I have a new blog for the more personal/political stuff.
Will keep this space for my middle school librarian adventures, of course. :)
I have a new blog for the more personal/political stuff.
Will keep this space for my middle school librarian adventures, of course. :)
I have what I think is a decent theory about why it happened, but that doesn’t matter now. My days are spent surrounded by youngsters, half of whose faces light up at the sound of our president-elect’s name and half of whose faces fall, and all of whom I love. I can tell you that if these kiddos are the future, we have a LOT to be hopeful about. Because they are the very definition of awesome. If you need a lift, come to the library before school some morning and hang out with Anne, William, Matthew, Kristin, and Drew. Ask them about their plan to build a book-shelving robot cat. Or come during recess and chat with Jewel about her invention of a bag within a bag, or check out Ty’s growing collection of pillows, or Ned’s 3D designs. Watch these kids teach other how to do new things in the Makerspace; watch them help us shelve books or help each other find good things to read; or just watch them being goofy rascals flopping around on the comfy chairs.
No, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. They can be unkind to each other–it’s part of being human, and it’s definitely sometimes part of being a middle-school-aged human. But they have good hearts. I see it every day, and it lifts me. I worry about what I’m reading in the news about unkindness all over our country, but I hope to see a strong movement in my school, rising from the children themselves, counteracting the ugliness that we are seeing in some pockets. If I believe in anything, it’s the power of these kids to fix our world. They need our guidance and they need our support, but the love is in them and really all they need is for us to not screw this up.
So I will wear my safety pin. I will tell the kids that it’s not about who I voted for, but it’s about sending a message that no matter who you voted for, everyone should know that they are safe. That is my first step.
I’m home with a migraine. I’m going to pay dearly for looking at the screen for as long as it takes to type this post, but the stress of not typing it is doing its own damage, so there you go.
Yesterday, I went to work. In a numb state, I taught all day, a lesson (pre-selected) about Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story, which deserves its own post and which has inspired me to find my voice to write this post, even though this blog really isn’t the place for it. I had to keep my opinion about the results of the election to myself while around kids–which is something I understand, because they should feel safe being authentic and shouldn’t have to worry about whether their opinions match mine. In any other election, I would 100% agree with this. In this one, it felt like a big lie. Thus this post.
A month ago, I texted my teenage daughter that the election was over. The bus tapes had been released, and I knew that the American public would never elect a man who spoke so casually about sexually assaulting women. I mean, it should have been over before then, but now it was really over.
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and of assault as an adult, this whole side of the campaign became a trigger–not the fact that Donald Trump said those things (I can handle a single person being a creep), but the fact that such a huge portion of our population was okay with it, so okay with it that they felt that he was still fit to be the President of our country. I got to a point where I could handle it, though, because he wasn’t actually going to become President.
Then, well, you know.
I know that this is just one issue among many, and I am highly, highly concerned about all of them. I am highly concerned about my students and friends who are Muslim or LGBTQ. I am highly concerned about casual racism and misogyny. I am highly concerned about people losing access to healthcare. I am basically terrified.
But here’s where I am especially having a problem right now, and probably why my head, that has been actually been doing pretty darn well the last few weeks, has decided to throw a huge migraine my way. We, as a society, seem to be saying to boys and men that girls and womens’ bodies are not their own. We just said it’s okay to joke around about grabbing girls and assaulting girls. We think it’s okay for a grown man to go into the dressing rooms of teenagers to check them out–not just okay, but we think that man can hold the position of highest power in our nation.
People, I can’t wrap my mind around this. I thought that the world was changing and that it was safer now than when I was a child. I knew it wasn’t safe then, but I thought it was better. I need to believe that it truly is better, but part of that is simply going to have to involve me finding a way to let my middle school students know that, while I support their right to be for Trump (about half of them voted for him in our student election), some of his behavior is simply NOT OKAY and not easily dismissed with “that’s just locker room talk.” We don’t talk like that in any locker room in my world.
