Tuesday, June 18, 2013

New Beginnings

With much hesitation and turmoil I have had to transfer over to Wordpress in order to continue my blog. If you happen to visit here, click on the link below to find my new site. Thank you!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Book Club

"Do you ever read any of the books you burn?"
He laughed. "That's against the law!"
"Oh. Of course."
"It's fine work. Monday burn Millay, Wednesday Whitman, Friday Faulkner, burn 'em to ashes, then burn the ashes. That's our official slogan."

My house is mostly in order. That is until the next paycheck comes in! All the boxes are gone, the clothes are put away, the dishes are in the cabinet, the beds are made, and best yet...the books are on the shelves.

 I hadn't made time for my love of literature until everything else was complete. I happily settled down to begin my first book of the summer last week. Farenheit 451. I tend to give myself a theme for my summer reading. Last summer it was all about the latest craze! Dystopian literature. Of course,  I jumped on the bandwagon and started with The Hunger Games trilogy. From there, my summer reading list took on a life of its own. This year, I have decided to go for the classics. And by classics, I mean all those books we were supposed to read in high school, but opted for the Cliff's Notes instead.

I have been underlining feverishly and making notes in the margin as if I'm a student sitting through a college lit class. It's what I do. I can't just read a book. I have to analyze it, pick it to pieces, let it simmer in my thoughts....and then blog about it.

This book was written for me! It was the best classic to start off my themed summer reading list simply because it ecompasses two of my loves: dystopian societies and love of literature. This book is so rich with reasons for not only having books, but cherishing them. Books offer power. Books offer escape. Books offer knowledge. Have I mentioned that I love books?

The main character is a firefighter. This is a prominent and highly respected position of the community because these men don't put out fires. They start them. They burn the homes that have been found with books in them. It's such genius irony that Bradbury chose, as an author and lover of literature, to write about a hypothetical society that banished and censored so heavily. Could he have possibly feared censorship of his own words during this time? Another thing I love about this type of book, is that a similar theme can be found throughout them all. There always always needs to be rebellion. A rebel. A radical. Montag is my type of rebel with a cause. One of my favorite passages in the book, points to his beginning transformation. It's the transformation that I enjoy most. Not the end.
"Mildred, how would it be if, well, maybe I quit my job awhile?"
"You want to give up everything? After all these years of working, because , one night, some woman and her books -"
"You should have seen her, Millie!"
"She's nothing to me; she shouldn't have had books..."
"You weren't there, you didn't see," he said. "There must be something in books, things we can't imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don't stay for nothing."
"Let me alone," said Mildred. "I didn't do anything."
"Let you alone! That's all very well, but how can I leave myself alone? We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, something real?"

Do you see? Books are important! I have had a few weeks since school ended to reflect on what I want to do with my time. Once school begins in August, my children will board the school bus and travel a mile down the road to their new school. I, on the other hand, will not. It will be the first time in a while that I am not actively reading to and with a group on a daily basis. Although my students were only 10 and 11 years old, they were bright. They were insightful. They discussed literature with me without shame. I will miss that. But I have plans. My friend, Emily, will be reading along with me to finish Farenheit 451 so that we can hold our virtual book club. I've also sent out an invitation within my neighborhood to begin a book club. Ive had two women express interest. I am delighted at the prospects of possibilities.

I began my journey here in Texas determined to be something idealistic...A "Leave it to Beaver" type of housewife. I was determined to transform. But then I asked why. Why would I need to leave my love of literature and the discussion of it at the door, just because I'm no longer teaching. I realized that rather than comparing and competing to become something or someone else, I just need to be me. I am a reader. I am a writer. I can't help it.

I'm looking forward to my newly awaiting book club to form. I'm still hoping for a few more neighborhood women to join. We shall see. So, this blog that was created for my students has now transformed into my own little book club. Please join me in reading, won't you?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Come Prepared, But More Importantly, Come With Passion!

I have been blown away at every turn this school year. I wish that I could put into words how amazing this journey has been. It might just be because every year, I learn more about myself and about students. It might be that the literature selected to read this year has been high interest (to say the least). It might even be that I have the best ten and eleven year olds ever in my classroom. Really, it's most likely a combination of all of those things. I think my passionate desire to reach children through literature has played to my advantage this year. From day one, when I told my students that we would be going on a journey together, they have allowed me to lead. I remember the first day...playing various selections of music on the CD player and asking students to visualize. They were asked to give a word or phrase or sentence behind the music. I said, tell me what you SEE when you HEAR this." They looked at me like I was crazy. I was used to this....it's the same look I get every year. After several music selections, I told my students that this year would be an experiment of listening to stories and visualizing a sort of movie in our minds. What was so great and exciting about this, I expressed, was that each of us would probably have a different movie going on in our minds from our friends. We discussed that first day how beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and how one person may see a piece of art as beauty and another person may see the same piece as junk. 

