewed papers came back to me with little to no comments and sometimes an added comma where it was definitely not needed. We were never taught to evaluate each other’s ideas, only grammar and conventions, but for a book nerd like me, elementary conventions were a snap. Sometimes we were graded by the number of marks we made on each other’s papers so I knew my classmates were only marking mine for the grade. What I learned from writer’s workshop was I had “good word choice”, excellent punctuation skills and poor spelling (I didn’t really learn this, it was duly noted). In a nutshell, I hated writer’s workshops.

 

Now in my senior year of college I am still workshopping, but things are different now. Like a lot of things, college changed my perspective on workshops. I liked the way they were done in my creative writing classes and now we are doing them in my special methods class. There are a few different ways to do them I’ve learned, and all of them are far more beneficial than the method I was trained to use in school. I still get nervous my paper is going to come back to me with added adjectives and no useful ideas but that has yet to happen.

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As a teacher, I need to conduct writer’s workshop in an encouraging, constructive way. I understand some students will always be scared to let others read their thoughts and I will be sensitive to this situation. I will also encourage them to be honest and help each other. My students will work to give positive, useful feedback – no simple underlining Miss Johnson’s class!

 

This is another way I will take my learning experiences and implement them in my classroom to benefit my students.

 

Images courtesy of Creative Commons

Becoming a Teacher

I can’t tell if I am more nervous or excited as the semester marches on. I am almost halfway done, halfway to being a half-way teacher. The closer it gets, the more real it becomes. I no longer “want” to be a teacher, I am going to be a teacher. In class, I have been working on projecting units, visions and values to act as the backbone of my classroom. Suddenly, I am concerned about where I am going to put my desk in the classroom or which software to use for student publishing. I can promise you, my mind has never entertained thoughts such as these until now.

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In the shuffle of year-long planning, I cannot forget the focus of it all; the students. My classes will need a classroom library, colorful notebooks, and a picture book every now and then, but more importantly, they will need me. This week in class, Dr. E. passed out a quote from a seventeen-year-old student, as recorded by his therapist:

“When I asked his favorite subject, he said, “Doesn’t matter. I hate history but I love Mr. Hodges’ [history] class. He gets so excited about the War of 1812 and Reconstruction and the stock market going bust that you get caught up in it…. And he knows what it’s like to be me.””

– Chris Crutcher

Here is proof students learn best from people they can relate to. Teachers don’t, and shouldn’t, pretend to be experts or untouchable resources. Teachers should be students’ biggest fan. I need let my passion for reading and words flow into my lessons. My energy and personality can (hopefully) capture attention, and hold it, seeping into their thoughts and writing. I will strive to be the kind of person students can learn from. I will be responsible for letting my classes know I am not above them, I am there to guide them through their learning.

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Sneak peek at “Peanut”

In the spirit of becoming someone a leader students can relate to, I have been working on my own independent reading, too. Last week I hoped out of my comfort zone and onto the graphic novel bandwagon. I read “Peanut” by Ayun Halliday and Paul Hoppe, the story of Sadie, who fakes a peanut allergy for attention when she moves to a new school. Eventually, her lie invades every aspect of her life and spirals out of control. I have never been the “new kid” or told a whopper this big, know that anxious, second-hand embarrassed feeling you get when something awkward happens near you? I experienced that for about ten pages near the end and could not put it down.

Now I just need to start making a list of the books I read so I can remember them all when my future students ask!

 

Media courtesy of Creative Commons

My Writer’s Notebook Reflection

So far this semester I have been keeping a journal in regards to my Special Methods class. It has guided writing, prompts and some free writing. Last week my professor asked my class to reread our journals up to this point, four weeks, and take notes on what we noticed. Was there a consistent theme in our writing? What did we use our writing for? My notes ended messy and trailing off in every which direction; a reflection of my notebook itself.

Some of the elements of my writing weren’t surprises. I knew I like to write in a style somewhere between prose and poetry and treat I treat my notebook more like an imaginary friend than a stack of bound paper. I already knew that messy handwriting is an indicator my thoughts were flowing faster than my hand could record them and I think I am really clever with symbolism and double meanings.

There were some surprises within my writing, too. Up until I reread my journal, I didn’t know how much I cared about students I haven’t even met yet. There are kids out there learning to walk and how to hold a pencil and someday I will be lucky enough to hear them rave about their favorite new book. My writing also showed me I am more likely to think out a free write than an academic piece. This is probably just a subconscious act to rebel against required writing.

My notebook is filled with topics I find important. Just like bad books, I refuse to spend time writing about things that don’t matter. I found I wrote about unintentional or unnoticed memories and things my heart hasn’t let go of. Dating back to middle school when I thought I was the next Taylor Swift, I have used lyrical writing as a way of dealing with situations I would rather not talk about face-to-face.

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The purpose in reading back in our journals is to find something, a thought, a line, a topic, an anything, to create a bigger piece and publish it. But what does publishing mean in this situation? I still haven’t found the thing, you know, the one I want to write endlessly on till my entire heart is before me in print. But that’s scary. Right now my journal is my private space. When I was writing, I never thought about making any of it public. The transition may be difficult for me to deal with once I figure out what I would like to write about and who all will be reading it.

Overall, my writing is an outlet for me to think, even if my thoughts aren’t always clear. This is exactly what a writer’s notebook is supposed to be. I can only pray I can provide an environment where my future students feel comfortable to be just vulnerable and free in their notebooks as I wish to.

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Taking TEDTalks to the classroom

At first, I could not figure out how “The Puzzle of Motivation” TEDTalk it our class. I was entertained and interested, but my head was not forming any connections. As the speech continued, the pieces came together. If real-life adults in the workplace are not motivated by extrinsic awards, our students should do not need to be either.

I believe writing and reading are inherently intrinsically rewarding. While this may not seem appealing to teenagers, it is our job to guide them there. Reading can take you to places you didn’t know and experience a situation from a complete stranger’s point of view. When you write, you are letting the world know that, for at least a minute or so, you were here; you mattered. I don’t know what is more gratifying than making sure you are remembered.

While talking about big business tactics, Daniel Pink explained “FedEx Days”. In a nutshell, a team of workers has a whole 24 hours to them elves to use their work skills however they please. The title comes from the fact that they must deliver an idea overnight. I know this concept was created with engineers in mind, but I think I could transfer it into a classroom. After a long assignment or to get them back in the grove after a break, FedEx Days might not be a bad idea. Give the students a day to free write and/or read. After the next lesson, have them compose a piece based on what they did on the last FedEx Day. Ideas are everywhere if you look for them.

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The most impressionable quote from “The Child-Driven Education” was: “children will learn to do what they want to do”. How simple is that? All we have to do is show our students why English is worth learning, why good books are worth reading and why writing is essential to thinking. I know, I know, this is way easier said than done, but once it is, we are there. We just have to show students how to want to read and write and then they will, all on their own.

From this video, I also learned I need to be better than a machine or I will become replaceable (in some people’s eyes). I agree a computer and some peers teach a student, but a screen does not have a heart for them to make their own space in.

Do we really want to rely on a monitor to educate our children? How will they learn simple phonics and number skills? A computer can teach information but it can’t show compassion or demonstrate a nurturing human relationship.

The speaker, Sugata Mitra, points out one of the young girls who taught herself to teach the other kids. The fact she taught herself to be a teacher proves one thing; there will still be a need for human guidance.

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Photos courtesy of Creative Commons