I can only imagine how it would have felt if, as a child living the life I was living, I had the added stress of knowing that half the country was essentially cool in some way with what was happening to me, so cool that they elected a President who would possibly do those things. I know anyone who voted for Trump is going to read that as overdramatic and unfair, but a child’s brain, seeing things through the media lens, might very well see it that way. And how freaking heartbreaking is that.
This blog is possibly not the place for this post, but I don’t keep any other blog active right now, and it’s going to relate in part to my library work, so here goes.
Over the last few years, the migraine headaches I’ve had periodically all of my adult life have really kicked it up several notches. Generally, this isn’t a huge deal–if I can take medicine quickly enough and get into a dark room and close my eyes, it’s nothing more than an hour or two of inconvenience. But sometimes, increasingly so, it means missing days of work. Missing my kid’s events. Missing gatherings with friends (which are rare for my introvert self to begin with).
And it means pain. I have a super high pain tolerance in general. When I got my appendix out, the doctor was shocked that I wasn’t in more pain–I had only gone to the doctor at all because it was on the right side and my instincts told me to get it checked out. When I had the worst case of strep throat that anyone in the clinic had ever seen, I felt great! But these migraines do not mess around. I can’t describe the pain, but I can say that it makes me feel desperate for something to do to make it go away–I feel like I’d do just about anything. My husband sometimes squeezes my head with his hands, and the pressure makes the pain go away for a few seconds, and what a gift that is. Last night, with a pain level at around 8/10, I kept shifting my body position, irrationally thinking that maybe I’d hit on something that would lead to being pain free.
And then, around 11:00, it just lifted. Not sure why–I’d taken my second dose of imitrex hours before, with no discernable effect. I made myself lie as still as possible, as if this were in fact the result of having hit upon some magical combination of head placement on pillow and where the covers hit my chest and precisely how the cat was curled up against my side. And I thought about how happy I am, and about how I needed to write this blog post.
Because I AM happy, or content, or at peace. However you want to put it. I don’t think I’m happy because pain makes me appreciate the absence of pain when it comes, but I do think that’s part of it. I think I’m happy because more and more, I feel like I’m living in the present, and you can’t really ask for a much better present than the one I live in most days. If you haven’t been to my library, let me describe to you the most important part of it: kids who love. Love to read; love to laugh; love to make stuff; love to ask questions; love to tell you what they think; love to goof off and test your limits but with good hearts; love to live. No, they don’t love every minute–they get mad and they sulk and they get bored, and that’s okay. I don’t mean they are perfect, and I don’t only enjoy them when they are easy to be around. I kind of appreciate an openly grumpy middle schooler because authenticity is better than a fake smile in my book.
What I wanted to write about, or just note for myself, is just the idea that the present moment is everything. When I’m in pain, that means trying to breathe through it and not fall into believing it will last forever. When I can tell myself that all I have to do is handle it for this second, I can do it; I run into trouble when I start wondering how many hours it’s going to last. When I’m at school or laughing with my daughter or a friend, it’s easy to just be in the moment. When I’m reflecting, like right now, I guess it means just feeling the warmth of all the love and good in my life. There is so much to be thankful for, and right this moment, I feel it deeply. And this moment is all there is.
Augh. I wish I had posted something right when school started, because I composed a mental post about what a great start to the year it was and how wonderful it is to be back amongst the kids and my faculty friends. Alas, I didn’t write it down, but trust me that the year started off fabulously and is chugging right along.
In our first rotation with 6th-grade reading classes, we did an activity about book preferences and as part of that, had them write the titles of their favorite books on sticky notes and stick them to this giant whiteboard we have out in the main area of the library. (Sadly, I did not take a photo. It looked cool.) Today, I finally got around to doing something with that data. I started by sorting into genres and popular titles, at the end of which I had this:
While the pile for Harry Potter had 18 stickies, there was no other clear favorite–the kids like a wide variety of books! Yay! So, what to do with this information?
My idea was to create an “If you liked. . . you might also like. . .” display, using the titles provided by the kids–for both sides of the display. So, for example, 8 kids named Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper as a favorite, but a bunch of other realistic fiction titles along the same lines were named. I also of course threw in some of my own recommendations, and then have left space for kids to fill in their own suggestions. I’ve got a few more categories to do, but this is the basic idea. Kids can add to the lists at the bottom.
