Tuesday, January 22, 2019

2018 -- My Top Ten --With Some Major Cheating

I read a lot. For most of my career, I read for a living. For the last ten years of that career, my bosses paid me to sit in a room, surrounded by teen, and READ. Books covered every wall, and many horizontal surfaces. Kids read. I read. It was grand. 

Now since I've retired, ironically, there is less time to read! I keep track of my books on a great website called My students called it 'FaceBook for book nerds," and it is. On Goodreads, I'm connected to some of my favorite authors, my favorite teacher friends and favorite former students. If you're a reader, join and find me.

Goodreads allows you to keep track of your reading, set annual goals, create bookshelves that are searchable. I can 'shelve' books as I'm reading, and when I finish. I write reviews (left over from my teaching days when I tried to model how to talk about books), and keep count. 

My 2018 goal  was 152 books. A strange number, I know...Just a tad down from the 155 from the previous year, when I didn't make my goal.

My first book of 2018 was The Alchemist, a reread of a favorite, and the last book of the year was Dear Martin, a gritty young adult.

My friend and I do a summer classics project, and this year we went for South American magic realism. We bailed on 100 Years of Solitude...might have actually been the edition of the book...print too tiny and mashed together. Paper too thin. I revisited Shadow of the Wind and Marina, and found a book, new for me, that made my list.

I try to do a Top Ten, but I always cheat. This year, I saw patterns in my favorite reads. I found international authors and books, I found amazing YAL from some of my favorite authors. I read great literary fiction, found new nonfiction, and read the entire Alphabet series by the late Sue Grafton. 

Inspired by my friend and long-distance reading buddy, Nancy Flanagan, who always gets her list out super early, here is my, in no particular order, favorite reads of 2018.

YAL -- I revisited two favorites, friends, and life-saving authors.

People Kill People by Ellen Hopkins -- the 'biography' of a handgun and the havoc it wreaks. Hopkins actually writes in prose and poetry here, in the multiple voices that make her work so rich. Yes, people kill people....but...

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher -- a reread, companion piece in my mind to Crutcher's new book, Losers Bracket, which is just as good and could easily be in my top ten...but I've loved Sarah for years so she got the nod.


Fear by Bob Woodward -- that man can write and dig into a story. I'm beginning to amass a full book shelf of 'books about Trump by people who see through the bluff

Dear White Americans by Tim Wise -- subtitle: "Letter to a new minority." We can do better and must do better. This short book can help

Almost Everything by Ann Lamott -- I needed hope and she gave it to me. “Love and goodness and the world’s beauty and humanity are the reasons we have hope.”

Alphabet Mysteries

My mom and I started reading Sue Grafton's mysteries together in the 1980's. But along the way I stopped reading, maybe because Mom wasn't there to talk to. Grafton was not a fast writer, and I just moved on to other books and other series. She recently died, just having published Y is for Yesterday. In her will she made it clear, no one...NO ONE...would write Z. So, I knew I was going to be able to read (with my ears) all of the books and find a kind of closure. I believe Grafton knew Y would be her last. She dedicated the book to her grandchildren, one named Kinsey!! So. I read them all, and cried listening to the last one, knowing that smart-mouth Kinsey Milhone would never make me laugh again. I miss Mom and Grafton and Kinsey. And I'm counting these 25 books as one of my Top Ten. Try and stop me!

International authors new to me

Dona Barbara, by , a Venezulan politician and terrific novelist...This was the surprise of my summer reading. It was on the list of 100 best novels compiled by PBS. So glad I found it.magic, revenge, love, hate...and a beautiful, young country as the backdrop. I was dazzled.

Freshwater by  was breathtaking...and I couldn't begin to tell you much about the plot...the book was about letting a culture wash over me and simply experience. I read this with my ears, and Emezi narrated it. She read it to me individually. 

Literary Fiction -- both in Audible

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders blew me away. In the audible version, there were over 50 voices, each portraying one'd get a voice you recognized and you'd just settle in...I was so intrigued by the voices and the multi-genre elements of the narration that I bought the hardback, just to see the words on the pages. A tour de force. 

Circe by Madeline Miller -- I read this one and then immediately read Song of Achilles...but Circe claimed my mythology-loving heart.  I loved how Miller made Circe a witness to so many mythical events. And the ending? I did not know her story circled around to the characters in The Odyssey. If you twisted my arm behind my back and demanded I name my FAVORITE, I think this is the one I'd name.

So, that's ten...or ten plus 24, but who's counting?

So many great books also earned five stars (I have always been a generous grader) -- Neal Shusterman's new series Sythe...The Alchemist, Losers Bracket, Marina, Braving the Wilderness. The Tao of Pooh...

So many books. So little time. 

Dare I ask you to suggest your favorite from last year?

Friday, January 11, 2019

Time for the Hard Work

WE emailed. We wrote. We phoned. We visited.

We walked. We chanted. We visited. We emailed. We wrote. We phoned. We told our stories, and we advocated for our classrooms.

We voted.

AND NOW, if you haven't already, it's time for the hard part: building a lasting relationship with your legislators...whether you agree on every point or not.

A positive relationship. One built on a sliver of agreement, on common values, common goals.

