English Nerds Anonymous

Happy 2018, everyone!

After eating a few too many chocolate covered cherries and putting in a few hours at my seasonal retail job, I attempted to tackle my professional to-do list. Attempted is an accurate verb because I am not sure if I am finished or how incorrect my completed work is or what I am doing, exactly.

In theory, a resume should be one of the easiest things a writer writes, right? A perfectly formatted, advanced worded catalog of who you are to the professional world – where is the challenge in that? To an English nerd, it is all of your favorite things in one splendid document. This was my mindset till I stared at my computer screen and realized what the format and words hold – my accomplishments, my efforts and first impressions to m tomorrows. Wow.

Needless to say, I freaked out a little bit, consulted some resources, googled more terms than I would like to admit and made my mom listen to lines I was proud of. Want to know what really kept me grounded today, and does often in situations like these? My friends. Even though we (finally) finished block and moved to different towns miles apart from each other, we still have a running conversation almost daily to help each other with both academic and everyday issues. There is comfort in knowing I am not the only one who doesn’t know what she is doing and even more comforting to get advice from someone who just figured it out themselves.

So here’s a shoutout to these lovely ladies as we prepare to walk into secondary classrooms with color-coded lesson plans, YA book suggestions and nervous smiles as student teachers. And Facebook Messenger, for keeping us connected as we conquer the our semester, Lord knows we couldn’t do it without each other.


A Poem to Publish

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13

rock solid

when you run your hands through water and feel it flow through your fingers, like putting your hand in the creek or over smoot, cool stones

warm, comforting and big; you couldn’t hold it

very small, but strong, steady, like a tiny light in the dark, and burns very low but no winds can make it flicker because it will not give up


the soft jackets you feel in Walmart

sticking your hand in a dark hole and not knowing what’s in the dark hole


hopeful, reassured, a texture I enjoy, like a blanket

velvety smooth, like God

I have no idea


Feathers, really soft and warm, almost like a warm snowball, you have to hold on but you can never hold on

bouncy, kinda smooth, like a six month baby’s bottom – resilient and youthful like a new born baby

the same as wine

Emily Dickinson poems

warm, baked chocolate chip cookies/everything’s going to be okay because you have cookies


like the fluffiest dog’s fur; comforting, like petting a dog’s fur is comforting and relaxing

or oobleck, its solid when you hold on but runs through your fingers when you let go



like a dirt road: some days, after a nasty storm, it gets bumpy, but it always gets flat again

like a Labrador puppy

soft, warm, fuzzy/rocky rough – that’s what makes it mature

warm, soft, smooth; like melted chocolate

being sockless

fluffy and chocolate

tingly and annoying

fuzzy and familiar

I did not write this poem, not really anyway. This is a form poem. It is formed from the words people I care about have said. These lines bring out three greatest gifts to life.

4 Professional Development books & what they mean to me

Breathing in, Breathing out: Keeping a Writer’s Notebook by Ralph Fletcher

See the source image
My favorite part of this book was the chapter called “Necessary Words”. It talked about the random words that spot our notebooks with seemingly no connection. I related hard to section because I love quotes and sayings. I am currently working on packing up my dorm room and I have found so many sticking notes and scraps with random quotes, song lyrics, Bible verses and snippets of conversations. Fletcher wrote, “we record words we like from others who have “mastered the craft.” We take phrases from people who have written before us as inspiration to keep writing.

If your writer’s notebook is similar to mine, there are unrelated quotes and random words all over the place. Fletcher tells us how we can use these pieces to build up their meaning and better our writing. Say you have a word or quote you just love but don’t know what to d with it; write a poem about it. Don’t look it up, just write.

I also liked the chapter about “Triggers: Lines, Bits, Lists, Questions”. I am a fan of writing short, descriptive pieces, if you couldn’t tell yet. Anyway, this section was all about what makes us want to write. Just by writing down odd facts you learn, you can create so many writing options. Write down questions; questions you have, questions other people ask, questions no one asks. The best pieces of writing will come from the hard, unanswerable ones. Lines and insights are like necessary words, the sparks that keep your paper lit. The last one is lists, a writer’s BFF. I make lists for everything. I make lists for what I have left to pack, what I need to get done, what I want to write, what I need to read and what I have done. My favorite current list is titled “Books I think I need”.