Through each story we have read this year, we have seen heroes and heroines who have shown us that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, and forms. We have experienced great tragedies as well as great triumphs. I was overjoyed as I read our Giver series. With each passing story, the students would see a little more to the puzzle that I wanted them to see. Without hesitation, and with much gusto, the students immersed themselves in the world of Jonas, Kira, Matty, Gabe, Claire, and the Trademaster. The day I finished the final book in the series, I was sad. Sad because it was over. I even went home a little depressed. This was the last time I would read this series to a group of students, since I'll not be teaching next year. I was devastated.

 As luck... or fate... or (in my opinion) God would have it, my students needed one more story. I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason. On the very day that I finished my favorite series, I received an email from a friend asking for suggestions on what her students could read next year. I went home and did my research. I looked at themes that would accompany another of my favorite books (Walk Two Moons) and found Wonder, by R.J. Palacio. I had seen it on the shelves at Barnes and Noble. I had picked it up and read the summary. I had even put it on my "to read" list for this summer. I read several reviews of the book and a great article by the author. I sent it as a suggestion to my friend. The next day, as my students were in their individual book clubs reading, I took my copy of Wonder and began reading. Two pages in I stopped everyone from reading with their groups. I said, "Hey guys...come back to your seats. I have something I have to share with you!" I told my students about Wonder and shared with them that it was just too good not to enjoy with them. I have become dependent on my group of ten and eleven year olds. They have become my favorite book club! I have enjoyed beyond measure our discussions and conversations. 

What I have experienced over just a few days with this book, is far beyond what I could have ever hoped. When I tell people I love teaching, that is such an understatement. The beauty I have seen this week as a result of reading the pages of a book, has shown me that teaching is truly the best profession in the world. This book is about a fifth grade boy with a facial deformation. He enters mainstream school for the first time. We have seen instances of bullying, and of great friendship through the pages of this story. But what has been the greatest and most effective, has been the PRECEPTS. Auggie's (the main character) English teacher gives the class a precept for each month. The students have to write essays on them. We haven't been writing essays. We have, however, been discussing in length what these precepts mean and how we can apply them to our own lives. The first precept we discussed a few days ago was this: WHEN GIVEN THE CHOICE BETWEEN BEING RIGHT OR BEING KIND, CHOOSE KIND. 

I gave students examples of this. We had a rich, meaningful conversation about what it means to lay aside our pride and ego to just be kind instead. There are so many times that we want to say "I told you so." I told my students to go forth from class and search for instances that showed this precept. I told them to let me know if they saw any examples of it. I had students running to class today to enthusiastically tell me how their mom chose kind instead of being right....or their dad, or their sister, or their brother, or ....get this.... the guy who checked them out at the grocery store. 

My students are LOOKING for and SEEKING out kindness in others. Don't think for a minute this doesn't trickle down to their own lives. It's amazing what a good book can do. Stories are the most powerful tool of progression and realization (in my opinion, of course). What amazing realizations I have made this year. I have realized that teaching is COMPLETELY about relationships. I have realized that teaching is about equipping a child with confidence and heart. I have realized that daily oral language skills pale in comparison to real conversations with kids about real life. 

As I leave one journey to begin a new one, my prayer is that every teacher in every classroom comes prepared....but more importantly, comes with passion. My prayer is that every child will have a teacher that teaches without hesitation and with much gusto....with intention to motivate, inspire, and encourage. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Year of Reading!

This has been an amazing year. A year of reading, really. I have never had a group of students more motivated to read than this group. Not only have they taken on the tasks of reading and discussing deeply what we have required for class, but they have independently become searchers and researchers of great literature. 

 We finished our Giver series today. Although these books were not part of our testing curriculum (and by that, I mean they were pure read alouds...for listening pleasure), we have learned so much from these books. Life lessons mixed with deep analytical discussions of literary devices were the name of the game with these books. I have learned through reading these this year that beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder. I also feel that delivery is everything. Although Lois Lowry can be quite somber in her literary quest for great plot, she also has such poignant and beautiful themes. I chose, as the sole reader and guider of these read aloud days, to focus not on the trees but the forest. The forest (no pun intended...for those of you who have read The Messenger) was a magical place for us to have real conversations throughout our entire year about character and social issues such as honor, truth, love, kindness, and overall good vs. evil in our world. As far as literary analysis goes, I had students picking up on such intelligent topics as dramatic irony and point of view, an author's use of characterization as well as foreshadowing and flashback. Where some teachers spend a year knee deep in work sheets, we accomplished these same goals by reading for pleasure and simply having conversations. What a way to end a year. It has truly been a journey of discovery this year. The main lesson we walked away with today, was that there is evil in this world that we can only fight with good. Evil feeds off of tragedy. Evil was finally destroyed today with love, generosity, selflessness. I can't think of a better lesson for us all to learn than that. 
 Kwaylon and Mrs. DuBose reading Freedom Crossing

Free book grab!

