Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Stepping Back to Reach Out

Teaching often involves watching, observing, asking questions, withholding our judgement. It involves learning everything you can about your students so you can find the words to help. It's avoiding your knee-jerk response to perceived bad behavior and finding out more about the realities of your students.

My OSU student interns have a strong research, academic, and pedagogical foundation, and their semester of internship allows them to teach 'for real,' without much of a net. 

They learn to use their interpersonal skills, to inhibit their first responses and find other professionals who can help them learn more about these fragile students who try to appear so tough.

I have shared other intern stories here and here.

The stories I share today are young teachers using their gifts and talents and knowledge, getting to the bottom of troublesome behavior, seeking to understand their students' lives and finding ways to make school meaningful. I am so proud of these young teachers. Even if they choose not to teach, their semester in the classroom has given them even more empathy for others.

My student story is about a kid named T.  He is a “bad kid” according to almost all the other teachers (my CT is exempt).  He rarely comes to class, recently knocked-up his girlfriend, and is a general troublemaker.  He is disrespectful, has great contempt of authority, and will challenge teachers.  He likes to push back.  

I had him in class one day and was frustrated within the first five minutes.  I tried to laugh off his disrespect, but deep down I really wanted to call him out.  Instead, I kept my cool until I could talk to my cooperating teacher.  I told her about T and asked what she would do with him.  She told me that his dad had recently been sentenced to prison for trying to kill his mother in front of him.  Now, his mother wants nothing to do with him or any of his brothers.  She has all but abandoned them.  

To keep the boys together, community members have been letting them sleep on couches.  She never knows for sure where T is at any given point.  He feels ashamed of handouts so he won’t eat with the family he stays with.  He often doesn’t eat at school.  She said she had to force him to eat because he would be afraid of being called a bum.  

T works so hard to stay afloat that he sometimes doesn’t realize he’s being disrespectful.  He thinks that the teachers don’t understand him (and for the most part, he’s right) and so he won’t try. 

I pulled him out of class later that day and asked him how he was doing.   I told him he wasn’t in trouble, just that I wanted to talk.  He gave me a short list of his goings-on and started to open up a little. 

I then used “I” statements to discuss his behavior.  He instantly became the sweetest kid in his class.  If I could, I would adopt all three of those boys and make sure that they are cared for.  I still feel anger at the other teachers in my building for not caring for T and his family, but I’m glad I can help him in any way.  

And this...

I do not know how to start this written assignment, so I suppose I will just begin rambling. I have a student, EL, that is unmotivated at all times to do her work. She is a brilliant student, but she does not like feeling the pressure of working during class. To put this into perspective: while alone in the classroom, she finished a unit’s worth of assignments in about an hour. She is fully capable of doing the work, and doing it well, but she simply does not want to. She calls herself “stupid” regularly, and it breaks my heart.

After a while of this, my cooperating teacher and I decided to go to her counselor and find out if there is any background to her behavior. She is rarely disrespectful. She is just uninterested. We learned that her parents are currently going through a divorce. This put everything into perspective for us. It is so hard to ask he to work on English assignments when her home life is a complete mess. I fully understand that The Crucible is not relevant to her real life; however, she does need to graduate high school, so we hold her to a new standard.
EL is no longer allowed to take her work home with her. She always loses it, so there is no point in asking her to work on things at home anyways. We ask her to stay after class once a week and get all of her assignments done. She is only allowed, per our policy, to make an 80% on these late assignments, but an 80% is much better than a 0. 

We are now working with her schedule in a way that does not pressure her, or make her feel that we think English is more important than her home life or her mental health.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Relationships Support Students and Families

Last semester, I was able to work with OSU English Language Arts (and Foreign Language) Student Interns, and was deeply moved by their dedication to their profession and their students. I learned to love my students, and supported their various decisions about their futures: some (less than half) will be teaching in #oklaed next year. Some are making the trek south on I-35 to teach in Texas. Some are returning to school, pursuing degrees in higher education.

They all were more than ready for their internship by a strong foundation in the academics and pedagogy. They will all find success in their lives, and this semester they spent in the classroom will always inform their lives.

