Thursday, April 12, 2018

Exit, Pursued by a Pear by E.K. Johnston.

“I didn't used to overthink my choices quite so much. Then someone made what I've always been told is a very important choice for me, and now I tend to overthink everything else.” 

I have read quite a few YA "issue" books in my day, but I always reach for them. I find many to be diverse and substantial, and when a new title comes out, I'm always interested. 

Exit, Pursued by a Bear caught my attention a couple of times and for various reasons. First, the title is a reference to Shakespeare, which had me sold immediately...before I even knew what the book would be about. I put it on my Goodreads list and promptly forgot about it.

Then, a teacher asked for books to recommend to teens in her alternative high school (as part of a FB group I'm in), and this title was brought up multiple times. It got placed quickly on my Amazon wishlist, and Adam sent it to me as part of a recent book swap. It was then that I learned the book was about a rape and the events that happened afterwards as the main character, Hermione, comes to terms with what to do.

As much as you can say you enjoyed a book about rape, I enjoyed this book. Where Speak was raw and isolating, Exit, Pursued by a Bear gave warmth and comfort. Things are not easy for Hermione by any means, but the support of her family and friends as she copes with the rape (which she doesn't remember-she was drugged), a pregnancy, an abortion (not a spoiler-it happens early), and the investigation to find her rapist. 

It's well done. 

I actually think its harder to find a book for teens where parents are as present as they are in this title. They give support to their daughter as she needs it. She has strong friends who lift her up and guide her. She has a therapist who works to help her gain her memories back. The scene surrounding her time spent in the abortion clinic is powerful and moving and made me set the book aside for a moment...

“I've never met any of these women before, and I will never see any of them after today. I don't know their names and they don't know mine. I've been on teams and in clubs my whole life, surrounded by people who are united by a common purpose, and I have never felt anything like this. Maybe it's the gas, but until this moment, I have never felt such a kinship with a person who was not actually family. I love every person in this room, and I'm pretty sure that if they asked, I'd do anything for them.

Anything, except have a baby.”

Do I think the book is perfect? No, far from it. I have some qualms with the writing style and at times I felt things were a little too "neat." But the premise, the characters, and the way the author constructed a different take on such a severe issue for a YA audience was refreshing and worth reading. The main character Hermione and her friend Polly made me smile with their support and love for one another. It's a title I definitely think students will be drawn to, especially my students who like "issue" titles.

“If you think I'm going to apologize for being drugged and raped, you have another thing coming.”

Monday, April 9, 2018

"I Have Been" April 2018

I used to do this cute little post every once in awhile, and I felt like doing it again. :)

I have been:

{writing}
A lot of lesson plans, especially for my APUSH students. We are finishing our last unit (Period 9: 1980-Present Day) and going into review before their test on May 11th. It's that time of year where I get minimal sleep!

{reading}
I've been struggling to find time to read. I have Anna Karenina sitting on my nightstand since I had planned on reading it this month. Have I? Nope. I have a bunch of other things I want to get to, but you know, school has been crazy. 
 
{listening}
I've been listening to a lot of soundtracks while working on school stuff, but also a lot of Biffy Clyro. I highly recommend checking them out.
 
{watching} 
After finishing Parks and Recreation over break, I'm trying to find a new show that I won't binge on (cause you know, work). Matt and I have been working out way through The Mick-we love Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia, so when we saw Kaitlin Olson was in it we were sold. I'd like to start The Crown, but it'll have to wait until after the APUSH test.
 
{looking}
Goodreads is open on another tab, so definitely that. I'm also sitting at my desk in my office, so I'm staring at all the stupid squirrels outside.
 
{learning}
I'm in a book club with some teachers from school and we are working on reading a title together: Creating Cultures of Thinking. I was trained in COT a couple years ago, but learning this with my colleagues has been super helpful.

{feeling} 
Tired. I really need to get more sleep. Things have been better since Matt quit the restaurant and started his new job. I don't wait up for him to get home anymore and I'm getting to bed a little earlier, but I could do better.
 
{anticipating}
The readathon coming up in a couple weeks. I'm really excited to have a day set aside just for me. I told Matt to schedule himself some work to do that day so I can read without him poking me, but I doubt that'll happen. 
 
{wishing}
I really want a peanut butter cup.
 