The Power of a Plant by Stephen Ritz

See the source imageI picked this book up at NCTE for the same reason I picked up forty other books – it was free. As I was walking away, I realized it was a professional development book, not a novel like I had expected. We have all heard the plant metaphor, planting the seed of learning and watering/nurturing students as they grow. I just figured this book was an extended version of that. I was wrong.

Mr. Ritz was a teacher in the Bronx and could see his students suffering culturally and agriculturally. These kids have never experienced what it is like to grow anything, let alone their own food, and some had never grocery shopped. One day, after determining the smell coming from the back of his classroom was the leftovers of a science experiment turned onion, he decided to help his students. If he could accidently grow an onion, what could they grow on purpose?

The story follows his classroom project to nation-wide program. It’s more than just an account of in-classroom gardens, it’s about how the gardens impact attendance, graduation rates and over-all well-being of the students for the better. The gardens benefitted Ritz’s and the students’ health and brought more jobs to their under resourced community. Even though I don’t see myself starting a classroom garden, I learned from the relationships the garden brought Ritz, his students and their community.

The Reading Zone by Nancie Atwell

See the source imageThis book validated every feeling I’ve had about reading since I was a middle schooler. Seventh grader Jed is right there with me because he defined the zone. The Zone is the magical trance readers experience when they are completely immersed in their books. My goal is to get each of my students to experience and enjoy the zone.

The book continues on about what works in a reading-focused classroom and how to conduct these tactics. I thought the most helpful rundown of the book was a list Atwell made from student responses. She asked them to respond to “What conditions helped you engage in reading?”. The top three responses were: 1. Book talks and mini lessons, 2. A big, diverse classroom library and 3. Quiet, daily, in-class time to read. I felt empowered. There is no big, complex secret out there to get kids engaged in reading. We really just have to talk about reading, give them books and let them read and I know I am capable of that.

Jim Burke’s Letters to a New Teacher with Joy Krajicek

See the source imageI started this book forever ago and I think part of the reason it took me so long to finish is because I didn’t want it to end. The epistolary follows Krajicek’s first year of teaching. Burke acts as her mentor teacher, but askes her to write her questions and concerns down as he is a wordy person and would prefer to write her a letter in response. Notecards with questions and letters in response make up the book. Her questions are ones I imagine myself asking in a year’s time. I thought it was comforting that the dates on her questions cards become more spread out as the school year continues. We will all catch on to teaching with time and guidance from those with more experience. Even better, both Burke and Krajicek are English teachers, so their conversations were always relevant. I don’t really have anything specific to say about the letters, they map out a new and old teachers’ experiences and show how important relationships are with faulty, as well as students.

NCTE Experpience #3: Writing all over the Place

Okay, I know it’s been over a week since my last post but better late than never, right? Hoping back to that magical week in November, I would like to keep telling you all about my adventures at NCTE.

Image result for snow white the graphic novelI decided to attend “Reimaging Traditional Tales” for a fun break and to put myself outside of my comfort zone. Sometimes our uncomfort zones become comfort zones with the right coaching and Matt Phelan crooned me out with one of my favorite tales, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Anyone who knows me will tell you I am a Disney fan, but my love for this story goes beyond the Technicolor full-length feature, especially now.

Phelan, a graphic novelist, chose to retell Snow White because the main character inspires others and the story offers levels of characters. One of the themes of the session was how these traditional tales still exist for a reason, we are still teaching them because they hold moral value. He took us through his writing process step by step. I’ll outline it for you:

  • the motive must stay, but should change forms
  • Image result for snow white the graphic novelobjects/iconic props should keep their place
  • keep the character traits but alter the roles
  • let setting influence the story
  • recognize the elements of the original that make it good

I was so enthralled in his transformation of my favorite story into a time in history I am equally fascinated with (1920-30s NYC) I knew I had to buy the graphic novel. Lucky for me, they were up for sale later that day and I even got it signed!