I asked my students to share a story (no names) about a student...when we tell these stories, we get to the heart of teaching and learning. I published one story earlier, about a student who turned his life around with the help of coaches and teachers

Today's story shows the power of a teacher stopping, reaching out to students and families, and building a relationship that will help that student grow. 

We are training amazing teachers. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer are staying home to teach our students.

Today one of my students apologized to me. 

An apology is a small thing, a simple action, but to a teacher it is one of the rarest and most appreciated things a student can do. 

This student is not a bad student (there are no bad students, only challenging ones). He’s not the top of his class. He’s not sought out by many of his peers. He’s kind and intelligent; he’s funny and polite. And he doesn’t understand many of the everyday social interactions you and I find commonplace. 

This student deals with autism and epilepsy, and the medical ups and downs that come with that, on a daily basis.

Sometimes he asks me after class why other students laughed when he wasn’t meaning to be funny. While the laughter wasn’t mean-spirited, the confusion and sometimes hurt that it causes breaks my heart. Still, on most days this student greets my lessons with an enthusiasm for learning and willingness to participate. 

Last week, this student came to class without his usual enthusiasm for the material. He was late, obviously lethargic and irritable, and he was rude to me when I asked him to pay attention.

I didn’t call attention to his attitude in class, but after on Friday I called his mother to gain insight into his behavior. She told me his medication had been changed yet again in an effort to prevent more seizures, and because of this change, my student was experiencing mood swings and irritability. She thanked me profusely for calling, because her son is seventeen and naturally doesn’t like to share details of his school life with his mother. She said that without my call, she could not give her son’s doctor an accurate report of the effect the new medication had.

Today, one day after that phone call, my student walked into class, strode directly to me, looked me in the eyes, and said with sincerity “Miss B, I’m sorry for being rude to you.” I felt like crying. Because I was grateful for at least one caring parent. Because I could tell that he didn’t understand that his behavior had come off as disrespect. Because he had a bad few days and he couldn’t see past how poorly he felt, and he didn’t feel he could express that feeling to me then.

I thanked him, emphasized that I wasn’t offended, and we moved on. Today I saw the return of his usual disposition, and I hope that the next time he has a bad day, he feels able to confide in me.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Teachers and Coaches Change Lives. Never Doubt

Last semester I was lucky enough to work with English Language Arts and Foreign Language student interns at OSU. I was the teacher of record for the extra class they had to take during their internship (student teaching). They reflected on their experiences, and during one class I asked them to tell me a story of one student...I'm a firm believer in the power of story to connect people and to bring change. My hidden agenda was to give student interns their voice in advocating for their students. The stories moved me, and I have permission to share some with you. So, over the next few weeks, I'll do just that.

Just under 20 student interns, and about half of them are already gone...gone to Texas for higher salaries, and a living wage. As I grew close to these young people, it made me unutterably sad to see them go. But I also felt proud of their insistence that they were worth more than Oklahoma schools can offer. They are the future of my family business. 

So, please enjoy the story of AO. And see how one teacher, one coach, can stop, notice, and change everything. 

AO comes to class every day with a smile on his face and tie around his neck. Though his shoes are tattered and his shirt is littered with stains, he dresses for success and remains the bright light for a darkened time. 
If you knew AO three years ago you would look down or possibly hide your purse from his sight. He was a repeat juvenile offender, an exiled disturbance to the regular classroom, and a frequent flyer on the alternative school roster. 
He did not have parents to come home to so he instead went to work at McDonalds and used that money to pay his rent. 
AO’s trajectory changed one day as the cross-country team hurdled by and the coach said he needed more runners. His life has metamorphosed ever since and is now an active a contributing citizen in society and in his high school. 
Though his path has not been easy, AO finds a way to smile and succeed. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Every Student is a Story...

It's the end of the school year, and teachers have become reflective....asking questions: did I do enough? Did I contribute? Did I make mistakes? Was I who my students needed this year? What do I need to learn to be a better teacher next year?

This is a piece I wrote several years ago when I was still in the classroom...every student who let me learn his or her story gave me a gift. These young people are now adults, making their way in the world...and they still are part of the teacher I was and the teacher I am.

If you are a teacher, think about your students who have shared their stories with you. If you're one of my students, thank you. Thank you for being mine, for reading with me, for sharing who you are...

“Every student is a story. Some will share their stories; some won’t.” 