A group of eager students! They have decided that Lois Lowry must write another book in the series. They are writing a summary of what it should be, and I will email it to her for them. Can't wait to get her response!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Final Stretch

We are in the final stretch of the school year. What we have been preparing for since August has too quickly come upon us. All school years seem to fly by, but this year especially for me. Since November I have known that this would be my last year to teach at Madison Crossing. I fought the idea hard initially, when my husband informed me that his firm wanted to send him to Houston. I said, "Absolutely not! I will not go!" I meant it too. How could I leave such a school as this.

 I have had the pleasure of working for two principals who have given me the foundations of my educational philosophies. My first "real" experience as I call it, was in Los Angeles, California. I will always hold Charlotte Lerchenmuller at the top of my favorites list. She was a no holds barred kinda gal who let you know exactly what she thought. Lucky for me, she didn't think I was too bad. She, and most of my colleagues at Emerson Middle School, showed me what it means to fight for students. I left California thinking I'd never find another principal as decisive and progressive as Charlotte. When I moved back to Mississippi, I stayed home with my children for two years. At the time I couldn't have imagined going back to the classroom. I had found my calling. Stay at home mom! At the end of that two year season in my life, however, I felt something tugging me back to the classroom. It wasn't just any classroom I wanted though. I had always remembered the motivation received from my reading professor at Mississippi College. For it was she who instilled a love of teaching literature in me. I had heard she was now principal at a Madison County school. I wanted to know which one. After doing my research and finding Dr. D'Amico at Madison Crossing, I sent her an email expressing my interest in working for her. The past five years have been nothing short of a true blessing. Not many teachers are empowered to teach the way we are at Crossing. We are trusted to do our jobs. We are motivated and inspired by one of the most decisive and progressive leaders I've known.

As I have grown as a teacher, I have found that both of these ladies' educational philosophies (although vastly different) drive my desire to dive more deeply into the issues we face in public schools today. Oh how many problems there are, too. Do I have answers? Of course not. I am not nearly as intelligent as the educational reformers out there making their tracks. What's bizarre though is that I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with both groups. Over the Easter break I picked up a copy of Michelle Rhee's book, Radical. I know what my California friends would say to that! As I was reading it, I kept saying things like, "Hmmm, that's a good point." See, for the past eleven years as an educator, I have held true to my beginning roots that marched the steps against high stakes testing within our schools. But the more I read from Rhee's book, the more I kept wondering what I truly believed. So as soon as I finished it, off to the bookstore I went. I wanted a book as opposite from Radical as I could find. I wanted to know the opposing arguments. For as creatively driven as I am in my classroom, I need statistics and data to convince me to buy into someone else's ideas. What I concluded was this.... I don't stand completely on either side. I see both points of view. I understand the side that says we have to be competitive and hold students and teachers accountable. I understand the side that says that there's not a one size fits all test for our nation. So, as I embark on the final months of my school year, I will trudge on enthusiastically and with deep motivation to seeing that my students leave with more knowledge than they came to me with. I will both prep them for "THE TEST" and foster their creativity through literature and art. I will fight the good fight until the last bell rings.....Then I will move to Texas and continue in the fight with my own children.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Beauty in Tragedy

Today, we finished the third book in Lois Lowry's Giver series. For twelve years, The Giver has been my favorite. Today, however, The Messenger became my favorite. Today was proof for me that books are meant to be shared, discussed, and analyzed. I love reading alone, but there is no greater joy than a group of people coming together to witness true beauty through words. I was given the amazing opportunity to experience heartfelt emotion twice today with both of my classes. As I read the final chapters, tears came to my eyes and I had to suppress the urge to have a student finish reading aloud so that I could gather my emotion. I finished though, and was privy to a crowd of faces that caught the same connections I did. The students felt the same bittersweet feelings as their teacher as we realized our main character was willingly and tragically sacrificing himself for the world. He was a true HEALER! We had a brief class discussion afterwards but suggested they save their thoughts for the blog. Tonight's assignment is for them to respond with their thoughts. Below, I share the most poignant passages from today:

    With difficulty he leaned painfully toward her, so that his ear was near her mouth.
    "We need your gift," she whispered.
    Marty fell back in despair. He had followed Leader's instructions. He had not spent the gift. He had not made Ramon well, had not fixed Kira's crooked leg, or even tried to save his little dog. But it was too late now. His body was so damaged he could barely move. He could no longer bend his ravaged arms. How could he place his hands on anything? And what, in any case, did she want him to touch? So much was ruined.
    In agony and hopelessness, he turned away from her and rolled off the blanket and into the thick foul smelling mud. With his arms outstretched, his hands touching the earth, he lay there waiting to die. 
    He felt his fingers begin to vibrate...