So that was my day! :)
I’m hoping to get in the habit of some reflective blogging, but these days I’m pretty worn out (happy tired, but tired) at the end of the day, plus I’m trying to make up for the fact that I read zero middle school literature over the summer by reading a lot in the evenings. Some fabulous stuff has come out recently, and maybe I’ll try to do a review post for the school blog soon.
My main reflection at this point of the year is that on Sunday night, as I was going to bed, I was excited for Monday morning to come and to see what the week would bring. The energy the kids are bringing to the library this year is phenomenal–they are crazy excited about books and the makerspace, and one can’t help but be heartened by it.
I’ve reached the point of summer where I feel entirely rested. I’ve taught a few camps and have one more next week, but for the most part, summer has meant resting, reading, working some on the house, spending time with people I love, binge-watching television shows, reflecting about the last few years, and starting to think about how I want to do things differently in the year ahead. The chaos and pain in the world lately is in sharp contrast to the relative peace in my life and home, and I feel both grateful for that and sad about it.
Last night, my husband and I went to see Ray LaMontagne in concert. We’ve been fans of Ray for a long time. My husband prefers his old stuff, and is happiest when it’s just Ray and his guitar, but I kind of love the dreamy, psychedelic new stuff just as much. But what might have struck me most was just that experience of watching someone clearly doing what they love to do. Ray said something about not being intentional with the music, but instead letting it come and be what it wants to be. This is how I experience writing–trying to get myself out of the way and let the words come, rather than wrenching the words into some vision I have. I’m not sure exactly how to translate this to librarianship, except just the idea of being authentic and genuine with the kids, and also supporting them in being their genuine selves. I miss the kids during the summer. Don’t get me wrong–I love having a break and especially love my summer sleep schedule–but I miss their energy and quirks and curiosity.
I like to try to learn something new every summer, and this summer, I’m working some on mindfulness and breathing. Not quite as visibly rewarding as sewing or electronics projects, but I’m hoping it will help with my physical health!
So, not a very exciting post, but summer is about recharging, and I’m feeling good at the moment and hopeful about the year ahead. It’s going to be a strange one, I think. I suspect we will need to go into it at full power to make it through November. (If you think middle schoolers don’t care or talk about politics, think again!)
This coming Friday, I’m giving a short presentation to the Parent’s Association (PA) of my school about professional development (PD). The PA pays for faculty PD, and as I was driving home today, I was mentally drafting what I might say, how I might show my gratitude and also help them see how useful PD is. I get SO much out of PD. I can’t imagine what my job would look like today without the conferences, classes, and resulting connections with fellow educators made along the way.
My first thought is to ask the parents to think of a positive memory that stands out from their own education, something warm and fuzzy. My own memory that came to mind isn’t exactly warm and fuzzy, but it is where my mind went:
Sixth grade. I, like many other sixth graders, was a bit of a mess. My English teacher, Ms. Kravitz, was consistently a bright spot for me–she was a reader with tastes similar to mine, and we used to swap books. At some point early in the year, I was reading a book called City Kid by Mary MacCracken. This is a true story, written by a special education teacher, about a student in her class who starts fires. Ms. Kravitz would give you extra credit if you encountered a vocabulary word in your personal reading, and I guess there was one in that book, which she ended up borrowing from me after I was done, and thus began our book swapping relationship.
You might be thinking that this was when I knew I’d be a librarian, but that didn’t happen until I was in my 30s. I wish that were what this story was about!
The story is instead about Chris B. Popular boy in my class. Oh, the crush I had on that boy–he was smart, funny, cute, and charming. Once, when Chris got in-school suspension, I, who never ever acted up at all, considered getting in trouble on purpose so that maybe, as we sat together all day in a classroom, he would speak to me. Forget love–I would have been thrilled had he said so much as “hi” or “suspension sucks, doesn’t it?”!
On the day in question, Chris misbehaved in class, and Ms. Kravitz reprimanded him in some way. I have no idea what the details are. What I do know is that I wrote him a note saying “Ms. Kravitz is such a bitch.”