Following Phelan, English instructor, Nancy Johnson, explained how we can take these traditional tales and create learning projects for our students. The first step is to let each student pick their own traditional tale to explore. It can be an old favorite, one from their heritage or a tale they just want to learn more about. Next, she discussed a series of multi-genre assignments including a creative, reimagined tale, research on different versions of their story and a queary letter. I had never heard of a queary letter before. It is a letter of persuasion, in this case, it was addressed to a publishing position and explained why the student’s retelling was the best version of the story to release. Discussions throughout the unit covered “How do fairy tales develop cultural literacy?”.

I left the room wanting to go rewrite almost every traditional tale I could name!


Image result for albert einstein quote fairy tales

This quote was on the board during the session and I just loved it.


I also attended a session on teaching media literacy which was absolutely modern, informative and 100% relevant. The most important thing I learned was how to use snopes.com. Snopes and Snopes Top 50 help teachers (and anyone else) by debunking the “fake news” stories that curriculate the web. We can teach our students to check their sources and daily reading with sites like Snopes to cultivate a more media literacy-friendly environment. I also learned a fun little acronym to check your sources, CRAPP, aka, Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, Purpose.Image result for snopes image search

The final notable session I learned from was presented by The Paper Graders. I liked the session a lot, but not a lot of the information seemed new to me because my lovely professor, Dr. E, has been using their methods on me for semesters! Here are the highlights from their message.

  1. Figure out what you’re teaching
  2. Build a classroom based on that focus
  3. Get your students working
  4. Collect data on their work
  5. Show them learning objectives (it’ll be a relief after they realize they have already been meeting them)
  6. Ask each student to chose a few objectives and track themselves
  7. Make the need for a grade a chance for self-evaluation

Their goal is to get students writing to write for the sake of writing, not for a grade. There is no need to tear a paper apart because the student hasn’t learned the value of paragraph breaks; their writing is not devalued just because it isn’t presented, worded or organized like a final draft.

At this session I sat next to an experienced teacher who was a treat to talk with. I liked her outlook on teaching, her position on student writing and overall personality so I asked her if she had any advice for a preservice teacher like me. She thought about it and told me “Don’t take to much to heart; take it one day at a time – don’t get overwhelmed; find good people to talk to; your first year will be heard and it’ll feel like nothing is going right when it actually is”. To that teacher out in sunny California, thank you.



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Living the dream 📚📄📑📚 #NCTE17




NCTE Experience #2: Real-life & Reading in the Classroom

Here is the second installment of my ideas from NCTE! I attended a variety of sessions in the spirit of professional development.

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The first session I walked into was called “Public Education in Troubled Times”. I was expecting a serious, slightly-political presentation about how corruption in society impacts our public classrooms. I wasn’t wrong, but the conversation was more focused than I intended. The subject? Black lives matter. The big question was “How has Brown v Board of Education failed America?” We took a look as white as a thought process, how no one is born with a racist or secular mind; it is molded by its surroundings. The tension in the room was high, as a result of the topic at hand, but ideas were flowing, and questions were asked left and right. I wrote down my own question, but never spoke it. I don’t know if I was scared, if it was because I was surrounded by strangers or not knowing the reaction or answers frightened me. “How do I teach oppression, racism and the reality of racism in a classroom that has never experienced it? To these kids, crimes of humanity are just images on the news, so how do I make these struggles and injustices real?” These are not questions I can leave unanswered.

My next session was absolutely fabulous. On Tuesday when we get back to class, I will be sharing with my Special Methods class the highlights from “Turning Writing about Reading into More than Writing for School”, but I will give you all a sneak peek right now. The more realistic description would be ‘how to ensure the writing your students do about their reading is useful to both their writing and reading lives’. There were three speakers for this presentation, one of them being Lucy Calkins!