I always tell young teachers and interns this when they begin teaching. I challenge them to create a climate where students feel comfortable sharing their stories. It makes our relationships more authentic and it makes our classroom a safe place to learn.

I knew this; but I never thought of the fact we, as teachers, are stories as well. We bring all our training and professional experiences into our classroom. We make decisions based on these stories as we add new episodes every day.

So—my story first. My training includes English Language Arts, Reading Education, Library Media, Special Education. Thirty-nine years in the classroom. Three states; seven schools; ten principals. Sixth grade teacher, high school English teacher, special education teacher, elementary librarian, reading specialist. I have taught students from every grade in public education, K-12. In high school, I’ve taught English 1, 2, and 4. I’ve taught remedial classes and advanced classes. Sounds like I can’t make up my mind, huh? But, throughout all this, there is a theme, a thread: literacy.

Every day I’ve spent in the classroom as a student or as a teacher has led me to this moment in my career. My English elective, Reading for Pleasure, is literally the culmination of all my training and all my experience. I use everything I’ve been taught, and everything I’ve ever learned, in this class. Every day of my professional life has led me, inexorably, to this class, to these students, to their stories.

Ben. Last year his special education teacher enrolled him in my class. Ben, a junior, had spent two-and-a-half years in a remedial English class; but that class was being dropped from our schedule and he needed more support in reading. A football player and a wrestler, he had a legitimate chance at a college scholarship if we could improve his 6th grade reading level. Oh, he fought me. Slept, “forgot” his book, sighed, did the minimum whenever possible. Then, he began to listen to Sean and Michael talk about their books and their favorite authors: Hunter Thompson, Chuck Palanuik, Neil Ellis. He saw, in my room, these cool guys (Sean’s a musician in a local band, and Michael was a respected football teammate) were passionate about their books. Ben began to pay attention to these conversations; he began to pick up books with curiosity. He read instead of napped. He talked to the other guys about their books and his own. The next semester, he’d pop into my room to ask about books, to trade out the book he’d borrowed for a new one. He’d tell me the team was going on a trip and he needed something to read. This year when he took a reading test, he scored post high school! He’s back this semester in my class, now being the leader—talking about his books, contributing to the conversations we have about authors. After Hunter Thompson's suicide, Rolling Stone did a retrospective...Ben brought a copy into class, read, and gave us his opinions on the piece and Thompson's ultimate meaning.  Books have made a lasting difference in his life. And he got that scholarship to play football in college!

Steven is a National Merit Scholar. His analysis skills are amazing already. What could I add to his story? Well, not just me, but the author, Chris Crutcher. Steven began to read Crutcher’s books because the author was coming to our school. Although he prided himself on his reading of challenging classics, he had never read books that reflected the life he was living. He read dead white men. In Crutcher's books, the characters struggled with the same battles he does: being accepted, being teased, standing up for justice, finding our values as we mature. Steven was able to read books with characters he recognized. He found a teacher willing to listen as he mulled over important issues not present in his rigorous AP curriculum. As he read Staying Fat for Sarah Burns, he talked about his anger and his need to protect his vulnerable girlfriend from the thoughtless taunts of others. His story was enriched by these books.

Jerry, a freshman, spent the first weeks in class starting book after book, never getting past the first 10 pages. One day, on the floor before my packed bookshelves, I asked him about the books he’d enjoyed. He couldn’t remember ever reading and enjoying a book. I asked what books or magazines his family read at home. His surprised snort was all the answer I needed: none. He had no model at home of reading. We struggled until we found Born Blue by Han Nolan. He read it; his logs were full of wonder. He brought me the book and demanded I read it so we could talk. I did. We did. He invited me to his IEP; because we talked about books, he believed I was the only teacher who liked him. This semester he’s back! He has successfully gotten several classmates to read his favorite book. In less than one school year, Jerry changed from a non-reader to a passionate advocate of his favorites. He now talks to others and loves to find new books to share with me and his friends.

Angie told me she hated the book Cut by Patricia McCormick. She hated the main character, a self-mutilator. She thought the book and the girl was “stupid” and she told me at every opportunity. She kept reading. Kept complaining. Only later did she tell me how close this story is to her own experience. She stopped denying her problem and she found the courage to ask our counselor for help. Angie’s told me she could never read that book again; but she knows it provided the motivation to reach out.

