Slice of Life #16- Congratulations!

As I glanced up at the clock towards the end of lunch I remembered that the email I had received earlier that morning had said that the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards would be announced at noon.  I had received a few emails about the announcement, as I had 6 students who received awards during the regional round.

As the clock flipped from 12:00 to 12:01 I decided to log in.  I did not expect any of my students to win (even though their pieces were all amazing) because the odds were just so slim.  I mean, over 250,000 students enter the contest each year!

I was only half paying attention when I logged in to the website and saw this:

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I had to read it twice before scrolling down to see the student’s name.  What?!

“Ahhh!”  I screeched, throwing back my chair.  I was sitting in the faculty room, so immediately my co-teacher asked me if I was all right.

“Eileen won!  She won a gold medal!”  I’m not sure my poor co-teacher even knew what I was talking about but she knew it was awesome.

“I have to find Eileen!” Thus began my trek around our (thankfully) small school.  First I popped into IED.  Nope, no Eileen.  Next I checked the Spanish room, because I thought the freshmen might be in language class.  Ok, no luck.  Maybe French?  That meant trekking to the basement.  When I got downstairs the French room door was closed and when I knocked there was  a lot of giggling behind the closed door.  It opened a crack and when the student saw it was me I was quickly invited in.  It turned out Eileen was not there, but the French class was enjoying an ice cream party!

“Where’s Eileen?  Do you guys know what class she has?” I asked as I looked over the table to sundae toppings.  A student told me that Eileen was across campus at gym class so I had to put my search on hold.  But I did enjoy a bowl of ice cream while waiting for class to end.

Our period ended at 1:09pm and by 1:04 I was at the front door waiting for Eileen to get back from gym class.  I didn’t know if she had heard the good news but I wanted to give her a congratulatory hug because I was so proud of her.

Slowly the kids started trickling back from gym.  One group, two groups, three groups….where was Eileen?  Had I missed her somehow? For a moment I doubted myself and took a lap down the freshman hallway.  When I didn’t see her I asked a classmate who said she was at the end of the gym class group.  I hurried back to the front door in time to see Eileen arrive back at school.

She was probably a little freaked out to see me standing at the door and pointing to her.  But then I pointed to my computer screen, pointed at her, and saw her slowly make the connection.

“Oh my gosh.  No. No way!  Is it Scholastic?” she asked me breathlessly.

“YES!” I practically shouted as I hugged her.  “You won a gold medal!  A national gold medal!”

Eileen was grinning from ear to ear at this point.  Her friends hugged her, I hugged her again, and then she had to hurry to class.

“Log on!” I told her. “Check it out for yourself!  I am so proud of you!”

Needless to say, it was a pretty epic day. I am incredibly proud of Eileen, who is a gifted writer.  I am so glad the contest judges agreed with me!

 

Slice of Life #15- Where I’m From

I spent part of my day planning my next unit of study, which I am very excited about.  (More about that later!)  This unit includes our poetry study of George Ella Lyons’ “Where I’m From”.  I’ve been doing our version of these poems since I began teaching and it’s always an amazing experience.  I think Paul Hankins first introduced me to George Ella Lyons and I am so grateful that he did.  So in the next few weeks we will be writing our poems in class, but I’ve included my poem below.

Where I’m From
I am from books,
from Pepsi and the NY Post
I am from hills and grass
(green, soft and smelling like summer).
I am from the milkweed,
the hibiscus brought inside during winter
(an orange and pink sunset growing toward the sun no matter the season).

I’m from “taking a ride” and always being late,
From Jane and Tim.
I’m from the fast talkers and fast walkers,
From eating your crusts and haunted old roads.
I’m from Psalm 23, bagpipes playing hymns, and rosary beads.

I’m from Ireland and Scotland,
Grandmother macaroni and breakfast for dinner.
From the Little Grandfather, a professional football player who jumped
ship in the United Stateswhen sailing as a Merchant Marine,
from Nanny, following Papa around the country during his naval years, raising a son with a husband fighting in a great war.

I am from the photo albums and boxes of pictures in the upstairs closet, telling the stories of a loud, large, and loving family.
I am from dog-eared baby books and school pictures hung over the fireplace

I am from love.

Slice of Life #14- Happy Pi Day!

Happy Pi Day! As an alum of a STEM school Pi Day is a pretty big deal.  And this was an epic pi day!

My day began with bagels that Chris picked up on the way home from the gym.  That’s when he informed me that he would only be eating round food today, in honor of pi day.  Always up for good food, I agreed.

We enjoyed our bagels and then ran a whole lot of errands.  We missed 3/14/15 9:26:59 so decided we would celebrate when it came back around twelve hours later.  For lunch we settled on sandwiches from a local farm, on kaiser rolls in order to ensure their roundness.