I related to this presentation a lot as a student. In school, I hated reading a book for class because I would have to stop and write forced connections, predictions or explain why I thought a passage was important. I just wanted to holler, “ LET ME READ THE DARN BOOK IN PEACE!”. Now that I think about it, these practices are what started my dislike for writing. Here are some of the ideas Lucy (first name basis right there) gave us to avoid created experiences like mine:

  • “Readers in the real world don’t write about their reading the way classrooms expect readers to”
  • Useless writing takes away from reading time!
  • Consider what you already know about teaching writing and implement it into their reading lives
  • If a student cannot respond to their reading, it isn’t the right book for them
  • You cannot control kids mind as they read. Let them think.
  • When writing about reading choice matters. It should be real and original.
  • Use reading to teach the qualities of good writing.
  • Don’t give them anything but a goal to strive for.
  • Revision –> consistently remind them what they are reading is a finished, polished product

I now that was a ton of bullet points, but I was gripping to every word that came of that woman’s mouth. Just like in her books, she used sticky notes to demonstrate her thinking during her talk. The following speakers, Katie Clements and Carl Anderson, followed thoughtfully with topics related to writing about your reading life. The key points I picked up here were:

  • Read with a writerly awareness
  • Pay attention to when character face their trouble
  • Boxes and bullets > outline
  • Sequence is powerful when writing about your reading (and every other time)
  • Vision, Envision, Revision
  • Be present in the text and make meaning by referring to the text
  • Use your personal experiences and knowledge

I cannot even explain how disappointed I was when I walked out of this session. I just learned all this marvelous information and have no classroom to go teach it to. This was a common feeling I had throughout the entire conference. I’ll just consider it another few reasons to look forward to a doorplate that reads “Miss Johnson”!

NCTE Experience #1: Words of Wisdom from Writers

I have spent the last two and a half days surrounded by thousands of English teachers from around the country at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) convention and I don’t even have words. I have learned so much from all the teachers around me, through conversation, unsolicited eavesdropping, presentations and just by simply watching what goes on around me.

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I have attended quite a few sessions, too many to blog about all at once. This post will follow the beginning of my experience.

The first evening I went to a section specifically for secondary educators. In just the introduction alone, I pulled out three important pieces that can help form a respectful classroom atmosphere.

  1. There are no ‘sensitive issues’ in a classroom if the teacher handles them well.
  2. Depth + Respect = Ideal Conversations
  3. Teach your students “self-censorship” awareness.

The keynote speaker was Laurie Halse Anderson, author of the popular novel Speak. I just finished Speak for the first time a couple weeks ago. To me, it was a novel of symbolism, grief and confrontation. I don’t know if I will teach in a classroom, that decision will depend on so many other factors. However, I will keep Anderson’s advice in mind, no matter what classroom.

  • Books challengers were never totally secure or confident in the area of concern they’re challenging.
  • Things that make kids think get challenged.
  • Whatever the reader discovers in a text or takes away from it > author intent

    Image result for Laurie Halse Anderson

    Image from goodreads


Another speaker I had the privilege of listening to was Jimmy Santiago Baca, a poet, father, and writer of so many forms. I had never heard of Baca before this weekend, but I am glad I did because he is a beautiful inspiration for a variety of students. Here are some notable takeaways from his talk:

  • “The only thing that works is knowledge. The only thing that cures ignorance is knowledge.”
  • We need to write to keep the love of literature burning bright
  • “You can teach brains all day long, but the heart is where you need to reach.”
    • Words are good, but they are nothing without emotion behind them
  • The classroom is a battlefield for minds, for hearts, for souls.


Image result for Jimmy Santiago Baca

Image from mesalegend.com

Lastly, Mr. Baca showed appreciation. Like me, he was in complete awe of the people clutching their overpriced coffee that filled the room. These are the ones who show kids how to create their own magic, their own words. These are the dream makers. I teared up thinking how I want to be a dream maker. I want to help my future students realize what they are capable of, that all they need is a voice and drive to get where they want to be.


Dream makers share stories of wonderful journeys and tragic heroes. Dream makers share love and a passion for humanity under the influence of language and craft. They are the lessons you remember with no face or ears or eyes, only a voice and a heart, like a dream.

           I am one step closer to becoming a dream maker.

If I Could Bottle up the Perfect Day

If I could bottle up the perfect day I would have too many bottles to store because so many days have felt like the perfect days.

I would have a collection of bottles weighted with a base of sand and then filled with ucky lake water. The water would be constantly rippling to represent the waves my grandpa’s boat made and the splashes my strokes caused and all the laughter my cousins and I hollered up to the tree tops.