Rosa is an exchange student from South America whose English is not strong yet. She and I searched for books that would show her life in America, and ones she could understand. We found light “chick-lit” novels helped her understand the dynamics of high school drama. She also read Jane Eyre—in Spanish! I so enjoyed our conversations about Jane and loved seeing her through the eyes of another culture. Rosa was able to reach out to our culture while retaining her own through her choice of books.

Diane has been forced to read 30 minutes every day for years. She told me she hates to read, hates it, hates it, hates it. Yet her journals were full of original insights and sensitivity. She read challenging books for her AP English class, and nothing for pleasure. She struggled with her AP teacher, with her family, with her books—not chosen for her own enjoyment. She continued to pour out her soul and her conflicts to me. I knew A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly, was the right book for her: a young girl, just finishing high school yearns for her family to understand her love for reading and writing. She is ready to fly, and no one encourages her. Diane recognized herself and her battles. Those logs brought tears to my eyes.

Sam stopped coming to class last semester—went to work, instead. He enrolled in my class again this semester and has maintained a good grade. He told me he wanted to change my opinion of him from last semester. He’s recognized himself in Nick Hornby’s work. He reads everything by Hunter Thompson he can find. He has shared himself with me generously this semester, almost making up for his earlier desertion.

Robert is an English Language Learner, heavy-set and painfully quiet—shy of his lingering accent. A gifted artist, he couldn’t picture himself ever reading a whole book. As he talked to his family, he discovered his uncle enjoyed Harry Potter. So, what does my quiet ELL boy choose for his first book in my class?? HP #3! He struggled, but he persevered! His logs were short—not surprising since he still lacked confidence; but his responses showed a great empathy for Harry’s conflicts, and a desire to play Quidditch—if it was only a real game! When his English 4 teacher assigned their senior paper, a study of a British author, Robert was ready—Rowling, of course! He gave me a copy of his paper as a gift, and he gave me his cover illustration—a loving portrait of Harry and his friends. Now Robert smiles and greets me in the halls; now he sees himself as a reader! He and his uncle have lively conversations about their books!

Sylvia sauntered into class the second week of the semester—an unwilling addition. Because of our previous friendship, she left her ever-present attitude at the door but still tried to avoid books. She told me proudly she’d never finished a book—ever, not ever. She played around, picking up books clearly inappropriate for her below-level reading. In desperation, I handed her a book from a series called Bluford—contemporary novels all set in an inner-city high school. Written by different authors, some focus on the struggles of young men, some on young women. Sylvia recognized her own California background and experiences within these books, and began reading. Her body language changed; her nose was glued to these books. She was overcome with the sense of accomplishment: she finished a book! A book she loved! It was heartbreakingly touching to watch her carefully consider the other books in the series to read next—she’d never had that experience. What to read next.

I had 300 students this year, and many told me their stories. Some did not. Conrad, an avid fantasy reader, sits in front of me every day, reading. He won’t write logs to me; I don’t know his story. He’s fighting. I hope I have another chance with him. I’m not the person he wants to share with at this time. Alice and Mike also chose to shut me out. I must respect their choice and hope to see them again at another stage of their lives, and of mine.

My background, my training, my experience have all combined to give me tools to help my students. The librarian knows books and is always looking for the perfect book for each student. She knows how to sell a book to kids, and how to match kids with books.  The English teacher pushes their responses, challenges their ideas, supports their attempts. She can also discuss the high school canon with confidence. The reading specialist knows literacy theory.  She recognizes struggling students and can support their efforts, matching appropriate books with students, suggesting strategies for success. The special education teacher individualizes for every student, knowing when to push, when to accept, when to question, when to praise.

Every moment of my life, from those first months being nursed by my mother who held me in one hand, and her book in the other, to the college degrees, to the patchwork teaching experience, has prepared me for this class, for these students, for this challenge. How very lucky I am to be doing this work!

How blessed I am students tell me their stories.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

All I Want for my Birthday... a balanced budget for the state of Oklahoma. Not candy or flowers. Not even a card. I just want a budget for my adopted state.

A budget that does NOT balance itself on the backs of the working poor and middle class, in the form of regressive taxes. A budget that includes raising the Gross Production Tax for horizontal wells in Oklahoma to 7% -- still below the regional average!

