Monday, September 12, 2016

My First Week (+ 1 Day) 2016

Recently I began my twelfth year of teaching (not counting the 1 ½ I taught part-time). I’ll admit to not being exactly thrilled to start a new year, for several reasons. I’ll share two:
1.     Last year took a lot out of me. My faithful readers know I have lupus. Last year exhausted me both mentally and physically. I spent pretty much all of June simply resting and trying to recover…it didn’t really help. I am currently trying to get back on my infusion instead of being stupid and trying to do without it.
2.     I did not prepare for this year like I normally do. Usually I have most to all of my year planned on Google Calendar by the time school starts. This year I had the first day planned—that was it. However, I did spend the summer researching and really thinking about myself, my privilege, and changing my curriculum. My problem was I felt overwhelmed by the myriad of issues I could cover. There’s so much going on in the world, so much that needs changing.

So, teachers reported back, and our “welcome back” speech didn’t feel welcoming. It felt the opposite…but I was determined to keep a good attitude for my students.

We did get some much-needed time in our classrooms. I appreciated the quiet so I could putter around and put finishing touches on my room. It was ready before we reported back, but I find it calming to spend time in my classroom—and I hope my students feel the same.

Students came back on a Friday, which was weird. Really weird. Once again, I welcomed students to their junior year and AP Language, and said, “Let’s read a story.” Just like last year, we read “Examination Day” by Henry Seslar. I always get such odd looks from the students. After finishing the last line, I asked students to turn to a neighbor and discuss why in the world their AP teacher would start the year by killing off a child. I gave them a couple minutes to ponder, then we talked as a class.

I stressed the importance of thinking for themselves, of taking risks, or opening their minds. We talked about who is easier to control: dumb people or intelligent people. I told them I had to desire to control them. I wanted them to question everything, even me.

From there we looked at “Pretty Good” by Charles Osgood and a satirical letter, thanking a teacher for focusing so much on test scores. I used these to further the conversation about grades, learning, thinking, etc. We finished the hour with a class bingo just to get the students up and moving.

Several throughout the day remarked I was the only teacher who welcomed them to the new school year, who talked about grades, and who wanted to give them room to make mistakes.

During the next week, we did some assessments so I could gage what they learned/knew/remembered from last year. Our pre-AP program (at least for 9th and 10th grade) is much too weak, so I had a good idea where students would be. Our department lacks alignment, so we don’t know who’s covering what literary terms as which grades, students aren’t really doing research papers, they aren’t doing much writing, and are doing little analysis or other AP prep.  
We began the week with a “Who Am I?” five-slide presentation. I asked for their name and a picture and a slide each telling me their likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses. These presentations really helped me begin putting names with faces!

We did a “pre-test” of literary terms and basic essay format, then went over it as a class so I could see what I needed to review or teach.

We finished the week with students blogging over a topic of their choice. I simply wanted to assess their content and voice/style. There were some weak and skimpy blogs and some truly beautiful work. In fact, I posted one of them as a guest blog. (Caution: the student wrote eloquently and honestly about rape, providing some mature and healthy talk about the subject. You can find it here:

Overall, they did well, and I already see much potential in this group. We shall see as the year progresses….

My Reading for Pleasure Class Responds to The New Yorker

I recently read an article on Twitter (where I generally get most of my info) from The New Yorker entitled “Do Teens Read Seriously Anymore?” by David Denby.

I was irritated from the first paragraph: “A common sight in malls, in pizza parlors, in Starbucks, and wherever else American teens hang out: three or four kids, hooded, gathered around a table, leaning over like monks or druids, their eyes fastened to the smartphones held in front of them. The phones, converging at the center of the table, come close to touching. The teens are making a communion of a sort. Looking at them, you can envy their happiness. You can also find yourself wishing them immersed in a different kind of happiness—in a superb book or a series of books, in the reading obsession itself! You should probably keep on wishing.”

“Monks or druids”? So, the implication is teens are praying to their device or the device is holy to them? I know teens are attached to their device, but I doubt any of them would appreciate the simile.

Who’s to say teens aren’t reading on their devices? I read all the time on mine. Maybe it’s not a “superb book or series,” but I do read on my device. “You should probably keep wishing” especially pisses me off. It’s so disdainful and patronizing toward the very people Denby writes about. Classic case of an adult writing about teens and yet completely missing the mark on who they are as actual people!

So, being the pot stirrer I am, I thought I’d share the article with the 28 teens in my Reading for Pleasure class. Wow, those were some angry people. I told them they could leave me comments in Google Classroom. Below, I copied and pasted their comments with minimal revisions. Since they were informal comments, I didn’t specify “English rules.”