The next shelf would hold the bottles of books. The right book can make a day perfect. Where a wrapper would be on a commercial bottle, a script of the text would run. Where the pop bubbles would bounce around, the images created in my mind would chase each other, powered by the voices in my head that narrated each part. These bottles would be arranged in the order I read them.


On another shelf would sit a series of bottles holding the voices and memories of my favorite experiences. One would have to echo with chants and tennis shoes. It would be decorated with the metallic tassels that fell from my pompoms and the bows my teammates pinned in my hair. It would smell of sweat and love and whatever the good old days smell like. A few special people in this world would have matching bottles. The bottle next to it would sound like Susa marches, bad jokes and all of it would be out of tune. This bottle would be full of reeds, ruined from overuse and marked-up sheet music. It would always be warm to the touch because of the constant air circulation and the hearts I learned in band.

Beside that bottle would be five small ones with blurry glass that becomes less blurry as you go down the line. I wasn’t even two when my first sibling was born and don’t really know what this day felt like. I know all five tasted like a hospital and someone’s cooking who was not my mom. Each bottle is a little clearer. The second one would feel like green fleece because that’s what I was wearing when Georgie was born and the third would be spotted with little yellow rabbits like the one I picked out at the drug store for my first sister. The fourth and fifth would rattle with joy because by eight I loved being an oldest sister.

There would be bottles half-filled with holding hands, clean classrooms, unworn graduation caps, unpicked flowers, open roads, uncut Christmas trees, an organ playing Canon in D, blank invitations, churches with stained glass windows, houses that aren’t homes yet, capped pens, cookie dough with unpopped popcorn  and strangers with similar souls, if I could bottle up the perfect day.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?: October in Review

Today I realized it’s been almost a month since I blogged about my reading life so I am dedicating this blog to catching up! I am still working on my professional development book for the semester (whoops) but I have worked my way through a list of YA titles and I would like to tell you all about them!

bearI read two emotion-packed, crisis-based novels, “Exit, Pursued by a Bear” by E.K. Johnston and “This is How it Ends” by Marieke Nijkamp. The first one is about Hermione Winters, a cheerleader who is raped at coed cheer camp. We follow her through her school year of confusion, anxiety, and recovery as she overcomes triggers, accusing classmates and facing the fact she may never know who harmed her. I enjoyed this book because it was the first time I read a plot about rape that made me feel what the victim was going through and it explained cheerleading as more than a sport for girls with poor life views.

The second title also takes place within the walls of a high school and throws the reader this is howright into the emotional turmoil of a school shooting. Each segment only covers a couple minutes at a time – the whole novel is only 54 minutes- and is told from multiple points of view. I got a little confused because there are a few sets of siblings and it took me a while to tell who was related to who. Every part of me wanted to throw this book at the wall but the story kept me turning each page.

spinningI also read a couple graphic novels in October. “Spinning” by Tillie Walden is an account of her personal experience in the competitive ice skating world. She was not happy with her life but performed on and off the ice as expected. In reality, she is a closet lesbian with social struggles and an unsatisfied home life. My favorite part was how each chapter is named after an ice skating move whose complexity reflects that section’s content.







relish“Relish” and “Something New” are both written by Lucy                  Knisley and both more than justsomethingnew a story. A good handful of my Special Methods class has blogged about “Relish” so I won’t bore you with yet another review of this food-filled autobiography. I am still working on “Something New”, the graphic document of her wedding planning and wedding. Knisley inserts humorous charts and facts between her chapters, like a review of all the wedding films she watched in preparation for her own.

In celebration of my high school reading habits, I attempted to read “Once and for All”, Sarah Dessen’s new novel. It sounded like a story I would enjoy; a wedding planning once and for allbusiness, a broken heart, a charming smart-alec and a summer of freedom. Turns out I’ve grown in more than one way since 2014. I only made it to about page 90 before I lost interest. There was nothing wrong with the book, I just couldn’t stay interested long enough to finish it. I also couldn’t take the name ‘Ambrose’ seriously.