A budget that includes raising the income taxes of the highest earners in our state...

A budget that will save us from a Special Session in June...that will cost our state a teacher's salary. Every. Day.

I've been visiting the Capitol every week this session...but that was too late. The fix was already in. Big Oil had already bought and paid for their legislators.

SQ779 failed at the polls, so we knew any teacher raise would be nigh-onto impossible with the tax-hater, Grover-Norquist-pledge-signers in the legislature. All those voters who complained about the regressive nature of the 1% sales tax for teacher raises said, oh-so-piously, they wanted a 'better plan.' They thought our legislators would respond.

We heard legislators say they heard the message, they were committed to teachers, to #oklaed, and to a teacher raise. And some believed them. I did not. I knew a teacher raise was dead.

I went to the Capitol. I talked to legislators. I was told one thing by one, and something different from another. I listened. I asked clarifying questions. And then I asked the same questions of legislators across the aisle. And guess what? I got different answers.

I met hard-working, driven legislators who worked for budget stability. For whom all solutions were on the table. I met legislators who wanted their own plan at any cost.

It became apparent too many were waiting for someone else to blink first.

The Rainy Day Fund was emptied. Let me repeat: The Rainy Day Fund was blinking EMPTIED. To pay the bills.

The courts ruled that the state legislature had incorrectly taken $10 million dollars from the Lottery that belonged to #oklaed.

Revenue failures became old news.

Cuts to schools happened as regularly as career teachers' resignation letters.

I went to the Capitol.

I carried information from Save Our State, from Let's Fix This, from Together Oklahoma. All solid plans with shared sacrifices and down-to-earth solutions. I asked questions. I listened.

Something else I did was to work closely with OSU English student interns...bright, ambitious students who want to teach...and who are looking to cross the Red River and start their careers in Texas. Texas schools came to the OSU Teacher Career Fair, and according to one of my students, prowled like buzzards, knowing they only had to post starting salaries to lure our new teachers. I saw first-hand the loss...just one subject area. Oklahoma students who know they must leave home to start  their careers.

Now, we are faced with a hard deadline: May 19. My 72nd birthday. If we don't have agreement by May 19, the legislature will be forced into Special Session, costing us more money. Money we don't have.

I voted for SQ779 for my friends and former colleagues. I know that neighborhoods of working class voters also supported the measure. They wanted their children's teachers to get a raise, to be happy and well-paid. Towns on the border to Texas and Arkansas voted for 779. They are tired of losing their teachers to these other states.

I voted for new leadership in the legislature. I was frustrated by the 'business as usual' attitude at the Capitol.

The majority of voters disagreed with me. So. No raise. Same leadership. No new ideas.

Revenue Failures.

$1 BILLION hole to fill.

Five working days.

It's not too much to ask, is it? All I want for my birthday is a budget agreement, a balanced budget, and a teacher raise.

Clock is ticking.  And I'm old.

Friday, May 5, 2017

#oklaed Picks Up the Slack -- AGAIN.

This…this is what we’ve come to.

Nearly 10 years of the steepest cuts to education in the nation. In. The. Nation. Ten years, starting before oil went belly-up in Oklahoma. Accusations that education just had to ‘get more efficient, tighten our belts, get rid of the fat, fire all the do-nothing administrators,” Then we’d be back to the Golden Years of #oklaed. Those years when we followed the class size requirements of HB1017. When we had funds for copier ink. When our school libraries actually had, you know, new books.

It’s come to this. Seminole Public School District teachers shuttled into a room and given a ballot…A ballot that gave them two options. Willingly forgo their negotiated step raise for next year, or give it back to the district, to save a colleague’s job. It wasn’t phrased quite that neutrally. In fact this would make an interesting lesson in tone and diction.

  •        I agree to set aside the negotiated agreement, for the 2017-2018 school year only, in order to forgo a step raise to save another teacher’s job.

  •         I do not agree to set aside the negotiated agreement, for the 2017-2018 school year only. I want my step raise. I do not care about another teacher’sq [sic] job.

Teachers forced to decide on the spot if their families can afford a year with no raise. To decide on the spot if they can forgo that car payment, or the electric bill. Or the mortgage. To be told if they voted to receive their negotiated step raise they do not care about other teachers. Selfish boors.