¨If kids are avoiding eye contact, they are avoiding books even more¨ Two separate things...... just saying.” –Jackson

“I still read.” –Joshua

“There are two reading for pleasure hours in this school! If kids didn't want to read then why would they sign up for these classes? MAYBEEE if there wasn't as much homework and stress put on our grades then we would read more. The generation that wrote this article is the same generation that is putting the stress onto us to have jobs, get perfect grades, be the perfect person, finish all of our homework! These people have no place to say that we don't read when they don't give us time to read. *drop the mic*” –Blaine

“We definitely read. But I feel as though it's not necessarily stereotyped into like 'the nerdy girl reads' or 'the moody, emo kid reads'. It's more like the people who those wouldn't expect. And what the heck does eye contact have to do with reading more? There is no correlation. I don't usually make eye contact and I have five books in my bag right now. And personally I happen to enjoy the scent of old books. It makes me think of winter nights and hot cocoa. Also, this article was made in February. I'm less angered knowing that this is at least 2-3 months old. But still angered.” –Chloe

“I think reading is needed at times to calm the mind. Many teens don't read as much as we're supposed to. I understand that teens are on their phones way more than reading books or magazines, because they are into the ‘it,’ thing. Many parents are addicted to their phones also, reading helps you learn new words, and compare to other people's problems to yours. Reading is important for everyone and not just on cell phones.” –Emily

“The sad thing is that a lot of people not just teens. Adults and kids as well so it's not only us teens but a few people now a days so they can’t blame us. I love reading but I don't like being forced to read and that is why most teens have strayed from book life. Then those of us have jobs and we have to worry about grade and homework to we don't get much time to read anymore.” –Cameron

“Yes! I believe that there are a wide majority of teens who are not engaged in reading nowadays. HOWEVER, the one thing that killed the idea of reading as a hobby was when we were obligated to finish a novel that was chosen by our teacher. Contrary to popular belief, reading is an excellent way to free our minds and travel to an alternate world where we envision ourselves as a character. It allows us to get away from the dark places that absorb the world and it's also a great way to pass the time.” --Zack

“alright buddy. i am a teenage girl who doesn’t care about her clothes. i don’t care what a book smells like, i care about what is written and we are busy. i work 20 hours a week plus extra curricular activities that practice almost every day plus the extra clubs and i have still have time to read almost a book every couple of weeks. my mother asks me for books because she knows i have read more and i know what’s good. and not just the young adult either. I’ve read classics and nonfiction and i do it on my own will. those who don’t read just haven’t found what they like.” –Karstin

“^ true. especially when the funds we receive from said jobs (usually 2-3 3-4 of them at once) are barely enough to afford rent and have practically none left over to eat LET ALONE to buy a book.” –Chloe responding to Karstin

“My first thought is do adults read seriously anymore because the only time i see my dad reading anything is either when its a Facebook post, a text, or a email? The eye contact thing also really irks me how do those relate just because I'm shy doesn't mean I don't read. I read because I want to and there is something different about reading it takes you to a whole other side of reality. I took reading for pleasure this year to finally to get the time and chance to explore different books and broaden my horizon and no there isn't assigned reading I do it because I would like too.” --Hannah

“I feel like this is demeaning towards kids. What you are reading doesn't matter. If it has a cover and a back and words in between, it's a book. What I read helps me deal with the real world, and I am sorry that it is not considered 'a real book' but in my opinion it is more real than anything the older generations would consider to be 'a real book.’” --Ashtyn

“Teens read just as much as any elementary student may! Reading is a way in which any teenager can let their mind wander into an extraordinary adventure. Age doesn't dictate how much a person reads, or how much a person should read, and it's unfair to assume that teens don't appreciate reading anymore. I don't read because I am told to, I read because I enjoy it! Also, just because some teens may not necessarily be as social as others, it doesn't mean that they don't enjoy reading just as much as anybody else!” --Kali

“i love reading and their is nothing wrong with joining sports or clubs i am pretty sure there are people out there who can read at least once a week if not once a day. I have a phone too and i go and check my social networks, but i don't stare at my phone waiting for someone to post something every ten seconds. I mean my mom has four kids and she still manages to get most of the stuff she wants done completed.” –Mackenzie

“I would like to disagree I know many kids who love to read for fun and rather read than do outdoor activities. I love to read book and then there are websites on the internet that you can read books on. HELLO E-BOOKS! Yes we are all busy but there are many of us who will pick up and book and read 20 minutes into it. Also I would like to point out the sexist accusations. Maybe I'm a girl who does sports or a video gamer. Then there might be some boys who care about their friendships. Also I would like to point out we have a harder time reading because some of us go to school 7 hours and then have homework an hour for each class which is 7 HOURS and not to mention I have a job where I work 5-6 hours. Then I have band in the morning which I have to wake up at 5 in the morning. Even though I have school, band, and work I still read at least a couple times a week which is a lot more than some adults.” –Kailee