But to end on an uplifting note, I will tell you all about “Unfiltered”. Lily Collins, goddess of everything eyebrows, composed this series of essays about life as a young woman. She unfilteredhas personally dealt with eating disorders, abusive relationships, and self-discovery. At a young age, Collins took an interest in journaling which is reflected in “Unfiltered”. Family photos are sprinkled throughout the pages to accompany the text, too. 😊 I would recommend this book to a classroom library because it would be a highlight for any growing girl, specifically with self-acceptance, a new interest in writing, traveling, reading full-length novels, or eating disorders.

So this is what I have been up to the past few weeks between classes, shifts, episodes of Boy Meets World and trips home to South Dakota. Happy reading, everyone!


All photos courtesy of goodreads.com.

Sorry about the formatting, I had a lot of book covers to arrange and WordPress just really wanted me to have lotsa white space, despite my repetitive editing.


What Makes a Reader?

A reader is anyone who reads. A reader reads picture books, novels of words and graphics, magazines, cereal boxes, newspapers, social media posts and anything covered with words. A reader can read for information, entertainment and survival. Anyone can be a reader.

If a reader is reading they are not a bad reader. Only people who refuse to read are bad readers. Anyone who honestly dives into a catalog of words is a good reader. Real-life readers read to survive and operate in a modern world. Classroom readers often think they only read because they are being told to read or they need to for a grade. I want to demolish this mindset and teach students to read for themselves. Reading becomes enjoyable, even fun, when you are reading to please yourself and no one else.

If I want my students to be avid readers years after they leave my classroom, I need to plant the seed for the love of reading in them. I want to inspire students to read for themselves so they can use those reading skills to go out and learn what they want to learn. Then they can take what they learn to be happy and make the world a better place.


Readers don’t have to be fluent or intelligent or studious or know-it-alls or high-ability. Carrying around big books or talking about them all the time or rereading them does not make someone a good reader (but it doesn’t detract either). A reader reads.

Realizing the Reality of Poverty

Today I learned about something I’ve been surrounded by my whole life: poverty. I grew up in a middle class family and had an incorrect understanding of poverty. I thought poverty to be something that only existed in third world countries where running water is a treat and internet is the highest of luxuries. Call me ignorant, call me naïve, I just never learned what the word really meant. I understand now poverty equals under-resourced and that resources are more than just money.



“learning is coated with emotion”


When I was growing up my family had enough of everything to be comfortable; enough food, enough space, enough books, enough money for summer camps and more than love to grow up on. I did not realize these were resources not all of my classmates had access to.

The first thing we did in the presentation I attended was fill out a checklist of things we knew how to do. I checked things like “I know how to use a credit card, checking account, and savings account”; “I know which stores are most likely to carry the clothing brands my family wears” and “I know how to set a table properly.” I never thought these skills were class-defining, until I continued reading.

The rest of the list mentioned things like domestic staff, getting people out of jail, food stamps and reading menus in foreign languages. When I got to these, I could tell which class I belonged in the way I know navy clashes black; subtly, yet it’s the only thing I can focus once I realize it. “Domestic staff’ made me laugh – my mom took our dishwasher out to have room for an extra sink. And getting people out of jail? That means I would have to know people who go to jail.

The information came from Ruby K. Payne, Ph. D.’s book, “A Framework for Understanding Poverty”. I have attached the goodreads link for anyone interested in learning more. Eric Jensen’s “Students with Poverty in Mind” was also cited. Included is a blog post reviewing the book.

What I learned today is important. Social classes and their definers are common sense when you consider the situations. I must admit some of what I learned today should not have been new information. The world I was exposed to didn’t shelter me from real life, but I never had any real-life encounters with poverty. Even the public schools I went through with hundreds of over kids obey the “hidden cues” of the middle class. I was clueless to how a fair amount of the population lives.

This happy-go-lucky, house-with-a-brick-chimney and basketball-hoop-in-the-driveway life I lived the past 22 years is not the life all my students will know. Some students will be victims of their social class. Whereas good grades and taking pride in your work were always emphasized in my home, not all will receive the same support. Today I learned people in poverty rely heavily on fate and live through their relationships. As a teacher, I will understand the importance of building a rapport with ALL my students and why each mindset works a little different.