For those who are not acquainted with negotiated step raises, I’m including the Norman Public Schools salary schedule for teachers with a bachelor’s degree. If you look down the left column, you will see that the numbers increase by $200-$400 or so each year. Before taxes. It’s not a lot to give up, but it is giving up something that’s been promised, and something that’s already been budgeted for.

Before you think I’m holding Seminole Schools, the latest district to ask their teachers to make this hard choice, responsible, let me disabuse you. Seminole Schools, Norman Schools, OKC Schools are in this kind of impossible choice because we have been starved by a legislature and other policy makers who have different priorities. A legislature that has cut schools since 2008, even though we have seen an increase in the number of students in our schools. Fewer dollars, more students, more gut-wrenching decisions.

School districts spend over 80% of their budgets on teacher salaries…so, once the efficiencies have been introduced, the belts have been tightened and fat’s been cut, teacher salaries come next. At that point, a district must make tough decisions.  Millwood Schools made that hard decision last year. Everyone took a pay cut. Everyone. The Superintendent, the teachers, the bus drivers. Everyone. It was a district decision for the good of the students. More teachers mean smaller classes, with more individual attention for our students. Millwood did it together. Teachers’ salaries were cut $600. So, no step, and a cut. They saved eleven teaching positions.

Seminole is now facing a similar situation…no cuts, it appears. Just no raise.

Yes, the wording on the ballot is manipulative. The tone is aggressive, a serious case of guilting. That is one issue…and as issues go, it’s not the major one.

We can never lose sight of the reason Millwood voluntarily cut salaries, the reason other districts have laid off teachers, the reason many districts made the drastic decision to cut the school week to four days, the reason Seminole is now facing this painful situation. The legislature has not supported our public schools as it should. As the Oklahoma Constitution demands and expects.

"SECTION XIII-1 Establishment and maintenance of public schools. The Legislature shall establish and maintain a system of free public schools wherein all the children of the State may be educated.:"

The responsibility for these no-win decisions forced onto our schools rests squarely on our elected policy makers who have systematically cut funding and support to our public schools. Responsibility is shared by voters.  Voters who chose not to vote, or chose to believe rhetoric over actions. Voters who did not vote for public education.

We entered this Legislative Session with the promise that education and teacher salaries were the number one priority…that the legislators ‘heard’ the people and would find a ‘better plan’ for teacher raises. That was February. With monthly revenue failures. Lowering of our bond rating. And cuts to core services throughout the state. Cuts to education. More cuts.

We watched, with muted hope, or no hope, as legislators got to work. We hoped a budget would be the major focus.

We saw a bill to mandate teachers’ grading practices. We saw a bill to weaken the science curriculum of the state. We saw a bill that would let schools suspend third graders, with no counseling services. We saw a bill to require high school students to pass the citizenship test in order to graduate. And we saw our Governor veto a bill to end the last End of Instruction exam for high school students, US History. At the cost of $2M+.

What did we not see? Funding for a teacher raise. Revenue ideas with sustaining sources (we have heard of proposals for fees on salon visits, tattoo parlors, dog grooming businesses. Fees on gumball machines).

A nearly ONE BILLION DOLLAR HOLE in our budget – again.

Instead, we see teachers giving and giving. Buying books and supplies for their classroom. Buying snacks to feed hungry students. Choosing to take salary cuts for the good of their district. Other school employees are also giving back in many ways as well.

And so. It comes down to schools begging teachers to give back their negotiated raise for next year to help the district retain teachers and keep class sizes manageable. A heartbreaking decision. A decision teachers should never be called to make. I've heard that the Seminole Superintendent told the teachers that he will ask the Board to renegotiate HIS salary, with a 5% cut, so he is showing that leadership of shared sacrifice. 

A Facebook friend said there’s a third choice on that unfortunately-worded ballot: “I care enough about another teacher’s job, that she can have mine.” Too many teachers are saying just that. We continue to bleed teachers, to underpay teachers, to ask that they return part of their already-lower-than-the-regional-average teacher salary. So schools can stay afloat, survive another year, hoping this Session will see some real progress toward sustainable revenue, real support of our schools, and a teacher raise.