A bit later, it’s the end of the day, and everyone is packing up to head out to the buses or carpool. Mrs. Somers, my math teacher, comes into my homeroom and says to Mrs. Rogo, my homeroom teacher, “Wait. Don’t dismiss yet. There’s been a note.”
Reader, I died. I knew it was my note. I looked at Chris, who of course ignored me. I looked at Mrs. Somers, who was looking right at me. They knew.
Next thing I remember, I was standing in Ms. Kravitz’s room, apologizing for writing the note. I didn’t say why I wrote it. I didn’t say, “I don’t really think that! I just wanted Chris to like me!” Maybe she knew. I have no idea. I have seriously tried so many times as an adult to find her on Google, just so I can apologize authentically. As it was, I mumbled the words and then ran as fast as I could to catch the bus.
When I got home, I cried so hard, I could barely breathe. I felt so bad about what I’d done. I worried about how much trouble I was in, but more importantly, I had hurt this teacher I loved, who had been so kind to me and connected with me in a way no other teacher had, and there was no way to fix it.
Then the phone rang.
No, it was not Ms. Kravitz.
It was Mrs. Somers, my math teacher. All I remember of what she said was, “It’s going to be okay.” And that gift–that reassurance, that forgiveness, that awareness that sometimes kids who have screwed up need to be reminded that screwing up is part of growing up–has stayed with me. I didn’t decide then to be a teacher, but something in me was forever changed by that objectively small gesture. Mrs. Somers was just a regular teacher to me–I liked her, but were it not for this incident, I might not remember her well at all. Yet even a “regular teacher” cared enough to make that call.
Now what on earth does any of that have to do with PD?
My thought is that, for me and maybe for most of us, the things that we remember fondly about our own education might be easy to imagine happening today. The connections with teachers; the a-ha moments of discovery; the triumph of getting over the hurdle of learning something challenging. And in many ways, life for a sixth grader today is much the same as it was for me–crushes, doing stupid stuff to impress peers, being curious about the adult world. But in other ways, it is so incredibly different, and those ways greatly impact education, or at least they should. Even after 10 years of working in a school library, I continue to be floored at times by how access to information has changed the game of education. The internet is, when you stop and think about it, totally insane!, but for kids today, it’s all they have known. And every day, researchers discover new things about our brains and about learning and thinking and creating. One of my favorite classes in graduate school was a class on the psychology of learning, and I imagine the syllabus for that class would be very different today because of how much more we know. And at the time I was taking the class, I was struck by how different the content was from the education course I took as an undergrad! PD is the best way I know to tap into some of that new knowledge.
To that end, I’m currently taking this course on Making Thinking Visible with four colleagues. I had learned some about thinking routines from a Project Zero (PZ) conference I went to last spring, as well as from some other colleagues who have done PZ summer institutes. (PZ is, in short, a research group at Harvard that is doing really cool stuff around how kids develop habits of mind and coming up with ways to help kids become sensitive to opportunities for deep thinking.) I had noticed, in a class earlier this year, that students who had done PZ thinking routines in their humanities classes the year bef0re had a different, really powerful way of discussing their ideas and responding to their peers, and it really intrigued me. I wanted to learn more, and thanks to the PA and my school, I get to take this course.
I’m learning a ton from the class–really enjoying trying out the routines with my students and also having fun bouncing ideas off my colleagues and other folks from around the world who are also taking the course. It’s not all smooth sailing–learning and trying something new means messing up, not unlike the sixth grade me. It means being vulnerable; feeling incompetent at times; getting out of my comfort zone. It would be easier to just keep doing things that seem to consistently work, and there are definitely days/lessons where I fall back on that or where that is entirely appropriate. But the real fun comes in stretching and trying something new. Most of the PD I’ve done has focused on respecting and listening to and trusting the minds and hearts of the kids, and helping them to find and share their voices. Maybe education has always done that to some extent, but my sense is that Ms. Kravitz and Mrs. Somers would have loved to see these changes in the landscape.
I’m not sure what I’ll say to the parents on Friday, but writing this post has helped me start to think about it!