“I find it funny that this author claims that teenagers do not read when it can be proven with several people that this claim is untrue. The reality of the matter is that though the majority may not be engrossed in reading, there are the minority who still find enjoyment in books. The idea of placing ALL teenagers into one category is simply ridiculous and infuriating.
Age should not dictate how much a person reads or what a person reads. Naturally, older generations will read different literary works than what we read in the present day.
This article simply is the opinion of a entitled, pretentious, and ignorant man. To claim that ALL teenagers are focused on social media over reading is a statement that has no factual basis but rather is just based on his personal and quite frankly, stupid opinion.
I am a firm believer that it is easier for someone to make assumptions of others than taking a hard look at themselves. If they did, they would see they are throwing stones when they live in a glass house. There were people in his generation who didn't read so he can't act like it's just our generation who has starting this trend. This trend has been around longer than we have and it's blatantly insulting to add this false claim to the many others surrounding our generation.
In conclusion, I believe that this author is severely misguided and needs to open his eyes and take a look around rather than assume and therefore, make false statements.
You know what they say about when you ‘assume things.’
That is all.” –Megan

There are so many other sentences from the article that bothered me, but I’m not a teen. I thought it best to let them speak for themselves.

I will say while Denby focuses on teens, I wonder how many adults actually read for pleasure, since he seems fixated by the “joy” aspect. But, it is always so much easier to blame those damn teenagers and try to remove the splinters from their eyes rather than remove the logs from the eyes of our own generations. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Guest Blog: Real Talk About Rape

Below is a blog from one of my students. I let them write about any topic they wanted so I could assess their content. This student gave me permission to repost. It is a powerful statement about rape, so I'm keeping the student anonymous for their protection. I did not make any corrections because I'm not worried about sharing a "perfect" piece. If you are sensitive about rape, you may not want to read this post.

Reprinted with permission from my student. The student retains all rights to this work. 

These students are going to change our world.

     A man came into a class one day, to talk about the consequences if you break the law. He asked the class, “when should a minor be tried as an adult?” In seconds, hands started going up in the air and was spitting out answers. He wrote all of them on the board, except one. A girl, a victim probably, said “rape.” The man was so confused and did not take it in as consideration. “You mean violent rape? He said. “No, I mean rape, it is all the same.” as she responded. He looked to a boy who said “rape only if he used a weapon and hurt her.” And he took that inconsideration, because he did not deeply think that it is still rape, violent or not. She still said no.

     The thing people do not get, is that rape is rape. Violent or not, it was still rape. With a weapon or not, it was still rape. It does not matter if his violent needs was his hands, or his weapon was a knife, a gun, or his guilt, she still said no. Just like how it does not matter if a murder was “violent”--it was still murder. You can kill someone with drugs, cars, guns or fear, but that wouldn’t matter how you did it because it was still murder. If it was for your defense or not, it was still murder. Therefore, just because she was intoxicated, doesn’t mean you are allowed to consume her body for your sexual needs. Just because she said no, does not mean tie her down and make her follow your orders as her dominant. Just because she is showing her legs and her shoulders, does not mean she is asking for it. Girls and women all over live with the guilt and blame themselves for letting it happen, while the dominant’s heart is continues to throb and pound, and beat a thrusting rape into another family.   

     “There is no difference between being raped and going head first through a windshield except that afterward you are afraid, not of cars, but half the human race.” The rape joke is that, jokes are suppose to be funny, and rape is not a joke. Haha, you should’ve seen it coming. The “joke” is as wrong as it sounds. Because it is not a joke. It is not a joke to be face down, having your clothes stripped off by someone else’s hands and being consumed of your body that you probably saved for a special someone. You should have just said no, they said. It is not that hard to say no, they said. “They” because they never have been forced to be a submissive to a stranger, or maybe even to your best friend. There are teenage girls everywhere that is being taught that it is okay, especially for the younger girls who think they do not have a voice to speak, when they do. And it is wrong to support your son when he is being convicted of rape. Raping someone is not a sickness you can get, or a drunk thought and call it a mistake and then apologize, because “rape” is a choice you make. Violent or not, it is a choice you decided to make for yourself, just like how killing somebody is.

     "Rape: v. unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against the will usually of a female or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent—compare sexual assault, statutory rape" (