I want to make this crystal clear: I am not blaming all legislators. I am not blaming all legislators of the majority party. I spend one or two mornings at the Capitol all through Session. I sit in on Committee meetings. I've asked for, and been granted private appointments with legislative leaders, who, frankly, don't have to give me the time of day. I have had mostly cordial conversations with many lawmakers. I listen and verify everything they say to me, and sometimes the truth is stretched or massaged. I know where many stand on some of the big, thorny budget issues. I'm grateful that I feel like the Capitol is my House. I know work is happening. 

But, in less than three weeks, the Session, by law, must end. With a balanced budget. If not, a Special Session will be required, costing Oklahoma a teacher’s salary every day. We wait, with dwindling hope, or no hope. And many teachers are already planning the moves that could bring their families more financial stability.

Happy #TeacherAppreciationWeek to us.

**Note -- I am waiting to find the KFOR link to their story of the ballot. Have not found it online yet. Am publishing this without it and will revise when we find the link.

Friday, April 21, 2017

My Rules for Reading

I was at a presentation by friends Lara Searcy and Josh Flores where they talked about their personal rules for reading...they challenged me to compile my own rules.

My mother always told me on those long middle-of the night feedings when I was a newborn, she'd hold me in one hand, nursing, and hold her current book in the other. I used to joke that I absorbed my love of reading through mother's milk. Years later, I found a line from Steinbeck that said much the same thing, and I gasped in recognition:

"Some literature was in the air around me. The Bible I absorbed through my skin. My uncles exuded Shakespeare, and “Pilgrim's Progress” was mixed with my mother's milk."

I pretended to read before I was in school, memorizing my Golden Book version of Cinderella. I can remember the first word I read by myself: "morning". I used the picture clue in the early reader and the context clues. In our house, everyone had a book...or two, and everyone read.

So, you'd've thought that I'd have my rules for reading right at my fingertips. But no. It took some thinking, combining, crossing come up with my rules. They are eclectic. They will make some readers cringe. Shake their heads. Roll their eyes. And I love that.

Once we learn to read, the very act of reading becomes our own. I learned early on I was not a phonetic reader, so I never tried to sound out words. I'd use pictures and context clues, like I did with "morning". If that didn't work, I *gasp* skipped the word and went on reading. And I did OK.

So, my rules of reading:

1.  Never, ever, apologize for your books. Read whatever you want. Every book makes you a stronger, more insightful reader. I have always read whatever I want. As a teen, I read Cherry Ames, Student Nurse, when my mother wanted me to read Dickens. I read Cherry Ames, and I read Dickens. I reread books. I read books that are too easy, and books that are too hard. I sometimes challenge myself, reading unfamiliar authors, about unfamiliar places.

I read trash and I read treasures. My parents never censored my books...but Mom did try to hide Peyton Place from my sisters and me (unsuccessfully in my case). Reading widely, reading bad writing and good writing, helped me hone my tastes. In my class I made sure my students saw me reading widely and indiscriminately. They saw me read.

2. Have several books going at the same time (now, for me, this includes Audible books). I can then look at my books and decide what I'm in the mood for. I'll usually have at least one novel, a young adult book (or two), a nonfiction, and a professional book, all unfinished, waiting for me. . So, I look at my titles, and grab the book that whispers to me.

3. Read the ends of books without shame. Sometimes I've been known to read the end of a the bookstore, before I buy it.

I met author Norma Fox Mazer years ago and I told her I'd just bought her book, had read the first chapter and the end. She stared in horror and asked me why, in the world, did I do that? I stammered out that I wanted to know where the book was going to take me. She whipped out a tiny notebook from her back pocket and jotted down a note. I always feared I would see myself in a book as the crazy lady who only read the ends of books.

But, that's the truth. I want to know the end of the journey, often before I've taken the first step. No guilt. Just a fast way to sort through all the books competing for my attention. Most of the time I will choose to read the book, knowing the conclusion. That way I can savor the book, the language. I can see the foreshadowing clues. Enjoy my read.

4. Never feel impelled to finish a book. I usually do finish books, but if I don't, I can toss them aside without a qualm. I listened to my students talk about giving a book 10 pages, or 50 pages, or 5 pages. I've got no arbitrary number -- I just know when it's time to put one book down so I have time for another. The two that instantly come to mind for me are Enigma and A Simple Plan. Life's too short to read books that don't engage you.