{loving} 
My home. It feels cozy and warm and like OUR place (finally). We still have lots of work to do, but it's getting there. 

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Book Love by Penny Kittle.

“A book isn’t rigorous if students aren’t reading it.” 

Every year we have to make professional learning goals as a part of our evaluation process. And while those goals are usually things that need to be measured, I spoke at length with my administration during my initial observation meeting about self-improvement professional development ideas (PD). One of those ideas was simply to read more professional books to incorporate new strategies and techniques into my teaching practice. 

And while this was not my first PD reading this school year, it is a favorite and something I felt strongly enough about to write a blog post. I don't normally include PD books, readings, etc on my blog, but why not? I'm sure there are teachers who might stumble across these posts, and I know that I have friends and readers who might be willing to share their own experiences, either as a student, a parent, or a fellow teacher. 

Book Love first crossed my radar this past fall at a district PD event. After our district launched a Battle of the Books competition between the 4 high schools, the ELA teacher leaders (I am one of two for my building) decided that we needed to have a PD about independent reading and the importance of choice reading for students. It's not something that is widespread across our district but needs to be. I have tried to include choice reading time into my classes since I started teaching, but it's difficult when there is not a culture of reading in your building. Students fight against it, not seeing it as important. I've caught more kids plagiarizing book projects and reports than anything else. 

Book Love addresses a lot of those issues and gives strategies on how to incorporate meaningful reading into the lives of teenagers. It's difficult to show students the importance of reading, especially when the only reading they may do in a high school English classroom is old, stuffy texts. I have long been a proponent of reading whatever I want, whenever I want, which is why I love YA and don't hide it. But I also read non-fiction, biographies, classics, etc. However, there is a disconnect between my passion for reading and getting that passion instilled in my students. 

I was born a reader. I never fought reading and would willingly read my required amount of time in elementary school (and over). ELA homework and reading assignments were the only homework that was always done (Math....not so much). It has sometimes been a struggle for me to get that same passion across to my students. And while I have pulled in independent reading projects and time in class, I haven't really utilized it effectively.

Kittle talks at length about creating a culture for reading in your classroom-from giving time for students to read, book talks, looking at language, and cultivating an extensive classroom library. She starts each lesson with ten minutes of reading time in her classroom. She uses that time to conference with students about their reading, making it through every student in her class in about 2-3 weeks. She checks on their stamina depending on difficulty of books students are reading (this is talked about at length in her book-essentially how fast you can read depending on difficulty. For instance, I can fly through a 500+ page YA novel in an afternoon. A classic? A couple weeks). She also talks with students about creating book lists of books to investigate, challenges to read 20 books a semester (she considers a book to be about 250 pages, which makes it more doable for students), and having students share their reading. 

I ended her book wanting to be a student in her class. She really stresses the importance of students being able to read as much as possible for college to keep up with that reading, but also to choose things that not only interest them, but challenge them at the same time. Her book is littered with book titles (many of which I wrote down as TBRs) and ideas for getting students to read. 

Since I took over our remedial 11th grade course this year, I have been trying to include more and more independent reading. For many of those students, reading has been a barrier to their ELA education. They are with me to not only become better readers, but to improve their writing. The two are closely linked together. And while I have included independent reading time, I'm finding ways to improve it. First semester included one day a week of reading time (which was honestly too much time for these kids to stay focused). Starting second semester, we changed it to ten minutes a day. We've seen more kids read consistently...and actually finishing books (I say "We" since I co-teach the class with a special education teacher). We've also included book talks into our lessons since the beginning of the year.

But I love Kittle's ideas, and I'm hoping we can implement more of that culture in our classes next year. My co-teacher is currently reading the book so we can be on the same page next year. I'm working on pulling together a classroom library. My current stash of books is quite pathetic, but I recently took in a bunch of books from home (that I could bear to part with) and have plans to hit up some used book stores, our library's book sales, and garage sales to fill the shelves I have. I've also asked for a grant to get more bookshelves and books for next school year. 

There is something about reading and trying to ignite that love in my students that is driving me. Kittle's book just knocked that passion into place and gave me some direction. I have no doubt I'll be referring to it and her ideas as I continue to build that reading culture in my classroom. 

“Teenagers want to read - if we let them.” 

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Weekly Wrap-up: March was a Fail, Spring Break, etc.