Then the big decision came up- what kind of pie did we want to eat for dessert?  See, I like apple pie and French silk pie, while Chris loves berry pies and banana cream.  I abhor bananas so there was no chance of us sharing a pie.  Not only that, but we ended up going to three local orchards in search of pies.  Apparently it was a popular dessert choice today!

In the end, we decided on a pie for each of us.  I chose apple pie and Chris chose banana cream.  Of course, they were both delicious!  Oh, and we kept up the round food idea for dinner by having a chicken pot pie.

Turns out, round food includes a lot of carbs!

Slice of Life #13- A Walk in the Park

 

How can you have a bad day after hanging out with these smiles?

I have lots of little things I do to destress, but my go-to is walking the dogs.  We walk in rain, snow, heat, and wind.  As I tell anyone who asked me about Australian Shepherds, “They are our own personal trainers!”

Thanks to daylight savings time and the warmer weather today we were able to go out to the park with our dog friends.  A huge group of nine dogs (4 Aussies, 4 Huskies, and a Mastiff) and a lot of long line leashes enjoyed exploring the muddy trails and freshly melted snow.

The dogs love these romps but truthfully, I might enjoy them more.  Sunlight, fresh air, and lots of puppies- what more could a girl ask for?

The picture above is from the end of the walk.  We were only out for about forty-five minutes but I felt like a new person by the end.  And judging by the smiles in the photo above the dogs were pretty content, too. I’m so happy that spring is almost here and that it does not get dark out before 7pm anymore.  The dogs are definitely happy about that, too!

(And they have been sleeping ever since we got home.  They woke up for dinner and a quick trip outside, but it’s been sleepytime since then.  That’s the other great part of our group walks.  At the end, we have a lot of very tired dogs!)

 

Slice of Life #12- Live and Laugh

This has been a week.  And it looks like next week will be very similar. You know how it goes- work all day, getting home late, lots of grading, issues outside of school to deal with.  You wake up at 5:45am and go to bed at midnight.  The to-do list keeps getting longer and longer.

Sometimes you just need to laugh.   I’m conscious of this and I try very hard to set aside time for silly TV each night because I can watch a comedy and work on my t0-do list at the same time.

My go-to for laughs is usually Friends (now available on Netflix!).  But for the last few days I have been watching The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt instead.  Written by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, it’s a quirky, over-the-top comedy that never fails to leave me laughing out loud. Seriously, it’s quirky.  It’s weird.  It’s crazy. But it’s also sweet, innocent, and adorable.

Kimmy was the victim of a post-apocalyptic cult until being rescued.  She spent fifteen years in an underground bunker.  Now she’s thrown herself into life in New York City and comedy ensues.  All of the supporting characters are fantastic, Kimmy is perfection, and the writing is amazing.

And the best part?  The Babysitter’s Club plays a pivotal role in one of the first episodes.  And not just any book; nope, the super special mystery!  I devoured all of BSC books and owned most of the specials and super specials, so as a rabid BSC fan in middle school this made me very happy.

If you also need something to get your mind off of the rest of the world I highly recommend The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix.  Sometimes you just need to laugh!

Slice of Life #11- Criticism is Key

After school today I came home to discover that Andrew Smith, a writer I admire a great deal, had deleted his Twitter and Facebook accounts.  A little digging led me to a controversy surrounding a recent interview he did and I was disappointed, to say the least.

Most of the controversy on social media seemed to be centered around this portion of the article:

On the flip side, it sometimes seems like there isn’t much of a way into your books for female readers. Where are all the women in your work?
I was raised in a family with four boys, and I absolutely did not know anything about girls at all. I have a daughter now; she’s 17. When she was born, that was the first girl I ever had in my life. I consider myself completely ignorant to all things woman and female. I’m trying to be better though.

A lot of The Alex Crow is really about the failure of male societies. In all of the story threads, there are examples of male-dominated societies that make critical errors, whether it’s the army that Ariel falls in with at the beginning, or the refugee camp, or Camp Merrie-Seymour for boys, or the doomed arctic expedition, they’re all examples of male societies that think that they’re doing some kind of noble mission, and they’re failing miserably.

Personally, this card-carrying, women’s college graduate, loud mouth feminist didn’t take umbrage with Smith’s answer (The question, on the other hand, is offensive because it assumes that girls don’t want/have any reason to read Smith’s books ).

I interpreted Smith’s answer as “I didn’t have a lot of experience with women until I got married and had a daughter.  My wife and daughter have opened my eyes to what life is like for women and girls.  I’m trying to learn more”.  I respect Smith for admitting something like this.  I’m pretty sure he isn’t saying he never interacted with females until he got married, despite what some people on Tumblr seem to think.  But he recently shared that his parents were abusive and his childhood was not typical.  This, coupled with the adolescent tendency towards selfish focus on oneself, means it isn’t hard to believe he managed to avoid any deep and meaningful interactions with the female sex until meeting his wife.