    Gasping, Matty called for his gift to come. There was no sense of how to direct it. He simply clawed into the earth, feeling the power in his hands enter, pulsating into the ruined world. He became aware, suddenly, that he had been chosen for this....

    Kira smoothed his hair. "He called himself the fiercest of the fierce."
    Leader smiled. "He was that. But it was not his true name."
    Kira wiped her eyes. "He so hoped to receive his true name at the end of this journey."
    "He would have."
    "He wanted to be Messenger," Kira confided.
    Leader shook his head. "No. There have been other messengers and there will be more to come." He leaned down and placed his hand solemnly on Matty's forehead above the closed eyes. "Your true name is Healer," he said.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


As my Sunday night winds down, and I prepare myself for the school week ahead, I decide to sit and read through some old writing samples my students did one morning just as a warm up exercise. They wrote it months ago and put it into their portfolios. Since it wasn't a serious assignment, I put off looking at them. Some things go into their portfolios that are not graded, and this was one of them. Tonight, as I read them, I took much delight in the fact that my students have become story tellers. I gave the students one line that they were to incorporate any where and any way into a brief narrative. They had 15 minutes to write it. Below is a sampling of what I read. Tonight's updated blog highlights three of my story tellers. If there were more hours in the day, all of my fabulous writers would be here. Their turns are coming!

Mission: to take one phrase and build a narrative around it.
Result: a lesson on perspective 

One day, I was playing on the playground. Children knocked me over and shoved me when we were lining up. Suddenly, a warm hand yanked my arm. I was being yanked to the side.
            “Stop it!” I screamed. “Let go!”
            “I’m not a kidnapper!” an annoyed voice said.
            I looked over. It was a boy my age I had never met before. He had shaggy blonde hair and deep brown eyes. Twigs and weeds surrounded the forest floor. My shoes got caught occasionally. We stopped. He pointed me toward the opening in a tree.
            “I’m sure you’ll be pleased. It’s surprisingly large once your inside,” the boy said with a happy grin.
            “Tell me why you brought me here,” I said.
            “Well, one day I found this place and I had to show someone. You were the only person who seemed normal against all those screaming children,” he said with a snicker. “I was feeling lonely,” he admitted shyly.
            “Well, you shouldn’t just grab people. The teachers will be looking for me and my parents will flip out!” I cried out.
            “You’ll be back soon?” he asked…but still wouldn’t let me go.
            “Take me back!” I screamed.
            “Not until you look inside.
            “Fine,” I gave in.
            There were gray stones leading to the opening of the tree. They were beautiful and appeared almost man made. They were in shapes of all kinds. The tree seemed too small for a house. Inside, I smelled sap. Shiny hardwood floors covered the small round room and a spiral staircase creeped down down down to a dark basement. It was cold and I realized that I was underground. There were wooden chairs intricately carved around a soft brown rug. The floor was made of dirt. I was stunned! There was a wooden shelf containing lots of books. I made my way dazed to the outside again. I searched and searched, but the boy was nowhere to be found. Suddenly, feeling very afraid of the woods around me, I dashed back to the playground.
            “Good Heavens!” Ms. Smith said. “We’ve been looking for you everywhere.”
            Still to this day, the boy has never been seen again.


          He pointed me toward the opening of the tree.
          “I’m sure you’ll be pleased. It’s surprisingly large once your inside.”
          I stepped in.
          “Welcome to Wonderland.” He said
          “Wow, thank you for bringing me here. I…I… don’t know what to say.”
          “You’re welcome.”
          “This isn’t mine, is it? It can’t be!”
          “Yes, it is. Well, only part of it. You see, this world is divided into three parts. The dark side, the rain side, and the light side. The one that you own is the light side. Enjoy your stay at Wonderland,” his face seemed kind. Then something changed. He smiled an evil smile. “And remember,” he said, “don’t go to the dark one.”
          “Who’s the dark one?” I asked.

          …TO BE CONTINUED


He pointed me toward the opening of the tree.
          “I’m sure you’ll be pleased. It’s surprisingly large once your inside.”
          I walked in and saw that it really was huge inside. I yelled out that I’d take it. The man left and I went to the store to begin buying new things for my new house. I bought a bed, a television, a couch, and an Xbox. I was living great in my new house. Then the sound I’ll always remember. Smash! Crack, Crash! Snap! My tree house was going down. I managed to escape and looked behind me to see a tornado had taken my tree. I was left alone in the woods and didn’t know where to go. My path back to the city had been destroyed. I searched for days and just as I was about to give up I heard a BEEP! It was a car horn. I began running with joy. I had finally made it back to the city.
One day, a man asked if I wanted a city house. I said, “I’ll take it!”