Even if we fundamentally disagree with policymakers' stances on the issues we care about, we must FIRST create a space where we can smile, shake hands, and yes, even hug occasionally.

And lucky for us, we teachers are masters of building positive, cordial relationships with people. People we sometimes deeply disagree with. People over whom we have the power of the grade, people over whom we have no power.

Teachers are experts at creating positive, working relationships...with students (some of whom do not want to cooperate), with parents (some of whom are neglectful, disinterested, overwhelmed, defeated...some of whom are aggressive, interfering, meddling, pushy...some of whom are grateful, receptive, cooperative, helpful.), colleagues (some of whom...**see above), and administrators (some of whom are beaten down, fearful for their jobs, confused, overwhelmed, helpful, responsive, and just as confused as we often are). This is what we do. This is who we are.

Now, it's time to work to create that same cordial, working relationship with your State Representative and Senator.

To reach out. To introduce yourself. To share your issues, interests, goals.

Now, it's time to find the time to LISTEN to your lawmakers' concerns, issues, interests, goals. Find out what their legislative passions are...their expertise. Find ways to find the intersections between your passions and goals, and theirs.

But this is what we do every day, for a living. We use our skills to build community. We find ways to make misunderstandings and disagreements into opportunities for more talk, more listening. We find ways to ultimately put aside some of those disagreements for a time to find other common ground.

We use our skills to confront disagreements when that's important to confront with respect and assertiveness. We state our case with facts and, yes, stories. But we listen as well.

For some, the experience during the Walk Out was the first time we'd actively advocated. We found there was a lot we had to learn...but we're teachers! We are life-long learners. We learned to navigate the OK Legislature site...we learned about deadlines and how to get to the Gallery. We learned that the Sergeants at Arms are friendly but firm. We learned how to find legislator's offices. We learned about Legislative Assistants and their power. We learned where the bathrooms were. We learned where to park. We learned about the power of our votes.

We voted in the primary, and Platform Caucus members fell.

We voted in the run-offs, and Platform Caucus members fell.

We voted in the general election, and elected 57 new legislators.'s time to turn from campaigning to advocacy. To informing and learning. To sharing and listening. To informing...and learning and listening.

How to start?

Do you know the names of your State Rep and Senator? Do they know your name?

Have you ever met (outside the halls of the Capitol) face to face? Have you sat down in a coffee shop, or in their office in the district? Just to share and to learn?

Do you know their Legislative Assistant? Have you introduced yourself to these gatekeepers? Think, 'principal's secretary' and you see the power of these devoted public servants. They are loyal to their bosses, and they know and understand the issues as well as many of their bosses. If we're rude to their bosses, they remember. They take that personally.

Have you sent an email, congratulating your lawmakers on their election? Have you asked for a short meeting one weekend, or a Friday afternoon when they're not in session?

Have you called their office?

Have you sent a personal, snail-mail letter? 

If you haven't, could you find time between now and February when Session begins to make that first contact...low key, low-emotion. Just a friendly gesture.

Remind them you'll be paying attention during the'll be watching education bills. You'll be contacting them to advocate for or against certain legislation. Volunteer to be a contact for education policies and how they play out in the classroom...share your stories.

But do it now, before the Session revs up and there's little time for relationship-building. Think about the beginning of the year or semester...we invest time into creating the climate of our classroom, because we KNOW it will pay dividends in the future. We can count on those relationships when feelings are hurt, or misunderstandings arise. We've got that foundation of trust. This is what we do for a living.

All I'm suggesting to you now, is to turn your skills and talents and experience into the climate-building with your lawmakers.

Talk to them about what you care about...but listen. Listen to understand, not to refute or disagree, or to educate. Listen to start building the next conversation, and the next, and the next. Listen. Take notes.

Follow up.

And assure them you will be paying attention and you'll be in contact with them.

Aren't registered to vote? Shhh, don't tell me, and go to the OK Election Board and take care of that right now. Lawmakers have access to voters rolls...NOT HOW we vote, but if we're registered. will let them (and all of us) know IF we vote, NOT HOW we vote. Lawmakers check to see if constituents who contact them are registered voters, and if we're regular voters. That makes sense, and it hurts our credibility if we aren't registered, or if we don't vote. SO, take care of that! Right away!

Don't know your lawmakers? That's OK...for now. Shhh, don't tell me you don't know, and quick, check this site...type in your address and you'll find your Senator and Rep...right at the bottom of the page.

Click on their picture, and you'll go to their page. You'll find their office number, and a link to email. You'll see a link to their page...and on that page you'll find a biography and other information that will help you find those commonalities.

Call. Email.

Introduce yourself...ask for a quick meeting. Tell them your only agenda is to have the two of you get to know each other.

Then follow up with a quick note.

Check to see if they have a social media presence...FaceBook? Twitter? Follow them, like their pages. Some lawmakers are active on social media; some are not. But check.

Then, stay involved...Know you'll never agree on everything. But know your influence is more likely to matter if you've built that foundation first.

The work you've put in, to reaching out, to creating a relationship, to extending respect, to sharing your issues, will pay off.

Need an example? Here's a note my friend, Christie, is sending to her legislators...Quick, positive, sharing something she values highly.  Opening up the conversation...inviting participation.

We've got this.

We're teachers and we build relationships for a living.