You know what?  I teach teenagers all day long and I can only begin to scratch the surface when it comes to writing from a teen male perspective.  You know why?  Because even though I am human and they are human I am not in the brain of an adolescent male.  Our lives and experiences, while both human, are very different.  That doesn’t mean I leave adolescent males out of my stories.  No, of course not!  I am just aware of my lack of experience and I work to do a better job.  It seems to me that Smith is saying the same thing.

I often say that ____________ are aliens to me.  Feel free to fill in the blank with teenagers, men, people who own hairless cats, people who don’t eat chocolate.  There are experiences out there that I can not go through because I am not fourteen in 2015, a man, an admirer of hairless cats, a hater of chocolate.  I can understand that others might have a different experience and I acknowledge that this might be one of my shortcomings.  But it’s also not my job to become a teenager, a man, a hairless cat owner, or a chocolate disliker.  I can understand someone else’s perspective without making it my own.

However, I do recognize that others have a right to be offended by the message they take away from this snippet of conversation.  And we need to have conversations about gender and sex in literature.  We need diverse books.  I do think some of Smith’s female characters are flat and I admire him for acknowledging this as a personal shortcoming.  I’m even more impressed that he admits to trying to do better.  But when we attack people for admitting things like this all we do is shut down the conversation. And that benefits no one at all.

The people on social media who personally attacked Andrew Smith, those who made comments about his minor daughter, those who made this about his wife and his children, are doing us all a disservice.  You can’t have a conversation when you don’t ask questions and listen and instead you attack and demean.

Now Andrew Smith has deactivated his social media accounts.  That’s his prerogative and I respect his decision to protect his family from further verbal attacks.  But it’s a huge loss for his teen readers, who are often dormant readers.  Right now all of my Andrew Smith books are circulating through my freshman class.  And yes, both boys and girls are reading the books (the percentage is split about 50/50).  Those readers reach out to Smith on social media and he always, always responds.  That’s a priceless interaction for kids who don’t usually read many books.

So yes, please share your criticisms.  But when you start the conversation you have a responsibility to help guide the conversation and that means calling people out for taking it too far or becoming threatening.  And we need to acknowledge media creators who are doing good, even if it’s not perfect.  Andrew Smith writes books that take an honest look at sexuality, adolescence, class, and much more.  His books are diverse in a plethora of ways.  So if you are unhappy with his portrayal of female characters you should share your criticism.  But personal attacks only undermine the message.

And finally, Andrew Smith is in the trenches.  This man is in a classroom every.single.day.  He doesn’t just write teens- he knows them. He knows them a lot better and a lot deeper than most gatekeepers.   His portrayal of teen boys is so spot-on that it’s actually scary.  Does he write every adolescent male experience?  Of course not.  But the perspective he does write is frighteningly accurate according to my teens.   We need to embrace authors like this and provide constructive criticism, not cruel comments and personal attacks.  There can never be enough good books and we need all the allies we can get.  Andrew Smith was one of those allies and it’s my hope that he continues to write and create for the readers who need him.

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Andrew Smith and I at NCTE 2014

Slice of Life #10- After us the dragons

“Life is never fixed and stable.  It is always mercurial, rolling and splitting, disappearing and re-emerging in a most unpredictable fashion.  I never make a journey to a wood or a mountain without experiencing the temptation to explode a puffball in a new clearing or stopping to encourage some sleepy monster that is just cracking out of the earth mold. This is, of course, an irresponsible attitude, since I cannot tell what will come of it, but if the world hangs on such matters it may be well to act boldly and realize all immanent possibilities at once.  

Shake the seeds out of their pods, I say, launch the milkweed down, and set the lizards scuttling.  We are in a creative universe. Let us then create.  After all, man himself is the unlikely consequence of such forces.  In the spring when a breath of wind sets the propellers of the maple seeds to whirring, I always say to myself hopefully:  After us the dragons.”- Loren C. Eisely

I walk the dogs almost every afternoon, through rain and snow and heat and fog.  But no matter what the weather, I love to go off the beaten path.  As the seasons change from winter to spring those paths are starting to fill with pops of green as plants burst out of the dark soil.  Soon the dandelions will dot the fields and I will be tempted to reach down, pick one, and blow the seeds into the wind.

Loren Eisely challenges us to create.  To smell the flowers, spread the seeds, and turn over the rocks.  Create something.  Be a part of creation.

On today’s rainy walk I was delighted to see plants reaching out of the ground towards the sun.  Soon they will be flowering and spreading across the forest floor.  While winter is beautiful, spring is even more special and beautiful.  So keep reaching, little plant.  Be bold and we will follow.

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