Oh, hi. So, March went by in a total blur. February was the month of being sick (the flu AND walking pneumonia) and March turned into a month of catch-up, grading, and stress. Stress in all parts of my life.

First, owning your own home is expensive, especially a home that needs work to live in comfortably. When we were originally approved for our mortgage, it was with a down payment assistance program from the state. We found out a week before our closing, after an audit from the state of Michigan, that we would make $900 OVER the max limit to qualify. And lost the $7500 in closing assistance we had been counting on (I still qualified for the Homes for Heroes program, which gave us a percentage of our closing costs back in a check a week after we signed). So, our savings went toward closing costs and money we were counting on to renovate the kitchen, etc was gone. Essentially in the months of January and February, all our money was going to fixing the kitchen so we could live in it comfortably. It was rough. And we fell behind in bills. We're still playing catch up, but the month of March was a bit miserable. It helps that Matt is starting his new (big boy) job on Monday with a huge increase in income.

But being an adult sucks. We've never been amazing at managing our finances, but we've gotten a lot better at it over the last few years, which is why we could even buy this house in the first place. But it brings back a lot of anxiety when we fall behind. Once we're ahead, I'll be good and things will settle. And realistically, we aren't in bad shape. We have debt (namely, Matt's student loans), but we are not in a bad position at all.

In addition to all that stress, work was crazy. Just crazy. I fell behind in grading and just couldn't catch up. I'm still not caught up, but I'm in the best position right now that I could hope for. I hit the point in my APUSH classes where I was just trying to keep my head above water in my grading to get to where I needed to be by Spring Break (we hit 1980-huzzah!). My other classes also seemed to be stressful and I was just doing my best to stay afloat.

I also got my new IFP installed (Interactive Flat Panel-a fancy Smart Board) and had every tech problem imaginable in the two weeks it's been in my room-dropping signal, freezing, booting me from my lecture notes, changing pen colors and widths mid-sentence, sound issues, etc. It's being permanently mounted over break, so hopefully that fixes some of the issues, but there were days where I was so frustrated because I just wanted to teach and my technology kept failing.

We're also in the midst of a renovation thanks to bond money, so our media center closed, reducing the number of computers we have for kids. I was also told a week into the month of March that I need to box up my room and tear things off my walls to prep for my room being painted over break. Seriously. So, I had to tear down everything, move furniture and pack up fragile items in my classroom so it can get painted. When I get back on Monday (the 9th) after break, I have no idea what I'm walking into. And I have to teach that day. So, yeah. I understand that they're trying to get smaller tasks done over breaks to reduce the work getting done over the summer (our roof was replaced last summer), but it had a big impact on me. With the technology upheaval, personal stress, and just my regular job workload, I was in a terrible mood for the last two weeks.

BUT! Our last day was Thursday and I spend Friday doing absolutely nothing. I slept about 15 hours Thursday night and spent Friday playing video games and watching Netflix. Seriously. Saturday wasn't much better. I did some things around the house I've been neglecting (laundry) and went to Target for some necessities, then just vegged around. I really needed it. But now I feel like I'm getting a cold. And it's cold and rainy in Michigan and we're supposed to be getting snow this week. Yay spring break.

I'm actually really excited to have the week off. We have boxes in the basement that I need to go through. I want to finish going through my book boxes and sorting-a lot will be going to school to go in my classroom library, which is pitifully small. Some will stay in boxes until we buy a couple more bookshelves in May (we budgeted it out for a big IKEA trip for a few things we need. The closest IKEA is an hour away). I told myself that once I have all my bookshelves, my personal collection has to fit on it. Extras go to school or get donated.

I'm also planning on finishing some decoration around the house. We haven't really hung anything on the walls, mainly because all that knick-knack stuff is still boxed up. I also just want to toss some things that we never use and declutter, so we'll see how that goes. I'm also planning on putting new fabric on our kitchen chairs, but that depends on what I can find at the store.

But I'm also just looking forward to reading, relaxing, and spending time with Matt. His new job will have him home a couple days per week, so he'll be around the house with me. Truthfully I'm hoping he'll carry boxes upstairs for me. ;) It should be a nice, relaxing week.

Well, we're off to Easter celebrations-first a breakfast at my parents', then brunch out with Matt's family. Happy Easter!