5. Read actively, with a pen, markers stickies and two (not one) bookmarks. I have one sticky bookmark at the page I started reading that day. I move the second bookmark as I read that day. I learned that trick from a student who placed one bookmark on the last page of the current reading assignment and another marked his progress toward that goal. I just happily hopscotch my bookmarks day by day. I use stickies to mark beautiful passages, insights, figurative language. Good writing. Before I used stickies, I dog-eared the pages I wanted to remember. With not an ounce of regret.

My reading buddy and I have agreed that if we borrow someone else's book and want to mark or highlight, we just do it...and then buy our friend a new book, keeping the one we read and marked.

6. Claim the book as your own. I have intense conversations with the book and the author. I write notes in the margin. Once a book is in my hands, it's my book, and I'm in charge of how I read. One student brought up an old copy of Jane Eyre, laughing. I'd read it, and had made angry comments about Rochester in the margin. On one page I'd written, "Jerk!" She agreed. At that point in the novel, he was a jerk. And I needed to document that fact.

I make a book mean what I need it to mean. I read slowly; I read quickly. I skip the boring parts (long paragraphs of description) and skim until I find dialogue. A conversation reminded me of the books through which I skipped the most: Fellowship of the Rings -- especially the first time I read it. I would warn first-timers to Tolkien that there will be a lot of walking and a lot of's ok to skip. When I read Grisham's The Firm, I skipped and skipped, saying to myself, "OK -- it's a chase. I get it!" And then there's Clancy...Dear Lord. I can never make sense of his techie writing about gadgets and weapons. His books are where I learned to skip and find a conversation. Nowhere in the contract between reader and author does it say I must read every word. My book. My choice.

I reread favorite passages. I reread favorite books and learn something new every time.

I fell in love with Joy Luck Club when it first came out. I read it from cover to cover (yes, after I read the ending). Then I read it again, this time reading all the mothers' stories together, then the daughters' stories. Then I read it again, reading the mother-daughter stories together. Each rereading added meaning for me. I was in charge. I could read as I pleased

7. Respond to books. I laugh out loud. I gasp. I cry. When I read with my students, I always warned them that at least once in the semester I'd cry. Their job, if they saw me, was to roll their eyes and smile indulgently. Once, in class, while reading the ending of Twelve, I just about cried off my makeup. I didn't realize it, but a student had been watching me. When I put the book down and tried to compose myself, she tiptoed out of her desk, crept to my desk, picked up the book, returned to her desk, and started reading. I laughed so often that we began to call those books that elicited laughs, "Snork Books." Students often asked for a Snork Book. My emotional responses to my books did as much to sell books to teens as any book talk.

8.  Return to the beginning of the book and reread or copy your beautiful passages. So often, when I do that, I find I've identified important insights, themes, symbols. Without trying to. I just mark words that sing for me. My students could (and did) decide which of my books was worthwhile by seeing how many stickies I had in the book.

9. Take the time to think about your books and write about them. Once for my birthday a friend gave me a book journal. I loved it. I read and wrote in front of my students. The act of reading became more meaningful because as I read, I was thinking about what I wanted to say about the book. What quotes I might include. This was my last reflection of the book, and it helped me put it in a bright focus. I filled up probably 10 journals until I discovered Long before I joined Facebook, I was showing the site to my students. One told me goodreads sounded like Facebook for book nerds. And it is. It's a place to think about and write about books, and to see what your friends are reading. Just this month, I've had conversations with former students about our books, and what we might read next. More than my solitary journal, goodreads reminds me that reading is very social...when we find a book that moves us, we really want to share it with someone. Goodreads will link to FB and to Twitter, so friends can see what I'm reading.

10. Return to your TBR stack (or, for me, my kindle or my audible application -- yes, I'm an omnivorous reader. Love my audible when I walk, my kindle when I travel -- instead of filling half my suitcase with books so I'd always have one, my 'real' physical books when I want to return over and over to those meaningful favorites) and decide what I'm in the mood for, and grab the next one.

My rules are not particularly academic or systematic or logical. But they're mine.

I'm interested, what are some of YOUR reading rules?